An Urban Planner's Tour of Don Mills in Toronto

Katelin Dejak Published on January 26, 2016 This itinerary will give you a behind the scenes look at the Don Mills neighbourhood in Toronto through an urban planner’s eyes. It will be a travel experience through time in the sense that the foundation of the community is over 60 years old, and you will see new developments and houses still in the process of being built. Please think about the following concepts during this itinerary: housing types, green spaces, and the layout of the community. Don Mills is the first planned community in Canada, and is considered a “planning success” even though nearly 60 years have passed since the completion of the development. The community’s construction was finished in 1953 and has been a neighbourhood unit ever since. The idea behind the development was to build an integrative community with a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses to allow for a “complete” community. A fundamental planning principle that was integrated into this community was the importance of making all aspects of the neighbourhood accessible and walk-friendly to families, particularly those with children. [caption id="attachment_1336" align="aligncenter" width="580"]katelin-map Map by Jeff Allen, 2015.[/caption]

You will need to walk a total of 2.4 km. The tour begins and ends at Shops at Don Mills (1090 Don Mills Rd) in the centre square of the mall. Please ensure that you have comfortable walking shoes and appropriate gear for the weather. Note that this can be either a walking tour or a cycling tour, but no motorized vehicles are allowed on the bike paths.


Stop 1: Start Tour at Shops at Don Mills Centre Square

Shops at Don Mills was first opened in 1954 as a small strip mall. It was part of the master plan of the Don Mills Community, to serve as a retail space for the future local residents. As the newly built community proved to be a success, there was a large population surge, and in 1965 the mall was expanded to add 65 indoor stores. In 2009, the Shops at Don Mills had its grand re-opening of a new, outdoor mall that was now home to an array of high-end stores and restaurants. The mall functions as more than just a retail shopping mall. It is also a centre of the Don Mills community, where local residents can find entertainment.

Stop 2: Duncairn Park

The photo below shows the entrance to Duncairn Park. This green space and trail was incorporated into the master plan of the community for the sole reason of providing children with access to school through “green paths,” preventing them from coming across automobile traffic. All houses adjacent to the park were built so that children can walk from the back door of their house to the green path, then to the local school, Norman Ingram Public School (located to the right of the photo), as well as to the community centre. This is one of the most unique planning features of this community because it fosters a relationship between the built environment and the natural ecosystem.

Stop 3: Duncairn Underpass Tunnel

[caption id="attachment_1196" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Duncan Underpass. Photo by Katelin Dejak. Duncan Underpass. Photo by Katelin Dejak.[/caption] This underpass allows students to access their houses safely without going on the street. The concept of making pedestrian friendly paths is an urban planning concept that rarely gets implemented due to the requirement of open green space and extensive planning. The school was a central part of the planning because there certainly needed to be a local school for all the new houses being built. However, the City Council was unable to afford building a new school, so the president of the development company, Angus McClaskey, made a cash grant towards this cause. This was a crucial point to the planning of Don Mills because the school was the core of the community, and it would be considered a failure without it.

Stop 4: Better Living Health and Community Services Centre and Mixed Used Housing

This community centre caters to seniors and has the same access to green paths as seen earlier in the schools. The centre is meant to represent the family ties in the community, with space available for all ages and access to all amenities open to the community. Across the street from the community centre are the apartment buildings which add to the mix of housing types in the area, comprising of single family homes, semi-detached homes, row housing, town housing, and low-rise apartments.

Stop 5: Industrial Park and Low Income Housing

As you stand on Barber Greene Rd., you will notice an industrial area with large factories and office buildings on your right, and town homes on your left. This was deliberately planned to try to prevent becoming “bedroom community,” which is when people travel far for work and only use their homes to sleep. Such arrangement does not produce a well-integrated community life, and the community typically lacks vibrant commercial and industrial activity. Don Mills was supposed to be a complete community, so the theory behind the location of the industrial district was to build low-income housing close to the factories, so that people could live and work within close proximity. This turned out to be a failure, however, because only less than 4% of the people who lived nearby actually worked in the industrial park.

End of Tour

Follow the map back to the Shops at Don Mills, and feel free to grab a coffee, or shop around. Notice the different demographics around the centre: children playing, teenagers grabbing food on their lunch break, elderly people exercising, people out to shop. Does it feel like a community to you?

Works Cited


Katelin DejakKatelin Dejak is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, graduating with a double major in City Studies and Human Geography. Formerly a member of the Jr. Canadian Badminton Team, Katelin has traveled around the world, especially in Asia, representing Canada on the international badminton circuit.]]>

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