We’ve been focusing, in the City Planning Division, on becoming more proactive and collaborative in the work that we do.
This is apparent in a whole variety of initiatives that we have underway, from our Comprehensive to the Core study, which is a two-year project looking at both hard and soft downtown infrastructure, to our recently approved plan for 19 km of light rail on Eglinton, which includes a Built Form Framework, a streetscaping plan, and a “greening” strategy.
The most obvious example of this shift is our introduction of the Development Permit System to Toronto, which will reorient planning in specific, high growth areas from a site-by-site approach to a vision-based neighborhood planning approach.
One initiative that is slightly off the radar screen, but has the potential to be just as impactful, is the introduction of the “Residential Apartment Commercial Zone” into our Zoning Bylaw.
Our city contains the second largest concentration of high-rise buildings in North America – and many of these modern concrete buildings dot the landscape of our suburbs. Built during the city’s post-war expansion, they were designed to be the 1950s version of a middle-class dream. In 1968 alone, 30,000 apartment units were built, and today there are over 1,000 of these slab buildings across our inner suburbs (resulting in a unique tenure split in our suburbs, where nearly 50% of residents are renters).
However, as residential enclaves disconnected from other neighborhoods, amenities, and streets, these buildings were quickly abandoned by the middle class and have subsequently become landing pads for new immigrants. Many of these communities have eked out a strong sense of community despite their planned context, which is often hostile to walking and community connectedness. Many more have been identified as “Neighbourhood Improvement Areas”, that is, areas with special needs that require a higher level of reinvestment to improve quality of life.
Our planning policies for these communities, which have remained relatively unchanged since they were built, have been a constraint – part of the problem, to be blunt. By restricting uses, and viewing these buildings as places for residential uses only, their potential to transform into vibrant places and community hubs has been thwarted.
The good news is that as a result of tremendous on-going analysis and new collaborations that have involved the United Way, Public Health, and the Tower Renewal Office (to name just a few of the key players), approximately 500 existing apartment sites have been identified for inclusion in the new zone, which will allow for new, small scale uses of benefit to local residents. The uses to be permitted include, for example, small shops, food markets, cafes, learning centers, barbershops, doctor’s offices, community centres and places of worship. Clearly, the opportunity to provide a variety of neighbourhood goods and services within an apartment building or cluster of apartment buildings is a key step towards creating more complete, walkable communities. This is a critical policy change, and its adoption is long over due.
The new RAC Zone is a progressive, proactive, enabling policy framework. It has the potential to transform over 500 sites in this city, and it is an example of how we are seeking to plan differently.
Planning and Growth Management Committee will consider a Staff Report on this matter on May 29th, 2014.