The AMZ is a regionally, provincially, and nationally significant economic zone, important in the production of tradeable goods and services. It includes sizeable concentrations of employment in transportation, finance, manufacturing, telecommunications, wholesale trade, architectural and engineering services, and computer systems design and services. It represents a significant cluster of knowledge-intensive activities. It also contains important economic assets – from Pearson Airport itself, to the CN Brampton Intermodal terminal, to head offices and clusters of firms in key industries.
Unlike other areas outside the City of Toronto, including many Urban Growth Centres designated in the Growth Plan, the Airport Megazone has seen growth in core employment since 2001, especially the growth of finance and business services in the South subzone, mostly in Airport Corporate Centre. The megazone also comprises distinct subareas that focus on different types of economic activity, with associated differences in urban form and density.
In short, the AMZ represents significant potential for economic development, city-building, achieving planning and Growth Plan objectives, and reducing congestion through a shift to transit.
Economic development potential could be realized by building on the zone’s many existing assets: by strengthening the economic ecosystem and inter-firm linkages within the zone, improving access, and increasing its attractiveness to workers.
The area also contains significant redevelopment potential on undeveloped lots and expanses of surface parking. Strategic redevelopment could achieve densities that make higher levels of transit service viable.
Despite the potential, there are many challenges.
The AMZ is heavily auto-dependent, generating about 500,000 automobile work trips daily and almost a million total auto trips daily to and from the district. For a region grappling with congestion and a Province committed to greenhouse gas reduction targets, the question of travel to and from the AMZ cannot be ignored. Moreover, the built environment and public realm of the area are not very attractive to new investment and workers, and could undermine the positive impact of transit investments.
These issues remain largely unaddressed, in part because the area is governed by four municipal governments, as well as the airports authority. This jurisdictional fragmentation has meant that the AMZ as a whole, the second largest employment concentration in the country, is “invisible” to planners and decision-makers.
As a result, although transit investments are being made in and around the area, they tend not to focus on serving the AMZ as a single employment district, and are not well coordinated. The same is true of more recently proposed transit investments. Connection to the Airport or the Airport Megazone is often an afterthought of proposals intended for other purposes. The area is not sufficiently recognized nor prioritized in regional transit planning.
Current planning frameworks do not comprehensively address the quality of the built environment and public realm in a way that capitalizes on the development potential of the area, makes the area more attractive to new kinds of firms and skilled workers, ensures that transit attracts riders in sufficient numbers to warrant investments, and includes a planning and land use framework that supports the competitiveness and flexibility of firms in the area.
The issues could be addressed and the potential of the area realized through an integrated zone-wide reurbanization strategy. Such a strategy would simultaneously address the built environment and public realm, planning and land use frameworks, economic development potential, transit service, and access. Interventions would be tailored to address the varying mix of economic activities and built environment characteristics of the AMZ. For example, urban design and the mix of land uses need to be addressed in terms of their role in attracting new investment, supporting the economic ecosystem of the area, and enhancing firms’ competitiveness.
In the context of economic restructuring in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the changing needs of business, the Province’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, the Growth Plan and Big Move objectives, future transit investments, and the significant role that the AMZ plays in all of these considerations, an integrated reurbanization strategy is warranted.