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Consistency over intensity — rethinking Toronto’s low-rise neighborhoods

Toronto’s chief planner, Gregg Lintern, published this piece in the Toronto Star over the weekend where he argued that “expanding housing options in [Toronto’s] neighbourhoods is the missing piece of the growth puzzle.”

What he is saying is that if we’re going to have any chance at reasonably accommodating the 700,000 or so people who are expected to move to this city over the next three decades, we’re going to have to evolve our low-rise neighborhoods. That includes more retail, more amenities, more density, and yes, built form that houses multiple units.

I immediately thought that this was meaningful progress in the right direction. It is acknowledgement that things need to change and that our low-rise communities need to change.

But others felt that this was a case of soft-serve ice cream, arguing that there’s “danger in praising incremental, belated change when dramatic change is what’s needed.” I also see this point.

To quote the late architect Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans.” But this is arguably a little easier to subscribe to when you’re rebuilding after a great fire has decimated your entire city (he was instrumental in the rebuild of Chicago following its fire of 1871).

The unfortunate reality today, at least in this environment, is that bold vision isn’t often rewarded politically. The status quo bias is simply so great. Change is painfully slow. That’s why we rely so heavily on pilot projects when it comes to city building.

So while I too am a fan of bold vision, I also see value in what Simon Sinek and others refer to as consistency over intensity. Small, repetitive, and compounding actions can have powerful long-term results. You just have to keep going in the right direction.

And I think that many of us, or perhaps most, will agree that the right direction is rethinking our low-rise neighborhoods.

Photo by Tungsten Rising on Unsplash

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