Low Vacancy Rates in Downtown Shouldn’t Come as a Surprise

According to a new report by CBRE, less than 5% of commercial space in downtown Toronto is vacant – a rate that is tied with booming San Francisco as the lowest in North America. Incredibly, this has occurred at the same time that Toronto has added an additional 4,400,000 ft2 (408,800 m2) of new office space over the past three years, enough room to accommodate 20,000+ employees. The City Planning Division’s 2015 Toronto Employment Survey counted half a million downtown workers, by far the highest level in Toronto’s history.

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City of Toronto receives award for conservation and heritage management

From the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, to the earliest beginnings of Yonge Street, to the 20th century’s concentration of commerce and manufacturing – Toronto’s history has been more than 12,000 years in the making. The city’s unique geography, natural features, and ecological character have always positioned Toronto as a meeting place, where different people have exchanged goods, cultures, and ideas. Our views of history are fluid and always changing, reflecting the past in new and dynamic ways.

As Toronto faces some of the greatest growth and development pressures in North America, protecting and preserving the history and character of our neighbourhoods becomes increasingly difficult. Across the city, planners are grappling with how to balance the protection of established heritage buildings and districts with the need for infill development and intensification.

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Reflections on my conversation with Janette Sadik-Khan

On December 1st, I had the great honour of sitting on stage with Janette Sadik-Khan for a fireside chat about how we can reimagine and redesign our cities around people.

Janette served as the Transportation Commissioner of New York City from 2007 to 2013, as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration. She oversaw the addition of hundreds of kilometers of new bike lanes, hectares of public pedestrian plazas, and brought forward focused efforts to calm traffic. Janette shared with the audience her accomplishments at NYC DOT, some of the challenges and opposition she faced along the way, and explained how they overcame a century of car-centric planning in New York City. Fundamentally, Janette’s efforts have reshaped how North America thinks about transportation planning.

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My OPPI Keynote: Planner as Expert

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Ontario Professional Planners Institute annual conference. I spoke about the relationships between planners and elected officials, and the importance of being true to our role as experts within the planning process. Below is the text of an article that appeared in NRU on October 9, summarizing my address. It is posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. The original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 19 No. 40, Friday, October 9, 2015.   continue reading

Section 37: Securing Affordable Housing

The City of Toronto’s Official Plan articulates a vision in which housing choices are available for all people in their communities, and at all stages of their lives. Toronto’s quality of life, economic competitiveness, and social cohesion depend upon affordable and appropriate housing options. And yet, like so many desirable, rapidly growing cities, housing affordability is increasingly out of reach for many Torontonians. The reality is, there is no “quick fix” to address this challenge. Cities around the world struggle to provide affordable housing. I am increasingly convinced that a myriad of solutions are needed, using a variety of planning tools. I blogged about inclusionary zoning a few weeks ago, and before that I blogged about the Federal and Provincial role. The best examples of providing affordable housing in Toronto, such as the revitalized Regent Park and the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, have involved all three levels of government playing a clear role.

Section 37 of the Planning Act also has a role to play, and is a tool specific to Ontario municipalities. It can be used by planners to negotiate the integration of affordable housing into a new development. While the affordable housing units secured using Section 37 may seem small, this is reflection of the value of a typical Section 37 agreement. It’s important to note that this is different from a Development Charge, which is a fee collected from developers at the time a building permit is issued to pay for the cost of infrastructure required to provide municipal services (such as roads, transit, water and sewer infrastructure, community centres and fire and police facilities).

Following are some examples wherein Section 37 was used to secure affordable housing units – an approach being applied more and more in instances where it is deemed desirable to do so.

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Section 37: Supporting Toronto’s Growing Families

With our population growing and more parents choosing to raise their families in Toronto, access to daycare is a critical component of how we plan and grow our city. Section 37 of the Planning Act enables the City to secure contributions for development applications that exceed a site’s zoned height and density. At the Village Green Square development in Scarborough (near the intersection of Kennedy Road and Highway 401), Section 37 was used to require the developer to provide a non-profit child care facility for local residents. As part of the next phase of development, a second non-profit daycare facility is planned to be opened.

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Section 37: City Building in Action

Over the coming weeks, I will be featuring a series of built projects from across Toronto that were secured or funded through Section 37 of Ontario’s Planning Act.

Section 37 enables the City to secure local community benefits from development applicants seeking an increase in height or density. Community benefits from Section 37 must accrue to the local neighbourhood impacted by a specific development. Through this process, a wide range of benefits can be achieved, including heritage preservation, public art, affordable housing, recreation centres, child care facilities, park improvements, space for non-profits, and streetscape improvements. Section 37 plays a vital role in the city building process by delivering tangible benefits in neighbourhoods across Toronto.

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