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The missing middle will come, eventually

Yesterday Lloyd Alter of Treehugger wrote a great rebuttal to my post about homes for families. His argument was that I missed a whole world of building typologies between single family homes and apartments. (Something that architect and urban planner Daniel Parolek calls “The Missing Middle”.)

Now he’s absolutely right. I didn’t mention it – other than provide an option in the survey for townhomes. And he’s right that it’s a tremendous opportunity for cities looking to increase housing supply and improve affordability.

But the reason I didn’t mention it in my survey is because, here in Toronto, we’re not very good at that middle scale.

I previously wrote a post talking about Toronto’s 3 stages of intensification. It went from high-rise to mid-rise, and then to low-rise intensification. And my argument was that we’re still in and figuring out the mid-rise scale. (There are challenges at this scale, but that deserves a separate post.)

Eventually though, I think we will get to low-rise intensification. And that will cover off many of the building typologies that Lloyd is talking about: duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and, my personal favorite, laneway houses.

This, of course, isn’t the case in every city. Many cities, such as Montreal, have a strong history of neighborhood-scaled apartments. Lloyd points that out in his article. But that’s not the case here in Toronto.

In fact, Toronto’s Official Plan explicitly designates these low-rise “Neighborhoods” as areas that are stable and should not see much intensification. And it was a great selling point for the Places to Grow Act: intensification here, but not there.

But I think this will change. Not because I’m a real estate developer and I think it should change, but because our current arrangement is causing a dramatic erosion of affordability at the low-rise/ground-related housing scale.

If it were up to me, and it most certainly is not, I would start with laneway housing. It’s a great way to intensify low-rise neighbourhoods without altering the character of the streets.

If you live in a single family neighborhood, I would especially love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. 

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