As a city planner, I have three ambitions for Toronto in 2051: to be the most inclusive city in the world, resilient in the face of global events and climate change, and prosperous through equity and economic competitiveness.
These aspirations are ambitious, but they reflect the values of most Torontonians. To achieve these goals, we need to take full advantage of diversity, innovation and urban geography.
All parts of the city have a role to play. Our employment areas can attract new businesses and technologies. Our growth centers and high streets can become denser and busier, mixing housing and business. And our low-rise neighborhoods can accommodate tens of thousands more, connected by improved transit and local mobility, supported by great design that celebrates public space.
Prosperity and population growth feed each other. More than 700,000 people have found homes in Toronto in the past 30 years and another 700,000 are expected by 2051. How we welcome newcomers will be the measure of our success. Where will they find houses? Which housing options will attract entrepreneurs and innovators? How will new Torontonians participate in and embrace an inclusive, resilient and prosperous city?
For decades, the idea of Toronto as a city of neighborhoods has been part of our success story. For some, this means safeguarding the stability and character of low-rise neighbourhoods. These neighborhoods together make up 35 percent of the city. In many neighbourhoods, including the suburbs developed after the Second World War, the existing urban planning regulations only allow detached houses.
Toronto’s next chapter must be built around inclusion and requires a shift in vision for small-scale neighborhoods. To be competitive, Toronto must continue to attract diverse talent and offer a full spectrum of housing, including affordable housing. City reports show that Toronto, in addition to condominiums and apartment buildings, must produce at least 42,000 new ground-level homes by 2051. That is more than 1,200 new houses, townhouses and low-rise apartments per year.
We can welcome new residents to our neighborhoods without sacrificing the low-rise character that makes them desirable places to live. That’s one of the reasons the city’s planning department has submitted a proposal for discussion to allow multiplex housing in neighborhoods across Toronto.
Multiplex homes are small-scale buildings with more than one unit – duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. Building permits for multiplexes, along with garden suites, will add to the range of low-rise housing.
A vision for Toronto’s neighborhoods must add new layers of amenities, housing choice and mobility. It’s not the end of the detached house, backyard, or car. Toronto’s neighborhoods will evolve with different types of low-rise housing, meeting the needs of households, large and small, representing different family and economic statuses, ages and cultures. Neighborhoods will be walkable and liveable and will continue to provide green space and treetops that support climate change adaptation.
This view is not new. It is a time-tested model of urban life, evident in antebellum urban development that relies on transit, walkability and a mix of land use and buildings that provide easy access to opportunities, services and amenities.
Toronto’s official plan is a growth strategy for large-scale change, creating dense mixed-use communities around a growing transit network. Sixty percent of the planned development will take place in our suburbs. Six Points in Etobicoke, Downsview in North York and the Golden Mile in Scarborough – these new neighborhoods show how the future city is already emerging in meaningful ways.
Expanding the housing supply in neighborhoods is the missing piece of the growth puzzle. Neighborhoods that first developed as post-war car-oriented suburbs can gradually evolve with additional low-rise housing.
Including. Resilient. Prosperous. Toronto can only achieve this future if our neighborhoods also grow and reflect these ambitions. If the goal is to be the world’s model for successful urban growth by the middle of the 21st century, the best place to start is at home.