For millennia, the Downsview lands have been central to the ecological and social life of the region. Drawn by its position on the ridge between the Humber and Don River watershed, First Nations communities have been the traditional stewards of these lands for over 11,000 years. Following the Toronto Purchase of 1805 and the opening of Downsview Airport in the early 20th Century, Downsview was a hub for innovation and employment, particularly in the aerospace industry, while simultaneously being disconnected from its ecological resources.
Following a sixteen-month, three phase engagement process, the proposed framework plan identifies key opportunities and challenges, gives preliminary form to shared aspirations, and establishes over-arching principles that will guide the transformation of the Downsview lands into its next chapter. The Plan, jointly led by Northcrest Developments and Canada Lands Company and with design partners SLA and KPMB Architects, reimagines the future for the expansive northern neighborhood and offers the opportunity to craft a thriving community for generations to come.
Downsview will introduce a new form of development – City Nature – that blends the built and natural world, integrating green infrastructure, biodiverse habitat, gathering spaces, and play into the public realm. Inspired by Toronto’s ravine network, and celebrating the example set by Downsview Park, City Nature invites nature’s generosity into the bustle of the every day, delivering public health, ecosystem, sustainability, and resilience benefits.
Totaling 100 acres of new open space, the City Nature approach to the Framework Plan is comprised of three elements: the runway reimagined as a 2 kilometer sequence of public spaces, a series of local and district parks, and a network of connective greenways. Taken all together, this network of open spaces ensures that all homes and places of employment are within a five-minute walk of an open space and that these spaces are connected to each other, fostering the movement of people, local flora and fauna, and water.
Toronto is a city of neighborhoods, and the ones surrounding the site are diverse, multicultural, and full of character. The Framework Plan aspires to complement and connect with the richness of neighboring communities through the creation of ten new urban districts – vibrant, diverse, amenity-rich, sustainable.
Designing for the human scale is a central tenet of the design vision, and mid-rise buildings will make up the bulk of the development. Transit nodes and major intersections will serve as densification points, supporting ease of movement both within the Downsview site and across the Greater Toronto area. In all, the plan calls for 50,000 units of housing for 80,000 residents that meet or exceed affordable housing requirements.
Future neighborhoods will make space for both local intimacy and urban vibrancy, where the magic of community life spills into and enriches public spaces. Inspired by the “15-Minute City” concept, everything residents and workers need will be easily accessible with a short walk, roll, bike, or public transit ride.
Urban infrastructure systems must be designed to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, while supporting flexible and evolving uses and technology. Downsview offers a unique opportunity to design infrastructure from the ground up that is rooted in principles of circularity, decarbonization, and natural systems.
Rather than hiding these systems, the City Nature approach puts them on display as an integrated part of life. Open and green spaces will serve multiple roles as pieces of a site-wide blue-green infrastructure network, facilitating resilient stormwater management, biodiverse ecosystems, and comfortable microclimates.
These lands will make space for experiences that spark joy and delight. Public places will be designed to bridge the area’s past and its future. Placemaking and placekeeping will acknowledge the legacy of aerospace innovation, reflect histories of Indigenous stewardship, and will be shaped by the dreams and cultures of the diverse residents that call Downsview home.
In the years before the site is fully built out, curated interim and semi-permanent uses will draw activity to Downsview, complementing the existing programming and year-round activities at Downsview Park. At any given time, portions of the former runway may be occupied by an annual festival, an occasional meet-up for kite-flying, or a seasonal installation like a skating trail.