The TYE megazone is a regionally, provincially, and nationally significant economic zone, specializing in the production of tradeable goods and services. It includes more than 100,000 jobs in key and growing industries. Like many other suburban employment zones, it contains significant concentrations of jobs in finance; architecture and engineering; accounting; and administrative and business support services, as well as wholesaling and manufacturing. The TYE megazone is also home to a regionally significant industry cluster related to computers and information and communications technologies (ICT), and one of the five regional Suburban Knowledge-Intensive Districts identified in Planning for Prosperity.
Despite manufacturing job losses, and unlike many other areas in the GGH, the TYE megazone has seen considerable net employment growth, especially in finance and business services, focused on the office parks surrounding the intersection of Highways 404 and 7. Finally, the TYE megazone is significant as a source of car travel and congestion, generating over 400,000 daily trips to and from the zone, almost all by car.
The megazone's office parks have significant potential for further intensification and densification, through the development of what are currently vacant sites and surface parking lots. These areas are generally within walking distance of BRT service along Highway 7. Directing office growth to these locations would help support transit investments and ridership and reduce auto trips. In addition, accommodating office development through reurbanization would deflect pressure from further greenfields development, and would promote agglomeration economies by building on the existing critical mass of development, for example, further strengthening the zone's ICT cluster.
At the same time, the TYE megazone faces several challenges.
It is not recognized in the regional structure of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This omission makes it difficult to ensure the alignment of land use and transit planning, especially since the Regional Transportation Plan uses the Growth Plan's regional structure as its starting point. A critical element of any regional transportation strategy must be getting people to jobs. How will this be achieved if regionally significant employment areas with hundreds of thousands of jobs are not recognized in planning frameworks? Recognizing the TYE megazone, along with other regionally significant employment areas, is a fundamental first step toward creating comprehensive, integrated planning and transportation strategies that improve access to jobs and reduce congestion.
Major transit investments need to be identified and prioritized on a region-wide basis, based on key criteria, such as maximizing the number of trips that can be shifted from auto to transit, and delivering workers to existing jobs. For example, prioritizing two-way GO service would allow workers coming from the south to get to jobs in the TYE megazone, something not currently possible because GO service focuses on getting workers to downtown jobs.
And while there is considerable development potential in the megazone, attracting new development, especially office uses, to sites within the already urbanized area requires coordinated action - "plan it and they will come" cannot be assumed. Having higher-order transit in place is one element. Transforming the existing auto-oriented environment and creating physical environments that attract office uses and support investment and business competitiveness is essential. Businesses are attracted to areas that feature good urban design, a range of amenities, a mix of uses, walkability, and seamless integration of transit. Another key is removing financial disincentives to denser development on already urbanized land by, for example, recalculating development charges to more accurately reflect actual the typically lower servicing costs for these types of development.
An often-overlooked way to maximize the potential of existing employment zones is shaping planning policy related to office uses elsewhere in the region. When significant transit investments are being made, major new office development in areas that are not well served by frequent transit should be prohibited or severely restricted.
Planning can also support the existing ICT cluster by promoting agglomeration economies and the co-location of related firms and assets. This support includes leveraging major public investments such as education campuses and other major public buildings, as well as providing for urban environments that encourage related uses and activities.
That the area continues to attract new investment and employment indicates its importance. Yet if auto dependence is not addressed, growth will only add to regional congestion and greenhouse gas emissions - and potentially undermine the attractiveness of the TYE megazone itself. Availability of higher-order transit plays an increasingly important role for knowledge economy firms, as it means access to a broad labour market. This is one reason we have seen significant employment growth in downtown Toronto in recent years.
Change will be challenging, given the nature of the built environment, the current pattern of segregated land uses, and the fragmentation of the area resulting from the Highway 404/407 interchange and the scale of arterial roads. In short, there is a need for integrated strategies that simultaneously address economic development and change, auto dependence, land use planning, and placemaking. In addition, a mechanism is needed that promotes a comprehensive approach to planning the area as whole, which involves the City of Toronto, Markham, Richmond Hill, and York Region.