by Mark Brooks
Have you heard about the Eastern Toronto Regions new Aerotropolis? It will create 150,000 jobs, homes for 120,000 people and enable our net zero carbon emissions goals. The project has been decades in the making and will take years to finish. It has the support of five local city government’s and the majority of the regions citizen’s. Part of it is under construction right now.
One of the things I like most about being a pilot is the front row seat to watching cities grow. Over the last several decades, the growth around Pearson airport has been spectacular to watch. In 2018 the airport itself employed 50,000 people but the accidental economic engine that has built up around it is the real story. Despite its flaws, including a lack of greenspace and housing developments under approach paths, the area is now one of Canadas largest employment zones, creating 330,000 jobs and 6% of Ontario’s GDP ($42 Billion). Now a second economic engine is starting up, but this time the environment, lifestyle and community are being planned around an airport even before it is built. This will make the new Pickering Airport Canadas first intentional Aerotropolis.
Starting several years ago, what is happening just east of Toronto is astonishing. Funded by private investors and driven by a talented population expected to double in size by 2040, the City of Pickering is transforming itself into an economic engine. After years of delay, misinformation from opponents and political challenges, Canada’s first planned Aerotropolis is taking shape. Governed by the PASZR (Pickering Airport Site Zoning Regulations) that has been in place for decades and with guidance by city planners, developers are nudged and guided into building a community planned around an airport.
An Aerotropolis is a metropolitan sub-region whose infrastructure, land use, and economy are centered on an airport. When the construction is finished, and the political shenanigans of anti-airport lobbyists are history, the aerotropolis will provide amazing economic opportunity, an environmentally friendly lifestyle, jobs and new affordable housing for an entire city. The new aerotropolis will help fight global warming by reducing aircraft congestion, improving logistics and by reducing roadside commuting times. It will support new aviation technology and Canadas carbon net zero goals.
As the City of Pickering gets ready for its new airport one big question remains. When will the Canadian Federal Government stop listening to the late night myths whispered by anti-airport lobbyists and do its part or at least get out of the city’s way?
All of the Seaton community, the Innovation Corridor and parts of Ajax, Markham and the proposed Veraine community will be in the primary Aerotropolis zone ( within 5 kilometres of the retained federal Pickering airport lands).
Despite its size and future impact on the Toronto region, the announcement of the Aerotropolis at an Toronto Board of Trade event April 9th 2019 was at first barely mentioned in the press. To its credit, On April 23rd, the Toronto Star featured the Pickering airport story in its “Big Debate” section. Unfortunately when the Aerotropolis is mentioned in the press, its goals and progress is often drowned out by a babble of me first lobbyists and developers that just want to built McMansions. To many have been fooled into thinking that the giant is still sleeping.
Strategically located where Toronto, York and Durham Regions meet, the Aerotropolis project is huge by Canadian standards. Connected by Highway 407 and the Havelock rail line, it will consist of a new industrial and specialty passenger airport, an innovation corridor, and at least two new communities including the Seaton and the new proposed Veraine project. On its own, each of these projects are billion-dollar events. Taken together they are an unprecedented pace and scope of urban development in Canada. Together these projects will cut off the current flow of long-distance commuters with 100,000 to 150,000 new local direct jobs. They will provide affordable housing for 120,000 people. The aerotropolis will unleash the energy of free enterprise and direct private investment to transform Pickering into the economic engine of the Eastern Toronto region. Best yet, it will decongest existing airports and provide the space to enable new aviation technology to meet net zero carbon emission targets by 2050.
The Seaton Lands
The Seaton project consists of 3,100 acres of land, purchased by private developers from the province of Ontario in 2018. Its development supports the airport project as it includes a $70 million dollar levy to supersize the water and sewer system ( now under construction) of the new subdivision to support the airport and innovation corridor. Seaton will be a mixed use, sustainable community expected to be home to 61,000 people by 2031.
Pickering Innovation Corridor
The first big job generator is the Pickering Innovation Corridor, a 300-hectare high-tech zone and prestige employment area expected to create 24,000 jobs. It is located immediately south of the proposed airport, north of Seaton along both sides of Highway 407 between York Durham Line and Brock Road. Three large companies are already committed to building over a 1 million square feet of new office, warehouse and factory space.
The first development in the innovation corridor is the new 565,000 sq feet Kobuto parts, assembly, and head office building with 250 jobs by 2027.
The Veraine development
In a region where an hour-long commute to work is the norm, Veraine’s key feature is its close proximity to jobs and the new Pickering airport. It is designed to be a complete community with equal parts jobs opportunities and affordable housing. The ambitious scope of the Veraine development can be clearly seen by its numbers:
- 1,644 hectares/4,000 acre-site
- 60,000 residents
- 45,000 jobs
- 17 schools
- 6 community centres/libraries
- 28M square feet of commercial space
- 57 kilometres of open trails
- 578 hectares of open space
The neighborhoods will feature a true north-south street grid orientation optimized for solar light, heat, and energy. Housing will be located in its northern quadrant away from the flight paths into Pickering Airport. Commercial property will be to the south, organized in a comprehensive land use plan to ensure a healthy and prosperous lifestyle for residents. The new community will have a direct connection to the airport via the 7th concession. Local Jobs, energy efficient affordable homes, and efficient transportation will combine to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The developers of Veraine acknowledge and support a Pickering airport.
