Is Toronto Manhattanizating?
Is Toronto Manhattanizating?
Ignore the hand-wringing. Forget the predictions of doom and gloom. The Manhattanization of Toronto will be the best thing to happen to this city.
Though the term has come to mean little more than a vertical city crammed with towers, there’s more to it than that.
Toronto certainly stands tall; more highrise buildings are under construction here than any other city in North America, including New York. This week alone, city council approved more than $20 billion in new development, the bulk of it highrise.
What makes Manhattan unique, however, is not the number of skyscrapers or their height; it’s that city’s passionate embrace of density.
That’s where Toronto has trouble. Though some believe the city has evolved too quickly, market and demographic forces won’t be controlled, and can’t be contained. People now want to live and work downtown. The condo allows them to fulfill that dream.
By contrast, Manhattan has no such doubts about its urbanity. It revels in its status as one of the great metropolises of the world. It enjoys the benefits of density more than just about any other city on Earth. It reinvents itself regularly and has led the rest of the world, let alone the continent, in its efforts to urbanize and open the public realm — especially city streets — to pedestrians and cyclists.
In Toronto, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat worries that the municipal infrastructure can’t keep up with the pace of development. She’s right. This isn’t to say that growth should be slowed, but that development should be smarter and, just as important, that we need to make better use of the existing infrastructure.
To begin with, builders must pay a greater share of infrastructure costs. To ensure the continuation of civic services that make their condos so desirable, higher development charges must be levied. Few builders would agree, of course, but ultimately it’s in their own best interests to contribute to the well-being of the city that has made them rich.
Beyond that, the industry and policy-setters must shift the focus from small investor-friendly units to decently sized apartments where people — including families — can make a life.
There is resistance to the idea from buyers as well as developers. The cause is the lingering bias in favour of single-family housing. But already families are moving in their hundreds to condo towers, knocking down walls and reconfiguring units to make them suitable for kids. As the supply of affordable houses dries up, this prejudice will disappear, as it has in other big cities.
In addition, we need to hold another of those grown-up conversations we’ve promised ourselves — this one about how best to deploy systems already in place. For example, is leaving roads to cars and trucks really the best use of the precious spaces of the public realm?
When David Mirvish proposed his twin-towered condo complex for King and John, the city’s response was to complain it was “too dense.” Too dense for whom? Cyclists? Pedestrians? Transit riders? Drivers?
Restricting vehicular traffic on King would mitigate the situation for all but drivers. It would relieve congestion and promote mobility. Regardless, the chances we will debate such a move are slim to non-existent.