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Signs are in the ground for York University's Markham campus
Nov. 8, 2016
By Amanda Persico

It’s official: York University will open a campus in Markham - the sign says so.

Last week, York U officials, together with Markham delegates, unveiled a ‘coming soon’ sign at a five-acre site located at Enterprise Boulevard and Rivis Road.

Now that the academic side of the equation is almost complete and the building siteplan is in progress, it’s time turn attention to city building, said York University Development Corporation president Bud Purves during a recent Markham campus committee meeting.

“This is not just a building,” he said. “We’re looking at building a university precinct, where students will be everywhere. The key to success is how we integrate with the community.”

The next phase is all about the student experience, inside and out of the classroom, he added.

That means looking at future student accommodations, transit, off-campus lecture locations, nearby shops and recreation for students.

“Nowadays you don’t send a student to university and just give them a classroom and a schedule and say, ‘Hope you have a nice time’,” Purves said. “We have a responsibility of ‘Hope you have a nice time,’ 24/7. It’s a responsibility beyond the classroom.”

York University is exploring using off-site locations such as the Civic Centre, Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre and nearby movie theatres as potential lecture halls or exam rooms.

When it comes to student recreation, York U is also looking at establishing formal agreements with the nearby YMCA, GoodLife fitness and the Markham Pan Am Centre to create an all-access student pass.

York U is also looking into partnerships with local restaurants that could be compatible with a student meal plan, Purves said.

Councillors want to see transit on the top of the priority list.

Attractions such as Main Street Unionville, Main Street Markham, Pacific Mall or Markville Shopping Centre are a tad too far to make it there and back to campus without reliable and dedicated transit options.

The picture is of students zipping in and out of local shops, adding to the economic activity and vibrancy of the area.

“We need those places for students to zip in and out of,” said local Councillor Don Hamilton. “But we also need a place for students to go, chill, grab a coffee and live a little bit.”

Purves agreed, city building of this magnitude is about the street level.

“Big scale planning is eye-level,” he said. “What makes it successful are what someone experiences going from A to B.”

Councillor Valerie Burke argued while animating a street is all well and good, there needs to be more planning as to what types of businesses are located at the street level.

“No one goes for a walk on the street and says ‘I’m going to walk into a dental clinic’,” she said. “It’s not animated.”

“If the prime corners are banks, then there are no people,” Purves said. “That’s prime real estate and no people.”

This is where the city’s planning department is a key asset since zoning and land use are up to the city, he added.