Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cornell and Upper Cornell in Markham

This street in Cornell is not marred by garages thrusting out from homes.
I spent Boxing Day in Upper Cornell, an extension of the new urbanist suburban development of Cornell in Markham, Ontario, north of Toronto. I was pleasantly surprised. I rather liked the place.

It does not completely live up to its hype but then what does? And a walk about the subdivision makes me believe many of the reporters writing about Cornell have never actually visited the place.

The Cornell development needs a few years to age; Subdivisions are like fine wines, they take a few years to mature, to reach their full potential. Give the little stick trees a few years and many of the streets will be as inviting as claimed.

Note apartments above the street with bikes on balconies.
Unlike almost all subdivisions, Cornell has a downtown core. This commercial district is not so much reminiscent of the downtowns once found in small towns but is more in tune with the shopping blocks built in the early part of the last century along major urban thoroughfares in many North American cities.

I even saw a neighbourhood corner store in Cornell. I was visiting friends whose place was rather close to that store. If we needed milk for the toddler, there was no need for the car; We could just walk. (In reality it was freezing cold and a car was used for the milk run.)

The lanes in Cornell are wide and well lit.
I'm not a big fan of laneways. When I was a child there was a lane, we called it an alley, behind the family home. Coal sheds, rather than garages, lined that laneway. This kept the coal deliveries and the coal dust away from the homes. The city garbage trucks also used the lanes as did the junkmen. These junkmen patrolled the alleys looking for scrap iron or other discarded stuff, tossing their finds into their horse-drawn wagons.

When people switched from coal to natural gas one might think that the coal sheds would have been converted into garages but no. Today many of those 1940s laneways are gone. The lanes were not liked for many reasons and over the passing years they were closed and merged into the adjacent backyards.

The lanes in Cornell are not at all like the lanes I remember. The Cornell lanes, I discovered, are easily twice as wide as the lanes behind my childhood home. And these Cornell lanes are brightly lit by rows of simple, modern lights, similar to the ones illuminating many mall parking lots.

I have often read that one immediately noticeable  feature of new urbanism is the width of the streets; they are narrow. I did not find the streets in Cornell particularly narrow.

In fact, I rarely encountered a boulevard in the genuine old neighbourhoods in which I hung out as a child. Cornell has some very wide streets that just about shout "built with you and your car in mind." (And this is good!)

I found the Cornell streets comfortably wide and some had cutouts to encourage on street parking. Although, one fellow told me that overnight parking on the street was a no-no. He did it a few weeks earlier and received a $40 ticket. I parked my car overnight in front of my hosts' garage doors at the edge of the rear lane way. This was legal.

The authentic old neighbourhoods with which I am familiar were developed before cars became as ubiquitous as they are today. The fact that many, if not most, of the residences in Cornell have parking for two cars says it all; Cars are important in Cornell. As a rule, one doesn't walk to work if you live in Cornell.

My hosts both face hour-long commutes when it comes to work. The car is an important part of their lives and the car is an important part of life in Cornell despite the place claiming to be a new urbanist centrepiece.

Lots of floors with lots of visual interest.
The rich mixture of housing said to be found in Cornell is a fact. And the architecture in Cornell is interesting. I would love to see the inside of some of the townhouses which border a large park near the place where I stayed.

I also noted that Cornell has lots of open areas.

In the end Cornell seems to be simply a different approach to urban sprawl, but it is still urban sprawl. It sits on land that just a few short years ago was some of Canada's best farmland.

Repairs needed.
How Cornell will age is a question. A lot of wood has gone into all the doodads decorating the place, and wood ages quickly. How often will residents be willing to replace all this stuff before much of it is removed.

In the past many an old wooden porch has been demolished as the upkeep of the once elegant century home became prohibitive.

Oddly enough, considering all the new urbanist talk of porches, aging large porches will not be a big problem in Cornell; there are not many large porches in the place.
A small porch.

The residence where I stayed did have a wrap-around porch but neither the porch columns nor the porch railings were wood. All appeared to be painted aluminum.

There's a lot to be learned from Cornell and the other new urbanism developments. It looks like a fine place to raise a family, kinda like my own subdivision in Byron on the southwestern edge of London, Ontario.

A wide street with boulevard cutouts for parking welcomes cars to Cornell.

Some homes still have views of garage doors.
The car is part of life in Cornell.

Correction: Editors are wonderful folk. Indispensable. I left the "e" out of alley in my original post. Oops! Gosh, I miss those wonderful newspaper editors.


  1. York region is home to many of the Greater Toronto Area's smaller communities and rural area's. Renowned as the High tech capital of Canada the region is one of the foremost up and coming area's in Canada.

  2. I live in Markham. It's one of the most prosperous areas in GTA.