Photo: Richard Hong / Unsplash

The following is a guest contribution from Serena Quaglia, VP of Strategy at TCSMS. Serena has spent a decade in-house for three Class A developers spearheading the marketing and sales, specializing in master-planned and mixed-use-communities. She is a passionate booster of Toronto and GTA neighbourhoods.

Since summer 2020, a lot of ink has been devoted to the “exodus” of people from Toronto’s downtown and midtown communities.

Over the last 12 months, there has been an average of two articles and reports per month in digital publications by real estate analysts claiming double-digit percentage decreases in downtown and midtown Toronto rents, emphasized visually by infographics showing red, horizontal arrows occupying the negative number range.

The numbers are true, but I would like to introduce a different lens regarding today’s current context — an ethnographer’s lens.

As VP of Strategy at TCS Marketing Systems (TCSMS), I augment our in-house quantitative research team which includes a crew of MBAs, analysts, accountants and number crunchers.

Photo: James Bombales

I hold a master’s degree in ethnography, which focuses on qualitative research. An ethnographer is someone who observes, collects, surveys and analyzes non-numerical data to understand intersectional and cultural studies, along with human experiences and behaviours, wants, constraints and trends. I study “quality of life” aspects, while my quant team analyzes and synthesizes what pre-construction key performance indicators mean to developers, and ultimately to buyers of pre-construction real estate.

Together, with our merged findings, we consult developers at the design development stage on what tomorrow’s purchasers will want opposite of what is economically feasible to deliver and purchase.

In regards to 2020, the high-level headline as to why rents decreased was because college students departed for home, Airbnb suites sat empty (then entered the rental inventory pool), immigration numbers froze and people were afraid to take elevators.

There are multiple indicators underpinning why Toronto’s downtown core and midtown neighbourhoods will show signs of economic recovery in Q4 of 2021. By then, college students will return in-person to campus and immigration numbers are predicted to increase, according to the Government of Canada. As total population percentage vaccination numbers increase, riding a confined elevator circulating unknown air quality will also feel less dystopian.

But that is not the whole story.

Photo: White.Rainforest ∙ 易雨白林. / Unsplash

In Measuring Urban Development and City Performance, published in 2015, authors Jasmina Mavrič and Vito Bobek identified “City Performance Indicators.” TCSMS believes the following indicators signal why rents and neighbourhoods within Toronto’s downtown and midtown are poised for a comeback in the immediate future, along with why remaining Airbnb suites will fill up again soon:

  1. Health (Which is improving)
  2. Social capital (Which is improving)
  3. Lifestyle (This is improving as sports, arts, cultural, culinary, educational, retail, hospitality, health
  4. and wellness, salons, environmental and more Toronto destinations re-open)
  5. Green Environment (Access is improving)
  6. Cultural Vitality

Photo: Ayman Hallak / Unsplash

The fifth point is particularly noteworthy. Within a 25-minute walk of the TCSMS head office located in Liberty Village on Tuesday, June 1st, 2021, while wearing a mask, I found:

  • Chicken served 27 different ways
  • The Persian spice, Za’atar, at two non-Persian, family-owned grocers
  • Over 12 varieties of begonias for sale at six small business locations (priced from $1.99 per unit)
  • Three Bike Share Toronto locations, where over 40 percent of the bikes looked to be in use
  • Two public bocce pits in a City of Toronto park that were not in use, but the lawn to the east of them was being used by one senior gentleman who was wearing a mask while doing Tai Chi
  • A Biscotteria
  • A “Pawdicure” for dogs
  • Jamaican patties for sale at a family-owned, Portuguese butcher shop
  • A craft beer named “Donkey Venom” that had “aromas of chocolate and mocha”
  • Marinated Ontario asparagus paired with a 2017 Domaine le Couroulu

These ten proof points regarding cultural vitality and variety (tens of hundreds) demonstrate how downtown Toronto — and by extension, midtown — are poised for an immediate comeback.

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