Toronto city councilors this week reviewed the TOcore plan, the first big update of a city plan in nearly 50 years, which directs future city centre growth over the next 25 years. It includes among other things plans for parks, encouraging walking and cycling, and perhaps most noteworthy, requirements that would compel builders to include more two- and three-bedroom units in their plans.
Projects with more than 80 units would be required to include at least 40% of the larger-size units: 15% two-bedrooms at least 936.5 square feet, 10% three-bedrooms at least 1,076 square feet, and 15% a combination of two- and three-bedrooms without the minimums.
An urban studies professor at York University, Douglas Young, told the Star, “I think, in this country, there’s always been something of a dance between government and the private sector around housing, with sometimes government getting very involved and other times stepping back. So I see this as a point in time when they’ve decided to step forward and get more involved.”
In fact, there’s always been something of a dance between government and the private sector around everything in this country, part of what has created the socially minded, inclusive, measuredly capitalist country we’re lucky to live in. I think like many Canadians, I generally lean right on market and fiscal issues, but often left on social issues — in my case that’s especially true of social and affordable housing.
Too many small-unit, single-dweller towers aren’t good for the city as a whole. First, for the should-be-obvious reason that any neighbourhood that caters exclusively to one demographic is entirely dependent on the whims of that demographic, in this case, adult singles. Businesses can collapse as trends change.
Second, failure to plan for future infrastructure often delays or completely derails future development. What does a tower of urban professionals need with schools? With larger parks than their dogs require? With facilities for the elderly? And when there is an influx of children, the city is playing catch-up and the builders are delayed.
Third, many of the residents who buy these small units in small-unit projects, whether they’re end-users or investors, look at them as somewhat temporary. If they get married and decide to start a family, it’s off to the suburbs.
Four, too much of a muchness in residents leads to the same in commercial tenants who want to conduct business in the neighbourhood. Too many bars or coffee shops make the competition such that it’s hard to survive; add a lack of diverse businesses and you may find a few shuttered storefronts the next time you wander through the neighbourhood, if you would even bother since it’s become mostly homogeneous and uninteresting to anyone who doesn’t live there or fit the same demographic.
I’ve said many times that urban living can be enormously rewarding for families; for parents who just aren’t interested in mowing a lawn, and prefer a cityscape view, it’s nirvana. We don’t all want to give up our lifestyles when the sprogs come along.
Finally, family units don’t just allow room for kids, they also allow elderly parents to move in, which can be especially meaningful when we hit those “how close is it to the hospital?” years.
These towers of small units may appeal in the short-term to those who are looking for the cheapest way onto the property ladder and a place to lay their hats for a few years, but in the end, they aren’t good for Toronto if there are too many.
Now, plans like this need to be made very carefully because it’s possible that the new rules could negatively impact first-time buyers. What if the demand for family-size condo units just isn’t there and they aren’t selling? Builders will have to lower the price and offset the decrease by increasing the price of smaller units.
If this happens, we’re preventing the people who eventually start families from setting a foundation to have that family in the first place.
I do feel that Toronto should accommodate families who want to live in condos, and I also think that more families should consider condo living. It’ll be interesting to see how the TOcore plan shapes the future of our city.