Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Toronto, a city of a certain age, is experiencing such a difficult mid-rise crisis.
Though six- to eight-storey development is ideally suited to many corners of the city, we have made it all but impossible to build.
And to listen to residents of the Beach, a mere half-dozen floors are enough to lay waste to a neighbourhood, no matter how well-established, well-liked or well-heeled it might be. Locals there are up in arms over a proposal to build a mid-rise condo on Queen St. E. at Kenilworth.
“It’s going to feel like downtown,” one resident said recently. “It’s not going to feel like a small town.”
“All of a sudden, it’s becoming Toronto,” another complained.
Did we miss something? Becoming Toronto?
Such words should be recognized for what they are — nonsense.
In truth, the scheme these east-end NIMBYs hate so much is one of the finest to come along in a while. It could serve as a model for the sort of development the city badly needs.
And if rampant NIMBYism weren’t enough, City Hall also does what it can to frustrate mid-rise construction.
For decades, architects and builders have railed against the outdated and excessive parking requirements, emergency exit regulations and construction techniques that make the economics of mid-rise so tough. Most sites are too small to accommodate such space gobblers.
Besides, several years ago, the city approved a condo on University Ave. with no parking.
Growing demand for urban life has brought thousands to Toronto; most growth now occurs in the city, not the suburbs, and most of that is highrise. People are now willing to pay dearly to live in tiny units, as long as they’re downtown.
“We’re seeing mid-rise development spread across the city,” says Roland Rom Colthoff, the architect who designed the Beaches condo. “It’s all about livability. People aren’t interested in sitting on the DVP for hours. But we still have to struggle with the city….”
Colthoff is referring to the technical services, works and planning departments where rule-bound apparatchiks are apparently out of touch with Toronto’s mid-rise building guidelines, which council approved in 2010. The way the city wrings its hands over the issue, looking for reasons to say no, you’d think mid-rise was a form of child molestation.
One takes heart from the fact community council ignored residents and approved the condo, but the outburst showed Torontonians at their absolute worst — ignorant, selfish, misguided and ultimately, self-defeating.
Colthoff’s firm, RAW Design, has a dozen mid-rise condos in the works, with more on the horizon.
“There’s an explosion of interest in mid-rise right now,” he insists. “The price of condos makes these projects viable. Plus there’s a cultural shift going on; there are new ideas about sociability in the city. Mid-rise buildings are not for investors but people who want to be part of a neighbourhood and what’s happening.”
Mid-rise hotbeds include Ossington, Queen (east and west), King St. E., Dundas St. W., the Junction and Gerrard and Woodbine.
The only thing they all have in common, Colthoff argues, is ready access to transit. Little wonder so many cities in the world, especially across Europe, are awash in mid-rise; it is the urban residential form par excellence.
The nattering nabobs of NIMBYism notwithstanding, the work of Colthoff and others proves that mid-rise can be adapted to Toronto, practically and beautifully.
Beaches-East York Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon explains away her constituents’ protests as “passion.” Perhaps, but more probably it’s petulance, unbecoming in any part of town, no matter how many storeys there may be.