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Toronto already has a laneway community on the islands

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It feels really good to have shared the details about my laneway project yesterday. It’s a project I’ve been working on for a few years now, and – though I’ve spoken to architects, engineers, and city staff about the project – I hadn’t really gone public with it. And I’m happy I did.

I got a lot of great feedback from the twittersphere. In fact, I didn’t receive one negative comment about the idea of a laneway house in Toronto. Everyone seemed to think it was a great idea and many expressed their dismay with the city’s reticence to formally support them.

I also received a number of encouraging emails, one of which was from a resident of the Toronto Islands. And he raised a really great point: Toronto already has a very successful community of laneway-like houses and it’s called the Toronto Islands.

The streets are no wider than the laneways we have here on the mainland (and even smaller in some cases) and yet there are about 250 houses serving a population of roughly 750. He went on to mention that they even have “downsized garbage trucks”, which are used to navigate the small, car-free streets of the Toronto Islands.

What this reinforces is that our aversion to laneway housing is not because we can’t figure out the logistics of how to service them. We can and are already doing that. If we can figure out how to do that on the islands, I’m pretty sure that we could also figure out how to do it on the mainland. 

So what this really comes down is that there isn’t the political will to make this happen. And there isn’t that will, I’m guessing, because there’s a fear of upsetting the established neighborhoods. That’s why Ontario’s Places to Grow Act (2005) was deliberate in concentrating growth in specific areas of the city – it meant that we could say that the rest of the city would receive little to no growth.

We’ve since revised that position with the push to intensify our Avenues with mid-rise buildings. But just as we went from high-rise to mid-rise intensification, I think it’s only a matter of time before low-rise intensification starts to also happen.

I firmly believe that the demand is already there for laneway housing (the Lanehouse on Bartlett pretty much sold out in one evening). It’s simply a matter of now figuring out the supply side of this equation.

Image: Ward’s Island (Toronto Islands)

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