Within Toronto’s urban structure you have regular streets and you have things known as “Avenues.” (This is among a bunch of other stuff such as Centres and Employment Areas.) What this Avenue designation does is tell you that it may be a suitable location for a new mid-rise building, which is something that I have written a lot about on this blog. Here in Toronto, this means that you would then need to consult the “Mid-Rise Building Performance Standards.” Indeed, if you dust off these standards and turn to the introduction, you’ll find the following: “The Performance Standards are intended to provide simple, straightforward guidance for those seeking to develop midrise projects on the Avenues.”
But if you want to find some of the most truly unremarkable streets in this city, you need to look at the arterial roads that didn’t quite make the cut to be an Avenue. I don’t want to generalize, but they are generally exceedingly ugly. You can’t help but feel like Toronto has simply outgrown the low-rise building typologies that, in most cases, still remain on these streets. In some cases, they’re also directly adjacent to a subway station, which is kind of like running a great big movie theater with only a handful of seats inside. Maybe one day they’ll grow up to be Avenues. But don’t hold your breath. So what’s another possible solution? Toronto-based PHAEDRUS Studio has an idea. It’s called the Hi-Lo Hybrid.
Initially designed for a specific client and a specific site, it also happens to be something that could be deployed all across the city. What they have shown here is a 5 storey infill building on your typical long and narrow Toronto lot. As designed, it could house 4-8 units, as well as some non-residential uses, on a lot that previously only had 1-3 units. It would make a lot of sense for some of the ugly streets that I’m talking about. But let’s be honest: it would be almost impossible to get approved. One of the biggest issues would probably be the adjacency/overlook issue that it generates with the neighboring backyards. It’s probably also too tall.
One of the main reasons why, I think, laneway suites work and are now permissible as-of-right in Toronto is that they replace existing garages. (ADU’s for the Americans.) They reallocate space that was previously used for cars to humans. And so the incremental height / density is not all that great. They, for the most part, preserve precious neighborhood character. What the Hi-Lo Hybrid proposes is not so incremental. It’s bold. It would be a massive fight. I know that and you know that. But bold is generally what you need when you’re trying to do great things and when you’re trying to shape the future. And so with that, I’ll leave you all with some words from the late American architect, Daniel Burnham.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”