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Toronto is on pace to have more skyscrapers than Chicago — so?

I received a call from a reporter at the CBC today. She was working on a piece about the recent stat that Toronto is on pace to surpass Chicago for the most number of skyscrapers (150m or higher). The above chart is from Bloomberg.

In particular, she wanted to know (1) what this means for Toronto and (2) if Toronto has been focusing enough on design and architecture during this period of expansion. Can and will it be as beautiful as Chicago?

Here are the stats I was given (taken from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat):

Toronto skyscrapers (150m or more)

67 done
32 under construction
59 proposed to be completed by 2023 latest

= 158

Chicago skyscrapers (150m or more)

126 done
8 under construction
11 proposed to be completed by 2024 latest

= 145

And here is more or less what I said and what I was thinking:

Toronto and Chicago are both important global cities. We (Slate) operate and have offices in both cities. The number of tall buildings is just one metric. Look at how few Los Angeles has. At the same time, I get what this signals. It’s noteworthy. Chicago invented the skyscraper.

Chicago has a wonderful architectural history. (Raise your hand if you’ve been on that architectural boat cruise). But people often forget the fact that when most buildings are built there’s an economic imperative and a private client. This includes back in the day in Chicago.

So the economic environment we have here in Toronto — where people do work to, you know, get paid and companies think about things like profit margin — isn’t necessarily all that different from the one that birthed architecture that is now widely admired (oftentimes from a boat).

Toronto has some spectacular buildings and some shit ones. I’ll let you all decide which ones are which. But I do think that Toronto is seeing a greater commitment to design. We recognize the value. But here’s the thing: part of what makes this possible actually runs counter to what most cities want.

Housing has become more expensive and that makes it possible to spend more money on architecture. It’s one of the great tensions of city building. We want developers to build more affordable housing, but we also want high quality building materials and “Capital A” architecture. Which is more important?

Finally, I do think that architectural styles need time to settle in, sometimes before we can fully appreciate them. We are seeing that start to happen with Brutalist architecture. And let’s not forget about all of the Victorian homes that we tore down in Toronto. They weren’t fashionable at that time.

It’s easy to romanticize about the way things used to be done. It’s harder, sometimes, to appreciate the now. But sometimes all it takes is a bit of time.

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