As Ontario moves ahead with its final stages of reopening, some may wonder how our urban communities will evolve in this new post-pandemic era.
Whether it’s a reassessment of the use of office spaces, or a heightened desire for urban greenspaces and amenities, new real estate and community preferences will likely play a role in shaping large development projects after COVID-19.
Serena Quaglia is the Vice President of Strategy at TCS Marketing Systems. With a decade of in-house experience working in marketing and sales for three Class-A developers, Quaglia has a specialization in master-planned and mixed-use communities.
Livabl chatted with Quaglia to find out how she thinks master-planned communities will change in a post-pandemic world.
Livabl: What are some notable master-planned projects you are excited about in the Greater Toronto Area? How do you think these projects will change the urban landscape and what will they contribute to their respective communities?
Serena Quaglia: The City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area continue to push the envelope of master-planned project design and development.
Take The Well for example, which is a vertical, high-density and mixed-use community. The project says that it is focused on providing “meaningful experiences in culture, entertainment, community and wellness,” which are key values of Millennials and Generation Z, proving how forward-thinking RioCan, Allied and Tridel are in addressing Toronto of the future.
Waterfront Toronto’s 12-acre Quayside Lands has the potential to set the tone as a world-class blueprint for delivering a “sustainable community for people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and incomes,” one that will provide “sustainability and urban design standards and inclusive planning for seniors,” according to the project.
Downtown Markham by The Remington Group Inc. is one of the first and largest master-planned communities in North America, stretching about 243 acres, transforming the 905 region. Downtown Markham continues to blaze a trail.
It will also be exciting to see how Mattamy, one of Canada’s largest home builders, envisions the GTA’s future development.
L: What amenities, facilities or features will be important for developers to include in their master-planned developments going forward, especially with post-pandemic preferences in mind?
SQ: Parks and multi-purpose outdoor spaces have taken on renewed importance. Park space that is multifunctional and programmable, constructed with a mixed palette of natural and hard-surface elements will continue to increase in value.
L: This past year, after multiple lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, people haven’t been able to utilize or interact with their community as they normally would. How do you see the desire for community changing in a post-pandemic world?
SQ: My team of TCS Marketing Systems researchers and I have noticed the following trends since lockdown measures recently eased in June 2021:
1. Torontonians are happy to dine together outside at restaurants, no matter the weather.
It has been heartwarming to see diners remain in place, undeterred, under floppy or no umbrellas when it starts to pour rain — shout out to Toronto Public Health and the Province of Ontario for conceiving and delivering CaféTO. It has been inspiring to see restaurant owners, managers and servers go above and beyond — within municipal bylaw constraints — in ad-hoc environments to do so.
2. There has been a noticeable increase in the critical mass regarding the use of the City’s parks and parkettes by young, new mothers, exercise enthusiasts, seniors, wedding parties of less than five people, music, tai chi and bootcamp classes, including dog walkers as of late.
Parks department staff do not just cut the grass and pick up litter. They are enabling a city of over six million people to be outdoors together safely in an estimated number of 1,500 parks and parkettes.
Considering these observations, how can we best design and implement four-season solutions that are a win-win for the restaurant industry and so revered by downtown dwellers? And, how can we best assist the City’s parks and recreation departments to maintain or improve nature, city programming and places to safely relax and play in the future?
L: It’s not certain at this point how many of us will be returning to the office and will opt to work remotely from now on. Looking to the future, how do you think developers will address office and workspace needs in master-planned projects?
SQ: Master-planned communities reflect the broader culture in which they are built. There will always be demand for office and workspace in downtown Toronto, which contributes 20 percent to Canada’s GDP. Therefore, in master-planned communities in the GTA where commercial precincts are contemplated, we can assume the same will apply.
L: If remote working is here to stay, we could see a rise in nomadic lifestyles where professionals travel from city to city and utilize rental options. How do you think master-planned communities will embrace this lifestyle? Could this influence master-planned projects to introduce more purpose-built and short-term rental housing options?
SQ: Great question and one that is better answered by municipal planners who oversee Official and Secondary Plans and site-specific growth policies who can speak to all the complexities, stakeholders and levels of government involved in master-planned community development. It’s an exciting time to be an urban planner!
That said, TCS Marketing Systems started seeing more purpose-built housing options emerging in Toronto’s downtown core prior to COVID-19, so this trend may be reflected in master-planned communities in the future.
L: The federal government has committed to bringing 1.2 million new immigrants to the country between 2021 and 2023. Coupled with returning international students to campuses and less ‘brain drain’ to other countries thanks to remote working, demand for housing is likely going to rise in the next few years. How do you see this increase in demand affecting urban communities like Toronto?
SQ: In my opinion, growth leads to more creativity and innovation, and international students bring vibrancy and optimism to Toronto!
At the neighbourhood level, I think we will see more prolific, yet functional architecture that pushes boundaries, increased levels of entrepreneurial spirit, a booming tech sector and the further amplification of our arts, film, sports, culture and culinary scenes. Diversity of lived experience and diversity of thought will underpin many industry sectors, impacting Toronto and the GTA positively for generations to come.
The challenge will be to balance divergent interests and create harmony, that is, to create a beautiful, healthy, safe and momentous city where the best and brightest can thrive, yet one where the most vulnerable are not left behind. I believe Toronto has what it takes to achieve this dynamic equilibrium.