Neighbourhoods Need Street Level Planning

By Ben Bull
Published May 30, 2012

As the Toronto condo boom continues unabated, many commentators are beginning to question the street level planning - or rather the lack of it - that's going into these massive developments.

Jack Schmitt, a principal at internationally renowned architecture firm Diamond Schmitt, popped into the CBC last week to decry the lack of mixed housing in the city. Today, the Toronto Star's Joe Fiorito joined in the discussion.

I had a chat with a couple of people who live in the Humber Bay Shores neighbourhood. Loretta Mattiazzo-Baldry has a home in the high-rise known as "Newport Beach." See what I mean about names? I thought Newport Beach was in the United States.

Not Loretta's fault.

Loretta was with her pal Sharon Jazzar. They are smart, thoughtful people who bought here 10 years or so ago, when the motel strip was still going, um, strong.

Loretta: "This was supposed to be the jewel of Toronto." Sharon: "When we bought, they said this was going to be like Niagara on the Lake."

Both women smirked at the memory. Humber Bay Shores is the cheese to Niagara's chalk. There are some 13 condos in the vicinity, with perhaps another 30 to be built in the next 10 years. Alas, it is emphatically not a neighbourhood.

You only have to walk around the Humber Bay and Queens Quay lakeshore areas to confirm that a poorly-planned confluence of condos does not make a good neighbourhood.

Without effective transit and street level planning, condos become virtual gated communities, cut off from their own surroundings. If there is no incentive for residents to leave the building and walk the streets, a neighbourhood can never thrive.

And who lives there? Not families, apparently. According to the latest census data, my own family is an anomaly.

I moved back from the suburbs into the downtown area six years ago with my wife and four kids. We were fortunate to find an adaptable little row house in the St Lawrence neighbourhood for just a little more than our sprawling suburban semi.

The shockwaves of downsizing were more than mitigated by the reduce in my commute (we no longer own a car) and the benefits of being part of a burgeoning community. But centrally located, affordable family housing stock is a rarity in Toronto.

Active, healthy communities are essential to creating a safe and vibrant city. Unfortunately, the abundance of condo clots being thrown up in Toronto are missing many vital neighbourhood ingredients. Mixed housing, transit, walkable streets, a sense of place: these essential components are nowhere on the planners' pad.

They say you get what you build for. The question in Toronto is, what kind of city are we building?

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By slodrive (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:16:11

Often wonder whether a '80s level spike in interest rates could turn that part of Toronto into a new-era slum in 30 years or so. Guess its unlikely given all the attributes Toronto has to offer, but wow, that's an awful lot of relatively less-than-redeeming condo inventory.

Edit: And a less-well-planned building craze had a disasterous effect on Detroit in the middle of the century. Can only assume no one thought it would happen there, either.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2012-05-30 13:17:52

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By Bombadillo (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:00:35

Condos are conspicuously not marketed to families, it is true. Part of that surely relates to the exorbitant cost of a three- or four-bedroom unit, and the limited market appeal attached thereto, especially when compared to a freehold in GTA suburbs.

The Toronto boom is apparently being driven by offshore investment, which is inflating prices and enabling the exodus to 905 suburbs, and giving undervalued secondary markets like Hamilton a happy updraft. This city is insulated from the effects of speculative investment, but not immune.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 16:56:03

It's nice to read B.B. again.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 22:36:44 in reply to Comment 77622

Yes! It's been too long. Good stuff Ben. I always notice when my wife and I go to Toronto for a visit that we are the only people with kids.

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