Though transit might be the top issue on the minds of Torontonians, we’d argue that city growth and development runs a close second. Case in point: the enormous crowd that turned out at the open house for the Honest Ed’s redevelopment.
The Urban Land Institute invited Mayor John Tory to discuss these issues at its seventh fireside chat (the sold out event attracted more than 400 people).
Here’s what the the 65th mayor of the city had to say about the changing shape of Toronto:
The Density debate
The mayor didn’t shy away from saying there was a need for greater density, pointing out that intensification has to happen in a major city like Toronto. “If done well, it can be a great thing.” The problem? Toronto has seen developments built without the needed infrastructure to support them.
The mid-rise fight
While intensification often conjures up the image of skyscrapers crowding a city skyline, much of the development references emphasized the need for more mid-rise buildings. But the mayor conceded these types of buildings are often the most actively fought by Torontonians concerned about changes in their neighbourhood. Mayor Tory said these projects need not be seen as a threat to neighbourhoods: “We are going to have to summon the courage and the imagination to build mid-rise on our transit corridors.”
The mayor said that the significant transit deficit in the city was bad for “sensible development”, not to mention the economy. He spoke often of his SmartTrack plan, dismissing media criticism that it would hamper the proposed Downtown Relief Line, saying his strategy would also provide relief in the centre of the city. SmartTrack also “begins and ends in the 905,” making it easier for people who live downtown and work in Mississauga, or vice versa, get to and fro. One thing that might make SmartTrack a no-go? The plan needs the development industry to get behind it in order to work.
Affordability in an expensive city
There was talk of the state of not just public housing but the need for affordable rental housing as well with the mayor saying to the countless developers present, “We need affordable accommodation in the city and you have to build it.” As the city becomes pricier for the average person, Mayor Tory pointed out that we can’t just have people commuting in from Peterborough or less expensive suburbs since they can’t afford to live here. He wants the process between the purchase of the land and the occupation of the homes to be much faster.
The condo mayor
It was noted early on the evening that Mayor John Tory is the first Toronto mayor to live in a condo. BuzzBuzzHome got a shout-out during the Q&A session for asking via the Twitter hashtag #AskMayorTO whether he preferred house living or condo living. In a very diplomatic answer, Mayor Tory said he enjoys both and it’s a matter of what stage in your life you’re in. Later on, he spoke of how in many European cities, it’s seen as quite normal for families to live in apartments or condos. Tory believes Toronto is headed in that direction, predicting a future in which families will choose to live in condos, and not just because of cost.
No apologies for being the biggest city in Canada
— Matthew Slutsky (@iSlutsky) March 5, 2015
For more details about the talk, check out the very lively discussion on Twitter: