Urban Design Decision-Making: A Study of Ontario Municipal Board Decisions in Toronto

By Kumar, Sandeep | Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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Urban Design Decision-Making: A Study of Ontario Municipal Board Decisions in Toronto

Kumar, Sandeep, Canadian Journal of Urban Research


The paper is a study of a Canadian decision-making model in urban design review process. The study focuses on the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a provincially-appointed administrative tribunal, which is unarguably a powerful decision-making body with respect to matters of urban planning in the province of Ontario. The design decisions made by the OMB have a significant and lasting impact on the physical fabric and visual make-up of cities in Ontario. This research assesses six Board decisions to explore how design decisions are made, identify factors used to evaluate the design quality of development proposals, and examine whether such a decision-making model has helped enhance the quality of the built environment. The study suggests that the OMB model has both pros and cons but is certainly not fully conducive for reviewing and adjudicating designs. It further suggests that the OMB makes conscious attempts to recognize urban design as an important and integral part of planning and supports less rigid design control measures despite being mainly concerned about the "measurable" impacts of a design on a community. Overall, this adjudicative process attempts to balance private and public interests but while doing so may not have led to the best design solution.

Keywords: urban design, decision-making, Ontario Municipal Board, Toronto


Cet article analyse le modele de processus decisionnel canadien concernant le processus d'evaluation de design urbain. L'etude se concentre sur la Commission des Affaires Municipales de l'Ontario (CAMO), un tribunal administratif qui est incontestablement un puissant organisme de processus decisionnel en ce qui concerne les questions d'amenagement urbain en Ontario. Les decisions de design urbain, effectuees par la CAMO, ont un impact significatif et durable sur le tissu urbain des villes en Ontario. Afin d'explorer le processus decisionnel nous avons evaluez six decisions de la CAMO. Il s'agit d'identifier les facteurs utilises pour evaluer la qualite des designs urbains et d'examiner si ce modele de processus decisionnel aide a rehausser la qualite de l'environnement urbain. L'etude suggere que le modele de la CAMO comporte des aspects positifs et negatifs sans etre pour autant completement adequat pour effectuer l'evaluation et l'allocation des designs urbains. L'etude suggere egalement que la CAMO reconnaisse l'importance du design urbain comme une partie integrante de l'amenagement urbain. En effet, la CAMO doit imposer des mesures de controle moins rigides malgre le fait que la Commission est principalement concernee par les impacts mesurables du design urbain sur la communaute. En general, le processus adjudicatif essaye d'equilibrer les interets prives et publics, ce faisant, la Commission n'a pas toujours opte pour le meilleur design urbain.

Mots cles: design urbain, processus decisionnel, Commission des Affaires Municipales de l'Ontario, Toronto


The design quality of development proposais is reviewed and decided in different ways. There are municipal-level review committees such as in British Columbia and Quebec in Canada (Kumar, 2002) and all across the United States (Lightner, 1993) that review design aspects of development proposais. National and provincial governments also appoint special committees to review designs in their respective capital cities. The National Capital Commission (1) (NCC) in Ottawa and the Wascana Centre Authority (2) (WCA) in Regina Saskatchewan are examples of such committees in Canada. The staff of local municipal authorities also review designs of development projects and are usually the first people who get to review and make decisions. Kumar's (2002) survey of urban design regulations in Canada reveals that a different form of decision-making model exists where there is no design review panel. This model constitutes provincially-appointed quasi-judicial boards that play a significant role in making final design decisions in case of appeals and by far could have the greatest impact on the built environment and communities in their respective provinces.

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Urban Design Decision-Making: A Study of Ontario Municipal Board Decisions in Toronto


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