Turns out Toronto still has some room to grow! Image

Turns out Toronto still has some room to grow!

By Sam Reiss on Jan 10, 2018

If you thought the condo market was hot before, just wait. A new study released by the Fraser Institute says Toronto’s population density has a long way to go before coming close to the likes of Hong Kong or Paris.

In its list of 30 high-income international cities, Toronto placed 19th with 4.457 inhabitants per square kilometer, compared to 14,796 in Tokyo, for example. Vancouver and Montreal were both rated as denser than Toronto. Hong Kong has 25,719 residents per square kilometer, and Paris 21,067.

Brooklyn, N.Y., wasn’t on the list, but senior policy analyst Josef Filipowicz said in the Star that it nearly matches Tokyo, with 14,541 people per square kilometer; it has the same population but is a third the size of the 416.

Brooklyn probably doesn’t make anyone think of towering skyscrapers as much family-centred neighbourhoods of brownstones and low-rise apartment buildings. Density growth can be whatever we make it.

The Institute’s methodology centred on core cities with populations of more than 600,000 and eliminated areas within them that aren’t developable, such as a 17-square-kilometre patch of farmland in Toronto’s northeast with a population of 800; high-income was identified by the World Bank last year.

Room to grow in Toronto

I’ve banged this drum in the past, but the study concluded that density doesn’t have to mean a lower standard of living; I’d argue that it easily can (depending on your proclivities) mean a better standard of living.

If lawn work is not your cup of tea, you’re going to hate a detached bungalow in the suburbs. And if your overlong weeds get on the wrong side of the wrong neighbour, you’re going to find yourself with a visit from the municipality’s bylaw office.

There is a different vibe to the city and I believe its inherent diversity breeds tolerance. I’d love to see more people who thrive on it be able to live here, and if we don’t see any relief from high prices, at least we may see those who can afford current prices find a place they love.

Dense urban living is great for people who love to walk or want to take advantage of all those things we love about the city, like cafés, theatres and museums. It’s great for those who can’t or don’t drive, and for those who rely on city services of any kind.

Given that more supply is a great way to relieve inflated housing prices, it might be reasonable to think embracing greater density might relieve our affordability crisis to some extent, but I have my doubts.

Room to grow in Toronto

The Toronto market may be due for some adjustment, but I don’t think we’re going to see a substantial change for some time. What I think we’ll see are more condos and purpose-built rental dwellings, whose residents can in turn support local businesses and help create neighbourhoods that offer good schools for the little ones alongside nursing homes.

Obviously a study isn’t going to effect change in itself, but minds open a little at a time, and hopefully this is more food for thought for those who don’t think a dense urban centre is the place to raise a family or live out a rewarding retirement.

Let this be the year we accept that we are already in fact a very big city, and embrace all that means. Let’s support development that includes green roofs (and not just penalties for not having one), vertical farming and mixed-use development. Let’s promote secure public spaces with an “eye on the street” attitude, alongside some practical considerations like good lighting.

There may be some valid arguments against density but most I’ve heard boil down to, “I was here first and I don’t want it.” Yes, we have traffic issues and childcare issues and infrastructure issues of all sorts, but so does every other city on that list. We can manage them if we focus, and with invested residents who care about their neighbourhoods, I’m confident we can do that.

Research or no research, isn’t it time we grew up, maybe way up?

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