Being half-Swiss, I spent a lot of time in Switzerland, as a military conscript there. I was captivated by the mountains every moment I was there. My Omi (grandmother), a Swiss immigrant to Canada, seems to be similarly emotive towards the large bodies of water we have here. This fascinated me, and has always given me a sense of wonder towards exactly why these systems have played such an interesting role in the development of North America.
Harbours have been a theme ubiquitous in the formation of settlements and cities for the majority of mankind’s existence. Water was a little more simple than land for the vast movement of goods, in that the advent of wind-powered vessels pre-dated the industrial revolution and therefore, rail. As a result, we (humans) built cities in places it made sense for us to be – close to goods, employment, and travel. These places were harbours. Most of the notable cities in the old world evolved in this fashion. Rome. Athens. Lisbon. Istanbul. Dubrovnik. Tianjin. Stokholm. St. Petersburg. Alexandria. Even our new world is defined by the existence of harbours: Chicago. Quebec City. Halifax. Boston. New York. Miami. Yes, even our beloved centre of the universe, Toronto.
When harbours are not the heart
Now, we could be seeing a trend in which sprawl has pushed populations away from the core. This is especially true for those economically downsizing, namely boomers. These are individuals who built their lives in areas where harbours were the heart of a municipality. In Toronto, and the Greater Toronto Area, this means proximity to Lake Ontario.
In small-town Lake Simcoe, I don’t see much of a sea-faring international trade in the future of our harbours, and I don’t see much of it in their past, either. In our new decade of 2020 and beyond, I don’t really see international trade playing an exceptionally large role in the formation of harbours, nor industrial economies, nor cities in Canada for the foreseeable future.
78% of our GDP is the product of something we cannot export, housing.
There was a brief stint between Toronto’s first renaissance and the invention of refrigeration in which Lake Simcoe provided some of the most fruitful ice harvests in the GTA. Today, Lake Simcoe’s harbours serve one purpose – recreation – and they do a damn good job at it.
Friday Harbour vs. Everyday Harbour
Friday Harbour is the epitome of bold, brilliant development that Innisfil has been able to catalyze upon the large droves of land left to them by their aforementioned infrastructure history. Georgina is left with an interesting alternative scenario, in which they have a handful of pre-existing harbours and marinas that have been secondary planned – most notably Jackson’s Point, The Maskinonge Urban Centre in Keswick, and Marina Estates in Pefferlaw. This could ultimately lead to a more democratic, infilled version of the same concept that Friday Harbour executed. I suspect this would likely pull away from the “resort” or “holiday” nature of the FH project, giving the harbour a more cohesive role in the everyday life of the municipality, if executed properly.
Georgina’s Maskinonge Urban Centre and Jackson’s Point Secondary Plans call for up to 6 storeys of residential medium- and high-density on a mixed-use pallet. The marina from which Friday Harbour birthed was located in a large, malleable, undeveloped area, relatively removed from the urban core. Conversely, the Maskinonge Urban Centre is located smack dab in the middle of Georgina’s cottage-country corridor, along The Queensway (which is a sexier name for “Leslie Street”).
This is a pretty poetic reflection of the big planning dichotomy between Innisfil and Georgina.
Another example of big-land vs. big-plan
A harbour located at the heart of a municipality comes with both opportunity and challenge. Toronto’s joint-venture with sidewalk labs is a pretty strong testimony toward this.
Friday Harbour is unarguably a flawless execution of the highest and best use of the raw land it rest upon. As such, it’s probably not an exceptionally fair measuring stick for how Georgina may execute the role of its harbour in Keswick. Jackson’s Point’s Harbour may prove to require a middle-of-the-road approach to planning, in such that it has roots in the tourism economy, and is slightly removed from its walkable core. Some of the proposed (and failed) projects in Jackson’s Point are indicative of the nature of development in the area. Both positive and negative lessons can be learned here. I actually think that, with some flexibility on urban planning, we’re more likely to see streets like Shirlea, Bruce Street and Canal Road in Keswick evolve into a fee-simple Friday Harbour with detached homes. I think we’re all longing to see something on Lake Simcoe happen that gives us somewhere we can imagine we’re in the Florida Keys. The role of Shangri-La Lane and other infill attempts in this area could really push this concept forward as we see turnover occur. For now, we’ve got Friday Harbour, and it’s vintage brother Lagoon City, just outside of Brechin.
I think this could be an exceptional segue into the role that planning can play in the economics of real estate, which is what I’ll be elaborating upon this week:
- the role of urban economics in the affordability challenge – how municipal planning, and especially microurbanism, can play a role in affordable housing
- the role of water, and waterfront, in wealth disparity, and perhaps the opportunity to use it as a solution similar to income-mixing in projects
- examining the economics of waterfront streets in Georgina and Innisfil, and perhaps other areas within the GTA.