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The “D” word-downtown

April 16th, 2015 · 2 Comments

Amenities matter in city intensification

By Joe Cressy

I’m proud to live in downtown Toronto. I was born downtown, raised on Walmer Road, and my wife and I live in the Annex, near Bathurst and Bloor streets. Downtown Toronto is a great place to live, but we have much to do to make sure we protect and build the character of our downtown communities.

Downtown Toronto is the heart of our city. That may not always be the most popular thing to say, but there is no shame in saying it.

All of Toronto wins when the downtown does well. Some numbers help tell the tale…downtown Toronto, as defined by the city’s official plan, is the area from Bathurst Street to the Don River, and from the waterfront to Dupont Street and the Rosedale Valley.

Over 200,000 people live downtown, but during the day it nearly triples in size as the daytime population grows to nearly 750,000 people. It is 17 square kilometres in size and represents just 3 per cent of the city’s landmass. A third of all the jobs in the entire city are located downtown; a quarter of the city’s tax-base is generated downtown; and more than half of the city’s GDP is created downtown.

However, as we all know, it is about much more than numbers and economic benefits. It is about the neighbourhoods and institutions that give life to our city. It is the three universities and numerous community colleges located downtown; it is the cultural institutions and festivals like the AGO, TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Harbourfront Centre.

It is the mixed-use neighbourhoods like Kensington Market, Chinatown, and St. Lawrence Market; and despite decades of disappointment, it is the insufferable Leafs, the occasionally successful Blue Jays, and the increasingly exciting Raptors.

We have a lot to be proud of downtown. However, for those of us who live here, we must do a better job of building neighbourhoods, rather than simply adding density and building condos.

Over the last 20 years we’ve witnessed transformational change in the area. Amidst the remnants of 20th century infrastructure like the railway lands, industrial warehouses, and the Gardiner Expressway, new neighbourhoods have risen up.

In the railway lands, an entirely new neighbourhood, CityPlace, has been built in two decades. In the Entertainment District, defined as Front Street to Queen Street and University Avenue to Spadina Avenue, the population has grown from 240 people in 2001 to 3,600 people today, and is estimated to grow by another 18,000 people when all of the approved developments are built. Despite this tremendous growth, we have not adequately invested in the vital community services that make a neighbourhood liveable. These services include community centres, libraries, affordable childcare, and parks.

In fact, we are so far behind that we don’t have solid information on which services are most oversubscribed in each neighbourhood. However we are finally working to catch up now.

Density is not something to be afraid of, as long as we’re planning for a mixture of housing options and building the physical and social infrastructure to support it. If you are a family living in a two- or three-bedroom unit in a condo or a tower, the park becomes your backyard. The community centre and library become your den or playroom. Building liveable neighbourhoods requires that we plan for families. Over the next few years, we at City Hall plan to change our planning framework to do just that.

During the last term of council, a motion was passed instructing planning staff to conduct a comprehensive study of the downtown to answer two critical questions: how much development can downtown handle? And, what infrastructure (both social and physical) is needed to handle it? These are critical questions that we must answer in order to move forward.

The five-year study, entitled TOcore, is now 50 per cent complete. The intention is to develop a new master plan for the downtown and to put forward specific official plans and bylaw amendments to regulate and mandate more equitable and liveable development. Whether it is a downtown parks strategy or a downtown community services and facilities study, these plans will guide any future growth, development, and public investment.

Downtown Toronto is many different things to many different people. But, it has always been a wonderful place to live for those of us that call it home.

As our city continues to grow, let’s make sure it stays that way for generations to come.

Joe Cressy is the city councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.

Tags: Annex · Liberty · News

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lois Schklar // Apr 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I think you have good intentions but it is disheartening to think that it has taken 5 years to half complete the TOcore study. In the last 5 years the downtown has been over run with unsightly condominiums, more pollution, poor maintenance of roads, over populated parks with no end in sight. Meanwhile the developers divide and conquer our neighbourhoods with their greed and lawyers while the city conducts studies that will be too late to save what precious greenland and beautiful old buildings we have left. What a pity.

  • 2 Christopher Wilson // Apr 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    “Density is not something to be afraid of, as long as we’re planning for a mixture of housing options and building the physical and social infrastructure to support it”

    Yes but Joe we aren’t.

    What we have is the city making S.37 cash grabs from Developers without any infrastructure planning at all.

    Your predecessor even came up with the brilliant idea of building a condo highrise on University with no parking at all. Seriously. None. Infrastructure!!! Its a joke right?

    Packing people into smaller and smaller spaces is never a good idea. Packing them in where schools and health care are unable to cater to them is a formula for disaster.

    However, I suppose so long as the s.37 and other fees money keeps rolling in your salary gets paid and sooner or later you can wander off into the Ottawa or Queens Park twilight: another politicians launched on the backs of Ward 20.