Two seconds after the car door closes, the five-year-old breaks free of her mother's hand and runs toward the colourful, larger-than-life and extremely odd characters. She seems to favour the horse – which would be traditional if it weren't for the Mountie's head in place of the horse's – but just before she climbs aboard, the mother catches up to her charge and explains that they need to purchase tickets to ride the Pride of Canada Carousel.
It's fun to pretend it's the same 18-month-old I saw playing on a new splash pad when I was here with Sheldon Levitt of Quadrangle Architects three years ago. She'd be about the right age. Back then, the carousel's giant skate, beaver, moon, moose, cob of corn, pig, telephone, mermaid and Massey-Harris tractor were still a twinkle in the eye (and California workshop) of Canadian-born artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, and the massive structure to support them all was still on the drawing board at Brass Ring Carousel Co. in Chicago.
Touring Remington Group's "Downtown Markham" in 2014, the Marriott hotel and Signature Condominium complex across the street at Enterprise Boulevard and Birchmount Road, was still a trio of cranes and a smattering of naked concrete columns. Now, behind a banner reading "the PLACE TO LIVE," there's evidence of habitation vis-à-vis lamps and chair-backs.
And that little girl and others her age, I predicted, would be the first generation to grow up in a "suburban" area that, by design, creates something so unlike the traditional model (the kind that Rush sang about in their 1982 hit Subdivisions) they may never feel the need to make a break for the bright lights, action and noise of downtown.
Because all of that will be here. And if that means traffic slows to a cruise, Randy Pettigrew, senior vice president of land development at Remington Group doesn't mind at all, Mr. Levitt says.
"He's constantly up before council saying 'I don't care how long it takes to drive through here, this is not a drive-through community, this is not a drive-through road; we are going to be happy when traffic is crawling along here' … [but] unfortunately that's not today."
He's right: On an unseasonably warm Saturday in mid-September, whizzing cars and hard-chugging motorcycles along Enterprise Boulevard force Mr. Levitt to pause the conversation as we admire the new building that houses anchor-tenant Cineplex, but also includes offices occupied by York University. But soon, very soon, the ground-level retail – already there's quite a variety selling everything from kicks to noodles to eyeglasses to espresso – combined with activity at the hotel when it opens this winter, plus better pedestrian connections will force the urban slow-down Remington desires.
So too will breaks in the many Quadrangle-designed building podiums, which will feature piazzas and connections to side streets. "We're deliberately trying to stretch the buildings out as much as possible," explains the architect. "So, unlike some new cities in the GTA where it's tower after tower after tower, what we're attempting to establish is a fantastic pedestrian way." Sometimes, because of the "inherited" street plan given to Quadrangle (who are also master planners for Remington Group), creating these "mid-block connections" must be done with private roads built to city standards.
Another way to introduce urbanity and pause-for-thought is to incorporate public art in the usual – and not so usual – places. In the usual places, such as the large lobby-space of 179 Enterprise Blvd., Remington's communications chief Christina Butterfield points to the diaphanous Eon by Julie Tremblay over our heads, and Gregory Skolozdra's illuminated Flower over the entrance doors. These large pieces, curated by Shelley M. Shier as part of the "Remington Contemporary Art Gallery," give life to what might otherwise be a clinical shopping mall space. Here, too, an incredibly life-like, resin security guard by Milwaukee-based sculptor Marc Sijan stops people in their tracks: "They've actually had to move him because people are fascinated by him and keep trying to touch him," Ms. Butterfield says with a laugh.
"If you would come back here tonight, or starting around five, there's going to be a mob-scene here, it's so busy," Mr. Levitt adds.
And, unusually, art is being used to slow drivers in the building's high-ceilinged underground parking garage. Here, various flattened columns have been wrapped with photographer Hank O'Neal's XCIA street art photographs taken in New York and Los Angeles.
"It's very thoughtful," offers Mr. Levitt of the graffiti photos. "Just in terms of way-finding it's great, but, aside from that, a lot of people that are using this garage are doing it on a regular basis, because there's Goodlife [Fitness] here now, the offices, and people coming to the movies, and they may not necessarily be people who are going to galleries … so it's just sparking something: why is this here, do I like it, is it stupid?" Ms. Butterfield adds that the parking garage at the Marriott will feature wrapped pillars with a musical theme.
Back on the street, Mr. Levitt points past the Marriott to the empty lot to the north. In a few years, another mid-rise condo tower with "major retail," a food hall, urban grocer, and perhaps even a cooking school will rise here. "People will be coming here on a daily basis," Mr. Levitt says.
They certainly arrive daily at the carousel, Ms. Butterfield says, where she's seen everything from seniors doing tai chi to little ones spinning around on Mr. Amiot's folk art creations. "I really, honestly didn't see it until the carousel was built; I had no idea how many young families were living here until you would see the strollers coming from the apartments … but I am surprised at the mix, and the generations that do live here."
She shouldn't be: it's all by design.