When I first heard there was a Jane’s Walk in Square One’s City Centre area, I was sceptical that it would generate any excitement or relevant topics of discussion. I mean, I’ve been to Square One so many times in and out, it’s as though it’s literally in my own backyard, even though I’m a condo guy myself. Boy, was I surprised a lot was discussed. And I would never discourage people from participating in a Jane’s Walk; the more the merrier. However, having just four people did give me a chance to speak up a little more because you had a smaller discussion group which somewhat forces you to opine when necessary.
We started at the corner of Robert Speck and City Centre (a point not mentioned, that I probably should have made, was Robert Speck was a former mayor of the Town of Mississauga prior to the municipality’s incorporation as a city in 1974). I learned that Burnhamthorpe actually means something, besides just serving as the name of a major road; it means “The Lost Village”. One wonders what, if any, villages existed in that area north of Burnhamthorpe that Square One now primarily occupies. I do know that it was farmers fields and hay fields when Bruce McLaughlin all those decades ago purchased the land and laid the foundational infrastructure long before Square One was built. The man had a vision (check it out, it’s a little funky but pretty innovative for a man of that era). Even though monorails sound really silly today, the idea of a densely built area of buildings to service commercial needs and provide residential space interlinked with some kind of localized transit would have been visionary back 40 years ago.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way, as our walk commenced by gazing upon drabby commercial buildings and rows and rows of parking. Very prominently noted was the presence of major commercial property managers Morguard and Avison Young along City Centre Drive heading towards Duke of York Blvd. The sidewalks definitely were not built with the comfort of pedestrians in mind, although the latest renovated parking lot on Square One’s Bay entrance had walkability in mind, but not that much. One fascinating point raised by one of the walkers, Steve, was that 151 City Centre Drive, which now houses a Tim Hortons, the YMCA employment centre, and constituency office for MP Omar Alghabra, was once headquarters of a major agricultural company (the area on the top of the building where the logo once was is clearly visible, something I had not noticed before). Fun fact; there hasn’t been a new commercial office tower built in City Centre in at least 25 years, and I’m also wondering if there is a height restriction on the books, since none of the existing office towers exceed the height of City Hall.
As we approached Celebration Square and Mississauga Civic Centre (City Hall). I was very happy to relay some historical information I knew about City Hall, that the design originated from a contest to come up with the ideal design for Mississauga, and this was selected because of it’s nod to the city’s agrarian heritage. Steve did mention one thing that was striking; the number of security cameras within the area we were walking, not just the two that were clearly visibly on City Hall. All in all, we saw at least twenty cameras mounted on various buildings in the City Centre, including Square One’s Parking lots (mounted on the lamp posts) and the YMCA.
Gentrification is the idea of taking older, dilapidated neighbourhoods, putting money into them to build new housing in order to attract a different demographic to move in, while displacing the existing people that are there (most of the time inadvertently). Mississauga is not immune to such forces, as you can clearly see if you drive up Confederation Parkway. The new Parkside Village (see photos above) consists of high rise condos lining along the west side of Confederation, right across from established condo developments like Amica, which primarily houses seniors. I’ve been inside some of those condos that have been recently built; they are definitely geared towards a certain demographic: single, young, career focused, preferably women. You can see from the street level storefronts at the base of the new condominiums that it’s geared towards them; bank branches, fast food, and a Starbucks. Meanwhile, Amica has this more traditional look that gives more comfort to those living out their golden years if they happen to venture outside to walk around. But just looking at these two complexes across the street from each other, juxtaposes between the long standing generation that have been in Mississauga for decades, versus the new generation that’s moving in. There are some elements in terms of sidewalk infrastructure to accommodate seniors from Amica on one side of Confederation, but once you cross the street over to Parkside Village, you can definitely tell that it’s geared more towards more mobile younger people.
