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3 stages of intensification

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We all know that the Greater Toronto Area is growing and intensifying at an incredible pace. In fact, last year the region set a record with 25,571 new condominium units completed.

If you listen to industry experts, such as George Carras of RealNet, they’ll tell you that this level of intensification — which usually means condominiums — is really a decade in the making. That’s when the government set out to explicitly encourage this type of growth.

But in the decade since that decision, we’ve seen both government and the market evolve in terms of what that intensification should look like. It started out with a largely high-rise building typology. Tall buildings were to be allowed in the downtown, as well as in specific growth nodes throughout the region. But for everything in between — the officially designated “neighborhoods” — there was to be no development.

This is what I’ll call the first stage of intensification.

Then, we started to think about mid-rise intensification along the avenues. Most of these “avenues” (also an official term) cut through those same stable neighborhoods, but the main streets were seen as an appropriate place to allow additional growth. It makes perfect sense and so guidelines were created to help dictate what this new building typology should look like.

This is what I’ll call the second stage of intensification.

And it’s one that I’d argue we’re currently living through with new mid-rise projects like DUKE in the Junction (TAS project), Kingston&Co in Kingston Road Village (another TAS project), Abacus Lofts on Dundas West, and The Hive in Etobicoke. These are all mid-rise buildings going up in established neighborhoods.

With the recent decision to also allow wood frame buildings up to 6 storeys in Ontario (instead of 4), we’ll probably see an even greater surge in mid-rise buildings once the private sector gets its head around this shift.

So what’s next?

I think it’s inevitable that we’ll eventually see low-rise intensification within our established neighborhoods. We started by avoiding them altogether, and then deciding that it was desirable to build along their periphery. But as demand for urban housing continues to increase, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we start to loosen the reins on our single family neighborhoods.

Some of you might be thinking that this is going to be a bad thing, but I actually think the opposite. Projects such as Vancouver’s Union Street EcoHeritage prove that it’s entirely possible to intensify existing neighborhoods through sensitive and beautiful infill interventions. And of course, let’s not forget about laneway housing.

The fact of the matter is that Toronto has already been intensifying its neighborhoods for a very long time — likely since the beginning — by converting single family homes into duplexes, triplexes, and other multi-family dwellings. We just haven’t been doing it in any sort of structured way.

I don’t know when this will change, but I think it’s only a matter of time. And that will be the third stage of intensification.

Image: Flickr

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