On Friday morning, the Urban_Empress was watching Breakfast Television on CITY TV and saw that they were accepting nominations for viewers to ride the 148 km/h, 93m Leviathan rollercoaster at Canada’s Wonderland. She nominated me (being too chicken to do so herself), and somehow won me a spot. After riding the tallest, fastest roller coaster in Canada three times, I headed for home, passing Vaughan Mills mall just after rush hour.
The north frontage of the mall features Tuscany Place at Vaughan Mills, a collection of strip malls which appear to double the number of individual stores at the site. In addition to this, the southwest corner of the site features a small lifestyle centre not unlike the Shops at Don Mills. Tuscany place makes the property feel much more urban, but it suffers from design and operational flaws that underline some of the downsides of planning for the automobile.
Looking at this massing model of Vaughan Mills (the main mall in blue, the out-buildings in red, the gas stations and automobile dealership excluded), we can see the full picture of the development. Tuscany Place gives Rutherford Road a very urban feel by bringing buildings to the edge of the right-of-way, and hides the sea of parking from the road. But, looking a little deeper shows that the urbanist treatments are purely cosmetic.
While the buildings do front directly onto Rutherford Road, the only entrances to these shops are from the parking lot. Adding entrances from the sidewalk side would make this development truly urban, but multi-entrance stores are not advisable from a loss-prevention perspective. This should be taken as a reminder that building a pedestrian-friendly community involves much more than good architecture and urban design – we need to rethink how we actually use buildings. In addition, Tuscany Place is separated from the mall and the transit terminal by a sea of parking, making it difficult for anyone to transition from the mall to the out-buildings. If you are on foot, you are either going to the mall or you are going to Tuscany Place – not both. Since the mall is the likely destination, pedestrian traffic from the mall is likely insignificant. Clear walkways would encourage pedestrian traffic, but it would still be a long walk.
From the perspective of attracting customers, the design of the plaza prevents visitors from seeing what stores are present. Because buildings block the views of other buildings, people driving on the main streets cannot see Tuscany Place’s inner ring, and those driving on the mall’s ring roads cannot see the outer ring. Since there is no central directory of stores like there is for the indoor mall, Tuscany Place may rely on passerby traffic – but being unable to see which stores are present undermines the passerby effect. In addition, the design of nearly-enclosed parking lots can allow anti-social behaviour to occur without being seen by passersby on the ring roads or the main streets. Even if nothing untoward is occurring, such a situation can keep potential customers from visiting after dark.
As we run out of land to build on, we will have to look at redeveloping parking lots into more productive land uses. Many malls are doing this – Bramalea City Centre and Square One, to name a few – but unless we design these additions correct, we repeat the mistakes of the past. Building high-density, pedestrian-friendly communities developments should be the goal, but it is all for naught if these communities continue to function as low-density, auto-centric suburbs.