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The big challenge is suburban infill

Photograph Thorncliffe Park Drive (TORONTO) by Jenver Rosales on 500px

Thorncliffe Park Drive (TORONTO) by Jenver Rosales on 500px

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Toronto built a lot of towers. A 2010 report by the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal identified 1,925 rental apartment towers of 8 storeys or more across the Greater Toronto Area. 

That’s the second largest inventory of apartment towers in North America – many or most of which are in car-oriented suburban neighborhoods.

Of course, Toronto continues to build a lot of towers. But this second and current wave of towers is quite different than the last. Virtually all of them are now condo (as opposed to rental) and most are concentrated in central neighborhoods that are generally well-serviced by transit.

This has created a lot of positives for the city. It brought more people into the core to live, which in turn brought more retailers and employers into the city. It has created what I believe is a more vibrant and exciting 24/7 city.

But this return to city centers (as well as the economic spikiness it has created) is now well established both in Toronto, as well as in other cities all around the world. Every real estate conference or panel you go to now talks about Millennials and their desire to be in walkable communities. We got it.

And relatively speaking, those kinds of communities aren’t that difficult to create when you’re infilling city centers. Certainly not at this point. The street grid and bones are usually all in place. And the urban form is often conducive to transit.

The real challenge – and thus opportunity – for Toronto and lots of other cities is how to urbanize the (inner) suburbs and in particular these “towers in a park”. If you follow this space, you’ll know that there’s a lot more that we could be doing.

How do we rethink their relationship to the rest of the city? How do we better connect them through transit? How do we plug them in economically? In my opinion, these are far more difficult tasks. But they’re important ones for the long-term success of our cities.

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