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Assessing walkable urbanism in Toronto, Part Two.

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Oct. 28th, 2010 | 11:11 pm
mood: okayHeeey Canada
music: Can I have a loan?

Monstrous things planners created. But they're walkable!

Continuing from last time, here are some more details about my recent trip to Toronto.

Part of the reason for taking us to Canada, according to our instructor, is that their banking system is still lending money and thus getting new construction projects galore. If their banks were much more conservative lenders than American banks, that made them look stodgy five years ago, but a hell of a lot smarter now.

Everywhere we went in Toronto, city center or suburban node, there were towers and towers and towers.

One of the towers at TD Centre, in the Financial District. This is one of several enormous Mies-designed towers in an office complex that was completed in (I think?) the early 1970s. This place was so big that there was no way to get even one full tower in a shot, but here's one that gives you some idea of the scale.

Green space in the middle of the site. And some folks were actually using it!

Scarborough. Older tower on the left from 1990, and newer one just completed.

Our instructor was smart enough to take us to the pre-sale office of two of the many condo developments going up, for a perspective on real estate that we seldom see as planners-in-training. Those folks seemed exuberant about their prospects for getting all of their units sold, obviously, despite the very high number of nearly identical towers going up in every direction. I think we left, shiny marketing materials in hand, with a sense that when they do sell, a number are inhabited by happy urbanite Torontonians, but lots are just investment properties that no one ever moves into. Could be a worse situation, I suppose, but it's still overbuilding.

Another telling part of the Toronto real estate story came from a meeting with Kyle Rae, a longtime Toronto City Councillor. He told us in no uncertain terms that the city does not care about the height of a proposed building, so long as the developer meets other code requirements and agreed-upon "bonuses" (including required public open space at street level, mixed-income housing, and a green roof).

Required green space in Scarborough. The ground-floor of the building is all retail spaces that are empty. Given that this doesn't open on to a street, I can't blame shops for not wanting to locate here.

He also stated that no Torontonian has a right to a view. For example, in the photo above, a 30-some story condo building is under construction on the right (the developer is required to pre-sell about 75% of the units in order to begin construction). In the meantime, a second tower for an unrelated development project was approved and will go up just to the left of it, taking out at least one of the smaller buildings on the edge of the photo. So from Day One, if you move into a unit in the right building facing that direction, you may not actually have any sunlight or much of a view. The urban designer leading us on a tour of this neighborhood expressed his reservations about this approach, so it's apparently not a universal desire to build anything anywhere.

Low-rise buildings in King-Spadina area, ripe for demolition and replacement if not given landmark status

This building is going to serve as the pedestal for, yes, another high-rise condo tower. At least it will remain. Pizzaville is doomed.

Overall, I think that the built form doesn't get completely out of hand with this approach, and indeed I still like the fabric of Toronto. It's a little chaotic in some places, but from the perspective of a restless young American, at least they're still attracting new residents, and building new housing to accommodate a higher population.

Dundas St., early morning

Next time around, I'll talk more about my personal impressions of the city. And I promise I'm done with the skyscraper porn.

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Comments {2}


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from: kishenehn
date: Oct. 31st, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)

I don't know that I've ever seen a truly functional "walkable neighborhood" that was created as part of a formal planning process ... they've all evolved organically.

IMHO, your job as a planner will be to stop these things from happening!!

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from: silverthief2
date: Oct. 31st, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I think one of the big themes from this trip were that planners and the city in general were helping to keep good places good and preventing developers from making other places terrible.

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