A few days ago I tweeted about the astonishing number of new mid-rise buildings in the pipeline, knowing that this building type has the potential to play a vital role in transforming our future, and knowing that there is a perception that we are primarily building tall towers. Granted, Toronto has many tall towers under construction, but we are also beginning to fill out our Avenues with mid-rise – in just the way our policy framework had anticipated. Precisely because mid-rise buildings are able to integrate into streetscapes, capitalizing on both existing amenities (proximity to schools, parks and transit) and infrastructure in a gentle way, it’s possible to underestimate their impact on shaping the form of the city. As a result, mid-rise buildings are a desirable way to accommodate growth, diversify our housing stock, and “complete” existing communities.
Many Torontonians live in neighbourhoods with main streets within walking distance. This is a defining and beloved characteristic of parts of our city.
But in many other areas – particularly those that were planned over the last 50 years – residential housing, whether in single family homes or apartment neighbourhoods, is disconnected from main transit corridors and the main street amenities that so many people desire to walk to – restaurants, shops, or services like medical offices.
This is where the transformative and positive attributes of mid-rise development on our corridors can play a key role in adding amenities within walking distance. Mixed use buildings bring new uses, and more people that provide a local market for retail and services. When these buildings are designed to respond to the street in a positive way, they create great environments for walking, cafes, local services and community gathering.
Our job, in City Planning, is to create the policy frameworks that will shape and direct growth to be in keeping with the objective of creating a sustainable city. Since the award winning Performance Standards for Mid-Rise Buildings Part 1, Part 2 were approved in July 2010, Toronto has experienced an influx of development applications that meet the specifications of these guidelines.
So I want you to know that as of October 31st 2013, 58 mid-rise buildings have been approved, and an approximately equal number are currently going through the review process.
While most development has been clustered in the core of the city, the map below shows we do have mid-rise buildings approved in most districts. This is good! Some areas of our city are magnets for development, but there are other areas where we need to better encourage growth. We are continuing to refine our policy framework to ensure our mid-rise development meets a whole variety of policy objectives, and responds better to the more complex and challenging sites.
Development Applications (4-11 Storeys)
Approved, Under Construction, or Ready for Occupancy
The good news is that with 162 km of Avenue corridors to accommodate mid-rise (324 km when you consider both sides of the street), new development applications are spread throughout Toronto, rather than being closely clustered as tall buildings often are.
Applications for mid-rise are on the upswing: there are likely a variety of reasons for this, including a recognition by the development industry that there is a significant and important opportunity here in the city, as well as the desire to embrace developments that are on a bit more manageable scale from a sales perspective in a recalibrating market.
Excludes townhouses and stacked townhouses
I’ll just close by pointing out that at this year’s Toronto Urban Design Awards in September, we recognized several important mid-rise contributions to our city, including the CUBE Lofts at 799 College Street. As Christopher Hume writes, CUBE Lofts demonstrates that mid-rise buildings “can fit into an established context while adding a 21st-century element. This sense of variety is precisely what keeps a city interesting and engaging.” New research keeps reinforcing that people want to live in walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods.
I believe that gently adding density through mid-rise buildings is our best opportunity to transform Toronto’s single-use districts into vibrant places, by bringing a variety of uses “in close”. By doing so, as a city, we can better integrate our land use planning with our existing transit infrastructure.