COVID has forced us to revisit and rethink how we live our lives and do our work. This project is no exception. We’ve been working hard to adjust and adapt our engagement process, our design team’s thinking, and how we’re working together as a team. Here are just some of the ways COVID has shaped the id8downsview process.
We sent 63,000 notices to Downsview neighbours about our engagement process and over 120 people have already participated by mail with postage-paid reply cards.
We’re making continual adjustments to our engagement approach. When the pandemic struck, we had already started outreach, planned meetings, booked rooms, and were well down the path to bringing people together to meet, discuss, and share ideas. Then came the pandemic. That’s when we hit “pause” and revised our approach. In-person meetings went virtual, community walks turned into one-on-one sidewalk intercepts, and community notices were mailed.
Shifting online changes who has access and who is heard. Some people are enabled by online consultations and are joining for the first time, while others face new challenges to participation if engagement is online only. Among many things, we know that internet access, care commitments, and other priorities can impact who comes to the digital table. In light of this, we’re using a range of approaches.
Our engagement is both digital and analogue. We’re using the internet, telephone, and mail to connect with a wide range of community members. In addition to using this website to gather feedback, over 120 people have participated by mail with postage-paid reply cards—an opportunity that remains open to all. We’ve also been hitting the ground at a granular level with our Fieldnotes program and are taking our pop-up tent to busy community locations to hear from locals when permitted by local health directives. Some of our approaches are new and others are just a fresh spin on tried and true engagement methods. COVID may require us to get more creative, but we’re not losing sight of the basics—transparency, inclusion, accessibility, clear, and thorough feedback reporting.
And so far, we’re hearing a lot.
We’ve heard from locals and shared our progress at the id8downsview pop-up tent, when permitted by local health directives.
We think it’s important to push ahead to make positive change. COVID has been devastating. At the same time, we know it’s more important than ever to address the challenges facing Toronto. The size of these lands means we have an important chance to be part of the solution when it comes to making our city more resilient, more affordable, and better able to create space for jobs. This work will last for decades, and we think it’s vital to start now so we can learn from the community to inform next steps.
COVID has changed how we think about this project. How could it not? Pandemics have long sparked innovation and changed the way cities are built and organized. Take, for example, how our modern sanitation systems resulted from 19th century cholera outbreaks in London, or how the large windows and airy balconies of modernist buildings responded to tuberculosis, or how shifts in European class power resulted from the Black Death. During this pandemic, we’ve witnessed a powerful renewal of social movements, like Black Lives Matter. We’re also seeing changes to public space. Close to home, we see that parks and porches are being used and enjoyed by more people, and community and recreation centres have come up with innovative ways to manage public facilities to avoid crowding. COVID has shown us there are ways to do things we had never tried, and we can bet many of these will continue.
Creative Downsview locals improvise outdoor seating to connect while remaining physically distant in an adjacent parking lot.
Our design team is asking what design can do in the face of COVID. For example, they’re rethinking how neighbourhoods can reduce long-distance trips within the city and prioritize open space to provide health benefits and new ways for people to connect with each other. The way we shop, work, and socialize is changing, and this is having an impact on our thinking for this site. While many of these new ways of approaching planning and design may not be immediately apparent at the Framework Plan stage, they underpin our ongoing thinking and will shape the details as we go.
Always well-used and well-loved, we’ve seen greenspaces like Downsview Park become an even more important part of local recreation and social activities during COVID.
We’re also learning about the social factors of pandemics. Design is important, but we’re learning that pandemic planning means more. We’re considering how social factors have accelerated the spread of this infection and are thinking about what we can do as a result. For example, we know that neighbourhoods around Downsview have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic and want to explore how equity and security can be addressed in this project.
Signage at a local Synagogue echoes what we heard on the streets about increased neighbourhood friendliness during COVID and also about the needs to support each other.
The pandemic has changed how we work too. The id8downsview team is together, apart. We meet regularly by video conference to think big about these 520 acres. Luckily this is something that our international teams are accustomed to and we are fortunate that everyone gained a high degree of familiarity with the site prior to COVID. Sub-groups meet to dig deep into policy considerations, public engagement, and digital communications, among others. We are a group of 66 people, in 3 countries, and 6 cities, with fresh perspectives and commitment to engaging the community to share ideas to inform the future. You can learn more about the team supporting Northcrest and Canada Lands here. All of our lives have been impacted by this pandemic too, and we all look forward to meeting in person at the other end of this. We hope to meet you then too.