Each year, the executive committee of the Pug Awards looks to expand the scope of their initiative to further influence design in Toronto. Last week marked the introduction of PIMBY (Pug In My Backyard), an interactive and ever-evolving blueprint for growth that aims to cover as much of the city as possible. The intention of this project is to provide the general public, landowners, and city decision-makers with a framework for planning future development in the region, while promoting an ongoing dialogue about the importance of good design.
The current planning process in the city is, according to the Awards, “highly politicized and reactionary.” Developers come up with a plan, present it to council or to the planning department, and, more often than not, the planning staff responds with a list of mandatory revisions. This generates a lengthy, back-and-forth series of negotiations, until ultimately a project ends up being a compromise, settled through the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a provincially appointed appeal board on property and planning matters. Usually development projects, from high-rise condo buildings to park benches, do not receive community feedback until late in the process, increasing the number of design revisions to be made. There are several problems with this planning process, two of which were repeatedly outlined during a 2007 panel discussion hosted by the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. One major theme is that the OMB is a major obstacle to effective city planning. City council has, according to Adam Vaughan, since taken significant “steps in the fight to reform, and, in fact, eliminate part of the Ontario Municipal Board’s functions.”
The second theme is the need to give community groups the resources and ability to be involved in the planning process in a positive and constructive way. Public participation often occurs after it is too late to integrate meaningful changes. When there are misunderstandings between developer intentions and the way community residents perceive their neighbourhoods, the hostile opposition that results is known as NIMBYism. Enter PIMBYism, NIMBY’s antithesis.
The PIMBY program, which is still in its infancy, will be a continuation of the mapping work started by Adam Vaughan for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina. These maps are planning documents derived from direct participation and input of local community stakeholders. Realized through countless consultation sessions, most likely in charette form, information about what exactly it is that communities in each ward want to see will be compiled into “living documents” for developers, staff, and designers to access. Almost one hundred maps were produced for Vaughan’s Trinity-Spadina ward by Ryerson planning students. According to Gary Berman, co-founder of the Pug Awards and managing director at Tricon Capital Group, “almost no projects in this ward have gone to the OMB since they undertook this exercise,” and the planning has since been much more fluid.
As Gianpiero Pugliese, director of the PIMBY program and founder of AUDAXarchitecture, told Torontoist, the PIMBY maps will be coded, designating certain areas as “opportunities for change” and others as areas to preserve. If it becomes apparent that most residents have a similar vision for a particular lot or particular neighbourhood, this sentiment gets incorporated into the maps. Alternatively, unique neighbourhood anecdotes that only residents know about get factored in as well. Maps will be compiled from the contributions of those who live in each area. This information could even include fine details such as park benches, trees, walking paths between buildings, and where direct sunlight should fall.
Diagram courtesy of PIMBY.
Official maps and zoning plans don’t reach such a fine-grained level, so PIMBY attempts to break it down and complement zoning plans that are already enforced. Eventually, a “living document” will exist for each neighbourhood that developers can readily access before they begin to design their proposals. As Pugliese explained, “involving them early in the process creates a more amicable and productive dialogue, while curbing the risk of the developer.”
The goal of PIMBY is to have planning applications reach the statutory phase with all issues already resolved, therefore fast-tracking approval, saving the developers money, and removing the threat of litigation in front of the OMB. As it stands now, the PIMBY team is currently meeting with a number of local councillors to determine which ward to will start with. Hopefully there are several councillors in the city who understand the value of the program. It is quite possibly a win-win-win situation.