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 part two of a two-part post (click here for part one), Evan continues his discussion of 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 centres.

If the City wants to bring families downtown and retain young families who are already living here, there needs to be better incentives for developers to design and market buildings to families. Where to start? Perhaps we can take a lesson from the suburbs, which don’t seem to have any challenge attracting families, many of whom reluctantly give up their downtown condos for a ‘better’ life for their children. Suburbs, in principle, are designed and marketed with in image of pastoral retreat — faux historic architecture, green parks with playgrounds, tree lined streets, and good schools.

Cities can take a cue from how the suburbs market to families, and in turn help families imagine a life downtown. Maybe it is by designing smaller-scale buildings with more traditional architecture, highlighting family friendly condo-amenities like 24-hour security and indoor parking as well as adding new amenities like upgrade packages for baby proofing, more storage, private courtyards, day-care, and other family friendly features. Not to mention highlighting assets like, schools, transit, parks, zoos, libraries, farmers markets, grocery stores, children’s theatres, museums, and galleries, all within walking distance from the building. Ultimately,
if parents could live close to work and be less dependent on their cars it would mean more time with their families.

Once the City of Toronto and developers are able to conceptually attract families to live in the downtown, the City needs to find a way to make sure downtown living is affordable for the average family. Currently, families that can afford downtown units large enough to meet their housing needs, tend to be living in single family homes in downtown adjacent neighbourhoods like the Annex, Cabaggetown and Rosedale. To help address the number of families with children who were leaving Montreal (because they could not afford dwellings suitable for their housing needs, though research showed they would have preferred to stay in the City) the City began a pilot project called Urban Housing for Families.

The program offers developers a $15,000 grant per-unit designed to meet family-friendly criteria. All units must: have a minimum of 3-bedrooms and be at least 1098 sq. feet; be located below the fifth-floor and above the ground of a building; have a minimum outdoor space of 75 sq. feet; have superior soundproofing between units; provide at least 43 sq. feet of storage space inside the units (not including closets); and have strict rules about the maximum pricing for how much the unit can be sold for (it ranges depending on if the building is wood framed or concrete). The program is still in its early stages; however it shows a concerted effort by the city to retain families downtown.

While the development community needs a paradigm shift in how they design and market condos towards families, the City of Toronto also needs to make efforts to better support change. As long as we continue to build small condos geared towards the lifestyles of young adults then this will continue to be the population we attract. Ultimately, this is a missed opportunity to create a dynamic and sustainable downtown. However, with determined effort by developers, planners and the City, to understand what families need and find ways to bring down costs, downtown Toronto can become a great place to raise a family.

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