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Disease-breeding tenements

What do you think of this beautiful low-rise apartment building? It is called Spadina Gardens and it was built (allegedly illegally) on Toronto’s Spadina Avenue in 1906, shortly before the City enacted an outright ban on “disease-breeding tenements” (i.e. apartment buildings) in all residential neighborhoods.

This, of course, is a form of exclusionary zoning. Our predecessors had decided that apartments were bad, they promoted disease and immorality, and that they were likely to destroy or at least corrupt Toronto by making it, you know, less waspy.

Important studies are underway here in Toronto, and across North America, to determine whether we should do something about this longstanding city building tradition. Should we allow a mixture of different housing types in our residential neighborhoods, or should we keep things just the way that they are? That being low-rise and single-family.

In the meantime, we are implementing things like inclusionary zoning, which I guess makes some people feel better about themselves and the current state of affairs. But in the end, it sits very much on top of our exclusionary past.

Low-rise single-family home neighborhoods remain off limits. Apartments should only go in select locations (provided they don’t bother the single-family homes). And any efforts to create greater affordability and diversity should only impact the new apartments and not the low-rise single-family homes that already exist.

I would encourage all of you to have a listen to 99% Percent Invisible’s recent episode about Toronto’s “missing middle.” It does a great job explaining why Toronto looks and performs the way that it does today, and why it’s time that we do something about it. It’s also highly relevant to not just Toronto, but many cities across North America.


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