A Study in Contrast: or, Getting Density Right

Two articles appeared in the Globe and Mail this week that offer an interesting study in contrast. The first, by Alex Bozikovic, explores the new Residential Apartment Commercial (RAC) zone designed to breath new life into Toronto’s 1960s and 70s tower-in-the-park communities by making small-scale retail operations legal there. Approved by City Council in 2014 (you can find our City Planning Staff Report here), it is a step in a process designed to help fix the negative consequences of poorly designed density.  The second article, by Marcus Gee, argues that Toronto is squandering its best opportunities for intensification by scaling down development proposals to accommodate NIMBYism. It advocates for density at all costs while ignoring the consequences of poorly designed density that the RAC zone is designed to address.

Towers in St James Town, in Toronto

St James Town, one of Toronto’s original apartment neighbourhoods (image by SimonP at English Wikipedia CC-BY-SA-3.0)

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The Starter Home, Revisited

On the heels of a recent survey that found more than 50% of young professionals would like to purchase a home in Toronto, the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) convened a panel discussion on housing affordability in the region. The Star’s Tess Kalinowski provided an overview of the event’s discussion.

I was asked to provide opening remarks and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the issues challenging affordability in the region, and the implications for our planning policy.

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A Conversation about the Future of King Street

On March 13th, hundreds of residents and business owners attended our first public meeting on the King Street Pilot. King Street is Toronto’s busiest surface transit route, moving over 65,000 riders a day. Although vehicle drivers only make up 16% of King Street’s users, they currently use 64% of the right-of-way space. As Toronto continues to grow rapidly, it behoves us to plan more strategically to maximise the public benefit of our existing assets.

Learn more about the Pilot and the three preliminary design options: King Street Pilot Study.

 

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