When prices skyrocket and developers (among others) clamour for more developable land, we primarily point at two factors: a shortage of available land and/or the difficulty in developing it. A recent Neptis Foundation study helps negate the former.
Last year, Neptis completed a four-part series of briefs on “land supply for future urban development by municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe to accommodate growth to 2031.”
According to their analysis, just over 125,000 additional hectares of land had become available compared to their 2013 report; the growth from 107,000 hectares reserved by municipalities for future growth through 2031 amounted to a 17.34% increase.
Factoring in hectares designated as greenfield, the total land reserved for development stayed about the same. The foundation concluded that there’s enough land in the GTA to accommodate growth expected through 2031 and beyond.
While land may be in shorter supply in Toronto, there is lots of room for growth in the 905. There are still hundreds of thousands of people (nearly half a million, according to Canadian Geographic in 2014) who commute into Toronto every day though, and while the “commutable” perimeter around the city has grown as housing prices soared, people still don’t want to live too far.
Closer to home, growth rates have caught up in many of our most desirable suburbs, and is certainly about to in even areas we not long ago thought too far to live in if working downtown Toronto.
The province’s Plan for Growth has its legislative problems, and developers also point at lack of infrastructure, excessive red tape, obsolete zoning and NIMBYism among the factors hampering their ability to bring more homes to market.
In Toronto, especially in the last few years, we’ve been looking at densification as a solution, but for some buyers, condo prices have become unaffordable too. We need to get creative, and then we need to get out of the way of the entrepreneurial people who make creative things happen.
In some cases, we hamstring those interested in building unconventional homes, like the now-well-accepted tiny home. Would we “small-c” conservative Torontonians embrace something really outside the box?
There are some great examples of communities doing things differently, including Springhill in Gloucestershire, England. This co-housing residential development centres on a pedestrian-only core; cars are left around the perimeter. Residents share communal dining and recreation spaces.
After decades of sprawling out into the suburbs, few of us look at housing as part of a greater social fabric. I hope condo living is changing that, but Springhill is going even further.
Self-build communities in Chile, Holland and Britain have all been successful. In Iquique, Chile, the Quinta Monroy community took a government budget of $7,500 per home and offered the squatters for which they were intended “half a good house,” which would meet their basic needs, and which they were encouraged to supplement themselves over time.
Planning and the price of land ownership are obstacles to self-building, as they are to the notion of prefab, but as long as we’re tackling housing obstacles, they’re ideas worth considering. About 5,000 of what are essentially kit houses have been built in Sweden (natch).
Also, we haven’t run out of water yet. Floating home communities flourish in the Pacific Northwest, and factory-built homes that are floated into place have been successful in the Netherlands. Walkways within the floating community are publicly accessible, which opens the door for all sorts of mixed-use development, and who among us wouldn’t love afternoons spent visiting a floating community as much as we do, say, the Distillery District?
In 2015, New London Architecture ran a competition inviting architects to rethink urban housing. As well as their own take on a floating neighbourhood, among their solutions were narrow, gap-filling designs; an app/website combination that allowed city-dwellers to tag locations for potential development as they wander around the city, which would then be evaluated by the city for the establishment of micro-development zones for community-led development; and prefab parts kits that would make apartment development flexible, in different sizes and scales. Demand waning for one-bedroom units? Just reconfigure.
We aren’t running out of land, and we shouldn’t be running out of ideas. We need to get our policymakers to turn their attention to the things that really matter to us, like where we call home.