We then made our way to what is known as Community Common (a park at the corner of Confederation Parkway and Princess Royal Drive). I must say this was a nice little oasis of greenery and modern structures within the grouping of condominiums within City Centre. There are a number of little things around that I would like to make some brief notes on.
The synchronization of the potted plants (see above photo) gives some colour and post modern design to an area traditionally otherwise staid and bland. I remember my trip to Portland, Oregon last fall and looking at the modern architecture and colours in the park, it’s very similar and has that Portland look in it. It may be rhetorical to think Mississauga could become the next Portland, but at least in this Community Common they are trying.
One of the indications that the area is being developed to accommodate younger people, especially those with dogs, is when we walked by the water fountain and public washroom. The fountain was designed to allow adults, children, and animals to use it. Also, pictured in the background of the water fountain, that washroom building had on it’s glass walls the city’s motto “Pride in our Past, Faith in our Future” written in various languages, representing all the different communities that are in Mississauga. I thought that was wonderful to display, except I wish it was on something better than a bathroom structure.
Here’s my only complaint about this Community Common. These metal panels on the ground should be barricaded during the hot summer months coming up. I read of a case in a park in Georgetown last summer where the steel panels were super heated by the sun during one long summer afternoon. A small child ended up stepping on one during his playtime and resulted in him burning his feet, developing painful blisters. I saw these panels unguarded and thought about this story; hopefully Mississauga takes precautions to address such liability exposures.
The ‘Contemplating Child’ art piece can be seen just outside City Hall. I think the picture I took of it with City Hall in the background exemplifies the frustrations a number of citizens feel when it comes to dealing with their government. I think taxi drivers can agree with that statement…
Brownfields are not a particularly major problem in Mississauga, but this plot of land, a wood lot to be precise, is a major eyesore in the otherwise clean and modernly built out City Centre. It is located at Square One and Living Arts Drive. We found a left over traffic cone (the large ones that are orange and black), a beer bottle and just too many dead branches and trees. I’ve tweeted at Councillor John Kovac (Ward 4) to ask what if anything is being done on this plot of land. He responded by saying the land is owned by OMERS and there are currently no applications for developing on the site. But they are zoned as “City Centre Mixed Use”, so they will permit a range of uses like retail, residential and office space. So, probably they’ll just put up another mid rise or low rise condo with more ground level retail.
Some thoughts on transit. GO Transit constructed a new parking lot and terminal at Square One to service the GO bus linkage there, and from the looks of it it was well used (the ticket vendor told us it was the second busiest terminal next to Union Station). The interior has a very European look to it, which sounds like a nod to what is vastly superior transit over in Europe. The outer building also has a very green, modern Swedish look to it as well, complete with a interesting light wall on the exterior.
The transit enforcement vehicle spurred a long conversation about how authorities seem to have adopted more aggressive looking branding. Some of us thought the vehicle (see above) was adopting colours more synonymous with police cars. We got into the concept of the growing militarization of the police, and coupled with how we found almost 20 video cameras around the entire City Centre, the issue of over-security seems to be a topic not only within the realm of the conspiracy driven individual.
I’ll end this piece with our stop at Whole Foods, which is obviously a symbol of gentrification in the new Mississauga. I noticed this only when I was eating there the other day which is why I brought the group inside. Whole Foods is known for integrating their franchises into the local community, and this mural is a nice nod to the history of Mississauga and acknowledgement of the city’s origins of villages coming together. I would take issue only with the fact that in 1968 Mississauga was incorporated as a town, not a city. Only in 1974 did the City status became official.
I’m not sure what the future holds for the City Centre area in Mississauga. It’s growth and vitality is essential for the entire city’s development. What is needed, however, is the infrastructure that can support an expanding transit network beyond just Miway busing, and currently with the way Square One is growing, I don’t see that happening. Despite this, the possibilities are many, like the sculpture located in the middle of the roundabout at Square One Drive and Duke of York Blvd…which is aptly named..Possibilities.