Markham Uptown: A Complete Community in the Making

I have been involved in the planning and design of Markham Centre for over 25 years.   First, as the Manager of Parks Planning and Urban Design for the then Town of Markham (now the City of Markham), where I helped to shape the secondary plan and many of the public policies that would drive the project.

After leaving public service, I was fortunate enough to have been retained by Times Group Corporation who had acquired a large chunk of the Markham Centre lands from Hullmark Developments.  My work since has been as part of a diverse team bringing the original vision for Markham Centre to life.

The plan for Markham Centre was developed in part, in response to the Province of Ontario’s ‘Places to Grow’ initiative, which envisioned a transformation of the suburbs of Toronto from bedroom communities, to thriving high density nodal developments supported by transit and compact infrastructure.  This could be Markham’s new ‘downtown’.  But only if we got it right.

The first 3 phases of the development have been constructed and feature a number of innovations as well as set the stage for future phases.  It is safe, I think, to say that Markham Uptown can be distinguished by one leading characteristic.   It is a Complete Community. 


Much has been said in recent years about ‘complete streets’ but it occurs to me that complete streets aren’t even possible in the context of suburban intensification, without first delivering ‘complete communities’.

Markham Uptown is such a community.

The first 3 phases have delivered all of the ingredients that I suggest are vital to the creation of a complete community.

They are:

  • Land uses are mixed to include employment, office, retail and residential.  An elementary school will be provided in future phases as will an office precinct at the west end of the site opposite City Hall Other land uses such as community centers and high schools are provided on other lands within Markham Centre as a whole.


  • City blocks are a very pedestrian friendly 90 – 120m long.
  • Building loading and servicing areas are screened from view and are assembled along a private laneway which also helps to break up the blocks into smaller architectural units.
  • The first main street (Birchmount Road) is animated on both sides with at grade retail
  • The retail is supported by on-street parking as well as interior parking lots that are mostly screened from public streets by built-form and landscaping.
  • Bicycle lanes are a dedicated form of transportation on the major roads
  • The entire site is serviced by regular regional transportation and it is a 15 minute walk through the Rouge Valley to the Markham GO Train station to the south.
  • All buildings are LEED Gold and bird friendly
  • At grade residential uses animate the street with principle unit entrances, decorative fencing and gates.


  • Extensive Green roof technology is fully employed in each phase


  • Residential towers offer outdoor rooftop amenity spaces that overlook the Rouge Valley.


  • Rain water harvesting on each block meets water balance targets and allows for storm water re-use in irrigation and building plumbing
  • LID initiatives include the use of permeable pavements, infiltration galleries and whole system cisterns that delay the reintroduction of storm water run-off into the Rouge River and allow for the settlement of particulates and the cooling of run-off.   These operate in place of the traditional storm ponds that are a maintenance headache and consume valuable land.
  • Street tree soil volume targets of 30m3/tree are met with either increased boulevard soil depths, or in the case of trees in pavement through the use of structural soil cells
  • The precinct is punctuated with 4 public open spaces.   Two 1 acre parkettes in the east and west neighbourhoods, a central plaza space which will serve as a focal gathering space for residents and a large east/west linear park that straddles the Rouge Valley.

There is little doubt that these features make Markham Uptown a unique development in the GTA, if not unique to the Province of Ontario and the country as a whole.  Markham Uptown will absolutely be made unique however, by its physical relationship to the Rouge Valley which bisects the Markham Centre lands.


The Rouge River is a large floodplain.   It is a wildlife corridor and important cold water fishery and it features a number of unique and rare plant species as well as geomorpholigical features.  It is also one of the key linkages in connecting the future downtown of Markham with Milne Dam Conservation Area and The Rouge Park to the east.

The plan for Markham Centre and Markham Uptown is to integrate the best of urban design with the very best in natural features protection and management.   This is accomplished through Markham Centre Greenlands Plan, prepared by our office.  After an exhaustive inventory and assessment of flora, fauna and hydrologic features, the greenlands plan recommended a number of interventions and improvements that would balance conservation and protection goals with  the inevitable demand for public access that would come with new development

These initiatives will be complimented by an interpretive program that heightens awareness around each unique feature of the corridor as well as preferred public protocols for interaction with the river.

The first phase of this work is now fully funded by the municipality and developer and will be undertaken in the not too distant future.

It is my view that Markham Uptown will be a uniquely complete community.  This is borne out by the success of the first three phases and the commitment of both the City and Developer to continue to ‘do it right’.   There is of course, more to do.


 Landscape Architecture and Urban Design:                    Schollen & Company Inc.

Architecture and Urban Design:                                Kirkor Architects and Planners

Planning and Urban Design:                                              Malone Given Parsons Inc.

Civil Engineering:                                                    SCS Development Consultants Inc.


Author: paul nodwell

Paul Nodwell draws on almost 33 years of experience in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture. He is a passionate student of the public realm and believes that great 'place-making' cannot happen without listening to stakeholders, shaping the project around a big (not necessarily complex) idea, and wherever possible, introducing metaphorical and even poetic elements that engage the public in their own experience of the built environment. Early in his career Paul's work took him to Southern California with Peridian Group Landscape Architecture and to Paris, France with Walt Disney Imagineering, but he has enjoyed most, his participation in helping to shape the Greater Toronto Area. As part of the senior management team for the Town of Markham, Paul played a key role in bringing The New Urbanism to southern Ontario. In private practice, Paul has designed a myriad of public parks, streetscapes and condominiums. He has played a key role in the design of a number of new mixed use communities including Angus Glen, Cornell, The Galleria, Concord Floral, Vaughan Metro Centre and Markham Centre. Paul is the recipient of more than a dozen awards for urban design and landscape architecture. He has served on the City of Vaughan Design Review Panel for three years and continues to enjoy serving as adjudicator at the University of Guelph. Even more, he enjoys the dip of his canoe paddle in a northern Ontario wilderness and the challenge of paints and a blank canvas.

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