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Building crap

Last night I participated in an excellent dinner discussion with a group of planners, architects, city officials, and politicians from Amsterdam. They were visiting Toronto to see first hand what rapid intensification has done to this city. And I very much appreciated the invite. Thank you.

My message was that intensification has created a far more vibrant and exciting city compared to 15 or so years ago. It’s hard to know what exactly could be correlated with intensification, but we have certainly seen an explosion of culture, innovation, and pride in this city – among many other things. (It could be all Drake’s doing.)

However, the counter argument at the dinner table was that Toronto is letting unfettered development produce unremarkable architecture. We are simply building glass tower after glass tower. And I know that, for many of you, this will ring true. I hear it all the time, including in the comments of this blog.

Now, I will be the first to admit that there has been a lot of shit built in this city. No argument there. Some people have no taste. But at the same time, I think it’s myopic to assume that it’s strictly because of profit-motivated developers. 

Oftentimes the perception is that development projects are awash in cash. There’s tons of money in which to do the right thing. Developers just need to stop being so greedy and start being more creative.

The reality is that developers operate within a market. There are real limits to what people will pay for new space. And when, for instance, land prices go through the roof (an input), municipal fees jump (cost of doing business), and approvals drag (time value of money), guess where everyone starts looking for savings? In the build.

I say this not to justify building crap. If I had it my way, everything would be beautiful. I champion design whenever possible. I say it simply to shed light on the process. Because when we all understand the factors at a play, I believe we all become more effective at finding solutions.

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