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.
Last September, City Planning sent out 12,000 letters to random households across Toronto. Each letter contained a personal invitation to participate in an exciting experiment aimed at diversifying the voices that contribute to Toronto’s planning process, so that it is more reflective of the most multicultural city in the world. The experiment, now approaching its first anniversary, is called the Toronto Planning Review Panel, and it is an engagement success story that I’m proud to say is a first, not just for Toronto, but for the whole world.
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.
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.
Wychwood Barns is truly a special place in Toronto. Located in a former streetcar maintenance facility near St. Clair and Bathurst, an engaged group of individuals helped transform the site into an innovative community cultural hub. Managed by the non-profit group Artscape, the complex includes heritage buildings, public green space, a greenhouse, farmers’ market, a beach volleyball court, offices for local community groups, and event space that accommodates cultural events.
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.
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.
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.