A New Combined Industrial and Specialty Passenger Airport.
The new airport in Pickering is expected to open in 2029, but I for one would like to see it open sooner. For aviation safety’s sake and the health of residents living under Oshawa airports approach paths, there is not a moment to lose. Even in the middle of a pandemic, the older aviation infrastructure in the eastern Toronto region is straining at capacity. Hangar space is limited, congestion and aircraft noise is a concern over Oshawa and Whitby. Air traffic in September 2020 at Oshawa airport was above pre-pandemic levels.
The March 2010 Needs Assessment Study prepared by the GTAA identified the need for secondary airport in a Southern Ontario multi-airport system. A follow up study, called the Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis (ASA) Report, released on March 5th, 2020 refined this further, suggesting breaking ground on a new airport in 2026 with Industrial service starting as early as year-end 2028, and passenger service to follow shortly thereafter, passenger demand dependent of course.
By 2040, the new airport is expected to create at least 15,000 direct jobs. Over the long term the employment zone on the Pickering lands could generate an additional 40,000 to 50,000 direct jobs, airport-related, logistics, as well as serviced land for industrial development. Two to three times the total could be created in indirect jobs in the surrounding areas and the Toronto region. It will create at least $13 billion in annual economic activity and $500 million in income taxes by 2040. Starting with utility and GA (General Aviation) traffic, the airport will utilize private investment to expand as needed into a full-service international airport. It is expected to handle 15-16 million passengers by 2040 and could be expanded to handle more passengers in the future when needed.
The Rouge National Urban Park
Over 10,000 acres of the federal Pickering Airport lands originally set aside for as a noise buffer has now been added into Canada’s first National Urban park. Run by Parks Canada, the RNUP (Rouge National Urban Park) sits to the west of the Aerotropolis development and will be an amazing complement to the Aerotropolis able to possibly handle hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The new park is expected to restore the natural ecosystem while preserving some farming opportunities. The RNUP can introduce our urban youth to nature and the rural farm experience while following best ecological practices.
Lobbyist still trying to stop the project
As the Aerotropolis plans take shape, a vocal few are desperately trying to delay it. Some lobbyists are calling on the Canadian Federal Liberal government to “pick favorites” by delaying the new airport for as long as possible, or even cancel it altogether. Those who have vested interests in airports hours away in other communities are purposing that the Pickering airport decision be delayed 2 to 3 years until another study on airport network “roles” is completed.
The Southern Ontario Airport Network (SOAN) has “volunteered” to do this study. SOAN is a lobby group formed by a subset of Ontario airports which does not include several important utility airports such as Buttonville airport. It only recently agreed to add a representative from the City of Pickering.
Some hope to redirect some of Pickering’s growth to their cities or protect their own airport master plans. This study is entirely self-serving, protectionist, and unwarranted. Interestingly, this tactic is abetted by the ASA Report which, in its principles, says Pickering Airport development should minimize the impact on other Southern Ontario airports, and minimize the impact of airport competition and on the financial success of existing airports.
The ASA Report assumes all other area airports are at or near capacity before Pickering’s passenger capacity is required. That’s too late! The ASA’s suggestion to build an industrial airport first and add passenger capacity as needed is a natural solution that minimizes risk.
Why SOAN or other airports think they should have any say at all in the development of another city’s infrastructure, most likely by private investors, remains a mystery. This “Build Pickering Last” strategy is a serious threat to Pickering’s future but not the only one.
In Toronto’s hot real estate market, the billion-dollar land reserve set aside for the airport and controlled by a distant seemingly disconnected federal government, is a developer’s dream. Behind the cover of environmental virtue signaling and the short-term effects of the pandemic, lobbyists, with the support of a local liberal member of parliament, are at play. From existing businesses and commercial farms who have short term leases on the land, to competing housing developers, the forces attempting to profit by attempting to hoodwink our elected officials are numerous.
Pickering’s Bright Green Aviation Future
Ultimately all the studies and crystal ball gazing in the world will not predict the long-term potential of the new Aerotropolis or how it will change the way we live. Built at the heart of Canada’s free enterprise economy, with private investment, its success is virtually guaranteed, and it will be an invaluable contribution to the city. It will reduce commute times and both road and airside congestion. It will enable new aviation technology such as high efficiency approaches and be an invaluable contribution to the fight on global warming. The only thing now missing is a green light on the airport itself.
Those trying to delay or subvert the Aerotropolis under the cover of a pandemic or by the use of environmental virtue signally are running out of time and paddling against the flow of history and technology. Passenger aviation is now the most carbon efficient way to travel to most destinations in Canada. Pickering Airport will improve the emissions efficiency even further by reducing congestion. The new airport will improve aviation safety and the health of hundreds of thousands of Canadians now under the flight paths of other airports that would need to be expanded if Pickering airport is delayed. The aerotropolis is expected to play an important role in Canadian aviation as an entrepreneurial base for manufacturing, maintenance, and ultimately passenger travel.
By value, one third of all international trade (goods and services) moves by air. The new Aerotropolis’ proximity to market, groundside access and connectivity to downtown Toronto and eastern Ontario and limited aircraft noise impacts make it an ideal project.
Pickering airport and the Aerotropolis being built around it is about to play a critical role in the future prosperity of the Toronto region, Ontario and Canada.