This morning I am, quite literally, focussed on the future of Newmarket.

I join others who, like me, have clear views on how the Town should develop over the next few decades.

We are one of two self-selected focus groups invited to give the Town our thoughts on how Newmarket should develop and grow.

It is a terrific morning at the Doug Duncan Community Centre with lots of very clued-up people offering valuable insights. I learn a lot.

The omni-present Newmarket Planner, Marion Plaunt, takes us through the process.

First, we get an introduction to the Secondary Plan showing the implications for Newmarket of several possible futures – high growth and low growth.

The figures are startling.

In the Yonge Davis corridor and Southlake (the study area), the population could swell from 1,740 (the 2006 baseline figure) to 4,340 (low estimate) or 27,677 (high) by 2021.

Employment in the same area could rise from 16,218 (2006 baseline) to 22,889 (low) up to 33,604 (high estimate).

We are invited to look way over the horizon to Newmarket in 2051. It is all hugely speculative but fun nevertheless.

Now we divide into workshops and have maps, photos of sundry buildings, highlighters  and inky pens. Our job is to recommend appropriate heights and densities and building forms along the Yonge Davis corridors. It is all done at a furious pace with next to no time for reflection.

What did I get out of it all?

There is little enthusiasm for huge Towers. Most people in my workshop seem to think a 15 storey max is about right, but with lower heights predominating along both corridors.

There is a huge amount of scepticism about the transportation modelling showing how the main arterial roads would cope with given volumes of traffic. Long range forecasts showing uncongested roads are greeted with disbelief.  In 2012 traffic on these very same roads is already slow moving.

There is a lot of talk in the wider group about the difficulty of getting from A to B by car but next to nothing about the alternatives. We need to think hard about how we develop rapid transit.  What are we going to do about the Go Trains – the Puffing Billy train service to Toronto?

I tell everyone the Newmarket to Toronto railway had two tracks until 1987 when one was ripped up in a supreme act of vandalism. I soon as the words are out of my mouth I see a thousand heads shaking. Wrong! (Memo to myself: always double check “reliable” sources.)

Another thing strikes me. There is next to no information on the public ownership of land in the corridors. Clearly, this could shape the way the core develops. Are people working, as we speak, on a new library or, perhaps, a new theatre or some other public institutional use? If so, this should be fed into the debate. And what about new schools and public open space that will be needed to serve the growing population?

And let’s have some decent architecture and a streetscape we can be proud of. Who wants cheap and boring off-the-shelf designs foisted on us by profit hungry developers?

Left to their own devices, the professional planners and the developers (with the acquiescence of many councillors) will always come to some kind of accommodation about the best way forward. That’s the process that gave us the 20 storey condo at Davis and George - without anyone else being aware of what was happening.

We need some kind of standing citizen’s committee (if that doesn’t sound too grand) to keep an eye on them all as the plan unfolds.

Public Information Meeting

There is another Public Information meeting on the Secondary Plan from 7pm-9pm on Wednesday 9 May in the Council Chambers at 395 Mulock Drive. There is a presentation and then a Q&A afterwards.