Article Hume: Highrise apartments are towering issue in Greater Golden Horseshoe
Published On Sun Dec 5 2010
By Christopher Hume
Urban Issues, Architecture
No issue looms larger on the Toronto horizon than residential tower renewal. In this city alone, there are upwards of 1,000 such highrise buildings; throw in the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe and it’s nearly 2,000.
Constructed in the decades after World War II, these ubiquitous “towers in the park” can be found everywhere from Mississauga to Markham, Etobicoke to East York. They’re not much to look at it and they take up vast amounts of space and energy. Still, about one million people inhabit these vertical villages, many of them poor and/or recently arrived in Canada.
However, a report released Monday argues these tower communities could be remade to accommodate modern economic, environmental and social needs. This is not exactly news; cities across Europe long ago launched campaigns to update their residential highrise stock. In Toronto, the city published the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Opportunity Book in 2008.
It turns out the people who live in these buildings tend to be at the lower end of the economic ladder. They rely on public transit rather than cars, and are poorly served by public and private sectors.
What’s interesting, though, is that the seeds of regeneration will be planted in the vast green swaths that surround these towers. They will be where new development goes: retail, commercial and residential.
The planning regimes at the time restricted the building envelope to 20 or even 10 per cent of a site. That’s why Stewart argues the easiest way to bring about change is to change the zoning regulations.
”Technically, it’s illegal to open a store on the ground floor,” he says, “or run a fruit stand. We should allow people to be more entrepreneurial, and give them a stake in the neighbourhood.”
There’s no use pretending these highrise clusters can be turned into satellite downtowns, but the possibilities are endless. Given the crisis of global warming and inadequacy of the towers, it now seems clear the existing condition will be temporary. Changes will be made because they must.
The word density might strike fear into the heart of many a suburbanite, but as car culture slowly draws to a close, distance will once again become isolation. The idea here is not only to connect these communities to the city beyond, but also create better internal connections.
The report outlines a number of steps, big and small, that could help turn around a city in which these “inner-suburbs” are increasingly becoming locations of poverty, especially immigrant poverty.
“There could be many different outcomes,’ Stewart notes. “The results could be very dynamic.”
Issues of ownership and regulatory inflexibility will inevitably arise, but change will come. The question is whether we control change or it controls us.