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A Moment of Reflection for the Greater Toronto Area on Amazon HQ2 Locations Richmond Hill Headquartered Olympus Canada Recognized as a Greater Toronto Top Employer

Urban Growth Outside of Downtown Cores: Should We Pay More Attention?

YORK LINK BLOG SERIES

Part 1 | A Moment of Reflection for the Greater Toronto Area on Amazon HQ2 Locations
Part 2 | Urban Growth Outside of Downtown Cores: Should We Pay More Attention?
Part 3 | Tech in the GTA: A ‘Cluster of Clusters’ That Deserves Unpacking, Attention, and Promotion

**PART TWO OF A THREE PART SERIES**

If you missed part one of this series, we looked at Amazon’s surprising selections for its HQ2 locations – quasi-suburban redevelopment neighborhoods – rather than a hip downtown environment in a big city that many of us expected the company to invest in.

We ended with an open question whether enough is done collectively in the GTA to celebrate and spotlight the urban transformation areas that exist throughout the entirety of the Greater Toronto Area.

Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) | Vaughan York Region

Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) | Vaughan York Region

Considering Amazon’s original bid criteria and its final selection for HQ2 there are a number of key locations across the GTA that should receive a lot more attention in terms of Canadian media coverage, business chatter, and formal promotion by various stakeholders across the GTA.

GTA’s collaborative bid for Amazon HQ2 included a number of proposed sites in Toronto’s downtown waterfront areas and provincially-recognized urban growth centres in Vaughan, Markham, and Mississauga, alongside a range of development lands from Brampton to Oakville to Pickering. These sites are listed beginning on page 114 in the Toronto Region’s bid.

Moreover, additional urban growth areas in the GTA that were not formally included in the bid, such as the Richmond Hill Centre and Toronto Downsview sites, are consistent with Amazon’s choices for HQ2 and could have met some (or most) of the key requirements.

Nonetheless, Canadian media coverage and public discussion in the context of Toronto’s Amazon HQ2 bid was focused almost exclusively on the downtown core as the natural and only reasonable location for Amazon’s HQ2 in the GTA. Public discussion on any of GTA’s other qualified urban growth sites noted above was barely existent and still is despite Amazon’s non-downtown-core choices.

So how significant are the GTA’s urban growth centres, and do they deserve increased attention, in light of where HQ2 ended up?

To answer this question we’ll provide context around the urban growth centres in Toronto area’s York Region, as that’s our area of expertise. Information related to other major urban growth centres across the GTA would likely paint a similar picture.

A dive into York Region’s urban growth centres

Traditionally known as a suburban community with spacious subdivisions of detached homes, York Region – particularly its southern and most populated area – has been transforming into an urban-suburban hybrid with a diverse housing mix and a significant share of the GTA’s economic activity.

Markham Centre | Markham, York Region

Markham Centre (Downtown Markham) | Markham, York Region

For example, according to public data from BILD, over the last four years more than 20,000 new condo apartments were sold in York Region; second only to the City of Toronto and more than the rest of the GTA’s 905 Regions, combined!

Much of this new condo development is well underway in the communities of Markham Centre, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC), and Richmond Hill’s Yonge Street corridor.

Overall, York Region’s four designated urban growth centres (Newmarket is another growth-targeted community) are projected to accommodate 150,000 new residents and 110,000 jobs over the next 13 years: a meaningful share of the total 1.6 million residents and 790,000 jobs projected by 2031 for York Region as a whole.

These areas are seeing massive investments in transit and infrastructure by all levels of government, including the only TTC subway extension outside Toronto city limits (Line One to the VMC), all-day, two-way GO Train service and 36km of Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

Walkable amenities are also popping up in these areas to meet the needs of increased population densities. Additional transit projects, including the much-needed Yonge line subway extension to Richmond Hill, are also in various planning stages.

Richmond Hill Centre | Richmond Hill, York Region

Richmond Hill Centre | Richmond Hill, York Region

These growth centres not only attract new residents looking for a hybrid urban lifestyle but new businesses too. KPMG, PWC, Miller Thomson, Aviva Canada, Under Armour, Harley Davidson HQ, GFL, and Densify are just some of the employers that recently moved into York Region’s urban growth centres.

They are creating thousands of new jobs and adding to key businesses already established in these areas, like IBM’s research lab, Honeywell, Worley-Parsons, Mircom, Teledyne, and others. Other major companies are now choosing the periphery of York Region’s urban growth centres such as GM’s new 700-person software development centre in Markham, and Digital Realty, and Telecon in Vaughan.

Considering Amazon’s selection(s) for HQ2 it seems a lot more plausible now than a year ago that these different urban transformation area across the GTA need to receive a lot more attention and be promoted as viable locations for major tech and head office investments in knowledge-based sectors.

This is especially true in light of a new report published this week by Toronto’s Neptis Foundation pointing to ‘hyper-concentration’ of jobs in Toronto’s downtown as a risk factor for the entire region, and calls for a secondary transit-connected “downtown” in the GTA to ensure the metro area’s economic resilience.

That said, urban transformation alone is not enough to attract major greenfield technology or corporate investments like Amazon. A robust and established tech cluster is a critical component. So do GTA areas outside downtown Toronto have what it takes in this regard? We’ll explore this in the final part of the series.

– By the York Link Team


Part 1 | A Moment of Reflection for the Greater Toronto Area on Amazon HQ2 Locations
Part 2 | Urban Growth Outside of Downtown Cores: Should We Pay More Attention?
Part 3 | Tech in the GTA: A ‘Cluster of Clusters’ That Deserves Unpacking, Attention, and Promotion

LOCATIONS

The Regional Municipality of York
Economic Strategy Office
17250 Yonge Street
Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
L3Y 6Z1

York Link
169 Enterprise Boulevard
Markham, Ontario, Canada
L6G 1B3

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