The challenge of providing affordable housing in rapidly growing urban centers is not new, nor is it easily solved. Around the world, major cities struggle to provide quality and affordable housing options. London and New York, for example, have had long-standing, well-documented crises of affordability that have only accelerated as these cities have become more and more desirable, resulting in considerable growth. As Toronto also grows, we will increasingly be no exception. As I write this, our market is reaching a feverish pitch – with small, semi-detached homes in walkable areas now tipping out over the $800,000 mark. In addition, there are currently 78,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in this city. We already need to be doing more to keep Toronto affordable and inclusive for all.
One of the ways some cities have managed their affordability challenge is to introduce inclusionary housing policies (sometimes known as inclusionary zoning) which make planning approvals conditional on new housing developments containing a specific proportion of affordable units. Simply put, laws are enabled that require new private, market housing developments to also include affordable units. Unlike many U.S. cities, however, Toronto does not have the legislative authority to implement inclusionary housing.
Change is hard. Even when we don’t like the way things are, we sometimes resist change. I recall a community meeting years ago, when as a consultant team we approached a community regarding a proposal to develop a site – a weedy, graffiti filled parking lot known for untoward behavior, that had been the source of community complaints for many years. One resident stood up and said to the crowd: “I like things just the way they are.” This wasn’t the dominant view in the room, but it was a view nonetheless. ‘Just keep things the same’ is sometimes a default position rooted in fear of change.
Density is often touted – by myself included – as key to unlocking a more sustainable, liveable, cost efficient future. Getting density right is central to creating communities where it is possible to do a variety of everyday activities within walking distance from home – like visiting a health clinic, buying groceries, or getting your haircut. Walking has implications for our health, our sense of place, our connectedness to our communities, and our need to reduce our environmental footprint.
So all density is good, right? Not so fast. continue reading
After a rich and robust dialogue at ULI’s Fireside Chat with Mayor Tory last week that focused primarily on planning issues such as midrise development and embracing innovation in our city building, the Mayor was asked for a closing comment. Mayor Tory chose to shift the conversation significantly, by commenting on the importance of fairness. Acknowledging recent data released by the United Way that exposes the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Toronto, Mayor Tory exhorted everyone in the room to recognize the significance of the challenge before us, and the need to prioritize ensuring all Torontonians have the opportunity to thrive.
Broadening participation in our city building processes underpins creating an equitable city, too. In a recent poll undertaken by Ipsos Reid, we learned that of the thousands upon thousands who have participated in our city planning processes over the years, participants have been primarily white, over 55 and home owners. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Toronto knows that our city is mostly foreign born and non-white, and the fastest growing demographic in some parts of the city – like our downtown core, which is driving our condo boom – is under 35. In addition, nearly 40% of Torontonians are renters. continue reading
The Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario (RPCO), a group of senior officials from municipal governments, recently released the following letter on potential school closures and the Province’s current funding formula. As a co-signer of this letter, I stand behind its statement that closing schools may do “irreparable harm to neighbourhoods, undermining their long-term viability as strong and healthy communities”. It is time to rethink our approach to education delivery and recognize the vital, multi-faceted, role that schools play as anchors in our communities.
RPCO – Closing of Schools and Provincial Funding Formula
This week I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with Brad Ross from the TTC, Pamela Robinson from Ryerson University and Rob Miekle from the City of Toronto as part of a collaboration between Western University and the City on the topic of Open Government.
Open Government is based on this key idea: that good government is rooted in access, transparency and participation. Ultimately, public trust in government will increase (a worthy objective itself) when there is better – and broad – understanding of the functions and roles of government, and as accountability to the public increases. In its corporate Strategic Plan, as adopted by City Council, the City of Toronto bureaucracy has committed to this goal, and the session this week was a critical step towards building internal capacity for delivering on it.
Earlier this year, I joined Benjamin Gianni, Professor and former Director of Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, in a panel discussion organized by Carleton University in Ottawa on the role of the Federal Government in securing affordable housing for Canadians. For more details on this event, click here. The following text is adapted from the presentation I gave at that event. The recommendations were pulled together with input from the City of Toronto Affordable Housing Office.
I recently wrote the article below for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan’s Inspired Minds Careers 2030 site, which is designed to help guide Canada’s education and professional pathways into the future. The site features a series of articles by leaders in their respective fields describing the state of their industries, how they might change and what students can do to prepare for those changes. The goal is to provide a vision of a “Canada of the Future”, while inspiring enthusiasm and preparation in Canada’s future leaders.
I was asked to write about the biggest challenges facing the planning profession today, and to point out some of the skills that will be required by urban planners in the future:
A rendering of the winning entry, called Yonge Redux, by Richard Valenzona.
You might be familiar with the NXT City Prize, a project that is the brainchild of a very talented group of young people who run a consultancy firm called Distl. The NXT City Prize is aimed at youth under the age of 30 and asked them to re-imagine public space (any public space) in the City of Toronto for the chance to win up to $5,000 in prize money and $10,000 in seed money to implement their idea. The City of Toronto supported this project by providing the seed money as well as in-kind support, and I offered my guidance and led the adjudication team. continue reading