During the Expanded Horizons trip to Toronto, I visited the Don Mills neighborhood. Don Mills was one of the first master planned communities in North America, making it a worthy destination. The site visit ironically began in Toronto’s first open air mall, adjacent to and named after the Don Mills community. As we gathered in a public space at the center of the mall, we discussed a neighborhood built around good intentions. Richard White, a history professor at the University of Toronto, led the tour, and did not miss the opportunity to discuss the so-called public space we stood in. The two security guards eyeing the group from afar made it clear that the space was not truly public. This discussion of open public spaces set the tone for the rest of the tour.
As we walked through one quadrant of the community we passed medium rise apartments, duplexes, and single-family homes, all a stone’s throw distance from each other. I was astounded by how well these mixed density residences coexisted alongside one another. The plan was clearly successful in implementing a mixed density community, with a multitude of greenspaces, and innovative design techniques such as under the road pedestrian walkways. Despite these successes, the community was also built to be auto-centric and the lack of people we saw while walking exemplified this. As we passed by the industrial park, originally meant to bring jobs to Don Mills, the failure of Don Mills to become its own insular urban organism became clear. Don Mills’ location, so close to the center of Toronto, led residents to seek job opportunities in the urban core. Don Mills might have failed in its original intention but its mixed density design certainly has its merits. While the community is not particularly diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, it is known to be one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Toronto. Ultimately, the visit prompted an important discussion on the value of master planned communities, and whether these types of developments have the power to “create” community. Furthermore, do new additions like the open air mall contribute to the existing neighborhood fabric of Don Mills, or does it simply raise property values?