The following is a guest post by Evan Weinberg, planning and development manager at Downtown Yonge. Evan holds a Master’s of Planning in Urban Development from Ryerson University and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia. He is passionate about cities and this is his second of many guest blog posts about planning issues in Canadian cities.

In this two-part post, Evan briefly discusses the challenge planners face in trying to attract families to live and raise their children in the downtown. While there have been some interventions in Toronto, more research and efforts are needed to guide and support the development community to make family-size living a reality in urban centers.

As Toronto continues to reshape its downtown through permitting the development of high-rise condominiums, many (planners, city councilors) are left questioning the sustainability (not in the green sense) of building a community living in small (<300sqft.), glass boxes in the sky.

More specifically, they are questioning if new high-rise condominiums can attract families who will put down roots and raise children in downtown areas. Now, one might ask why it is even important to have families living in the downtown. It is widely viewed (by planners and city staff) that families, specifically those with children, tend to be more committed to the improvement of their neighbourhood. This means they invest in their individual properties, community and local politics to ensure a safe, clean and attractive environment for their children.

In contrast, areas housing largely transient populations often struggle to find individuals willing to invest in their communities, both physically and socially. This can lead to the degradation of a neighbourhood (again, both physically and socially). In an attempt to avoid building a community solely inhabited by transient twenty-somethings, renters and first time buyers, Toronto planners and councilors have tried to encourage “family sized” units in new buildings.

The magic percentage often touted is having 10% of new development offering family-sized units. This 10% can take several forms: three-bedroom units; two bed room + den units (that could be converted into a three bed room unit,) and one and two-bedroom units with knock-out panels so that families can purchase two side-by-side units, then combine the two into a larger unit. The cost and inconvenience of obtaining and renovating two units is hardly designed to appeal to the average family though.

While some measures have been taken to ensure space for families in the downtown, some questions still need to be answered, such as, what exactly is a family-sized unit? How much will families pay to live downtown? And, what amenities do families require? As these questions continue to be researched, we continue to build developments specifically designed and marketed towards young singles, and investors. Condo ads with sexy young couples feature tall modern-glass towers and highlight amenities like rooftop pools, gyms and lounges. This image is not likely to resonate with parents who have two kids, a dog and a mini-van.

Click here to read part two of this post, which discusses further interventions to make downtown living for families more attainable.

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