Corp Comm Connects


Placemaking in Innisfil

Reframing land use

Nov. 9, 2016
By Andrew Cohrs

Seeking to improve residents’ connections to the town, Innisfil is taking a new approach to its official plan review. It is rewriting its entire plan using a placemaking lens. Corporate restructuring and a reframed community engagement process have encouraged both staff and residents to think differently about land use planning.

“The main goal is to make our official plan a visionary living document that not just planners will use but the whole organization [uses] as the key tool that implements our strategic plan … [and]
is used in all the day-to-day activities of the town to help achieve our vision,” Innisfi l senior planner Paul Pentikainen told NRU.

Staff wants Innisfi l’s new offi cial plan to evoke emotional connections between residents and the town. To accomplish this, the town is applying a placemaking lens to the entire plan. Pentikainen explains that for staff, placemaking is about collaborative processes that engage residents and create vibrant public spaces.

“When you ask people what they love about their community it often goes back to those public spaces … So how can we enhance those places, how do we make people essentially love where they live? ... We’ve tried to put that spin on our official plan ... How are we going to grow in a way that people will have that stronger emotional connection to where they live, work, shop and play?”

Staff envision a number of designated placemaking destinations, including the downtown commercial area. Development proposals for sites within or near an identified placemaking destination, will be required to include a placemaking brief as part of a complete application. This will assist the town in evaluating the proposal’s contributions to placemaking and its potential for achieving the four principles of place: activities and uses, access and linkages, comfort and image, and sociability.

Pentikainen says that placemaking policies will be incorporated into each section and land use designation of the official plan. For example, the policies for the Downtown Commercial Area designation will identify ways to achieve placemaking initiatives, such as wide pedestrian sidewalks animated through cafes, public art, seating and activity areas, such as outdoor chess and ping pong tables. It will also include a public square designed to be programmed as a year-round destination, such as a skating rink in winter and space for outdoor movies and events in

Reframing the consultation process changed how residents engaged with the official plan review. For example, the town hosted a community visioning day, held a photo scavenger hunt, asking residents to submit photos around particular themes, held pop-up interactive workshops at community events and hosted a youth session at a local high school. Pentikainen says that the community has been very excited by the different approach. But community involvement should not end at the consultation phase.

“The main task in implementing the official plan is to try to get more community involvement [and] empower neighbourhood groups or other community organizations ... to give [the official plan] that thrust and to really start to look at more creative uses of public spaces. And that’s where it can get really interesting.”

Corporate restructuring over the last two years has laid the groundwork and contributed to the town’s focus on placemaking. It increased coordination among departments, including removing an entire level of senior management and creating a placemaking cross-functional team that comprises members from land use planning, engineering and community services to facilitate placemaking at the development permit stage. Adopted in May, an updated strategic plan also has a placemaking emphasis.

“[The restructuring] is meant to [create] a more flexible organization … It’s part of our whole attempt to have this type of innovative culture so that as a management team they are comfortable trying out new ideas. That’s why it [has] to aligned quite well with the switch that we’ve made to take a new look at our official plan through the placemaking lens,” Pentikainen said.

While taking the placemaking approach has generated excitement in the community, articulating these ideas in the official plan is not without its challenges.

“[Implementing a placemaking approach] is a definite challenge but it’s something that has been well received by the community. Residents and council and everyone are very much on board with it,” said Pentikainen.

The town has hired Sorensen Gravely Lowes Planning and Design and its team - People for Public Space, Hemson Consulting, Tate Economic Research, AgPlan, Cumming & Company, North-South Environmental, HDR and LEA Consulting - to draft the new official plan. Following a public meeting, staff anticipate submitting the draft official plan to council in early 2017.