Saturday, October 18, 2014

Toronto’s condo crisis

“Life is a journey not a destination.”

Toronto voters appear to have adopted these words by American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson to signal their number one mayoral election issue: Transportation.

But I suggest we need to shift our perspective.

It really doesn’t matter how we get there if we don’t have a nice place to go.

A 2013 survey by Statistics Canada reveals one in eight households now live in condos.

In Toronto, 23% of the city’s population hangs “home sweet home” signs in their condos.

I live in one.

But according to the 2013 documentary, The Condo Game, there’s nothing sweet about it.

Toronto is rapidly expanding.

The city expects to double its current population of 2.8 million in the next 20 years.

In 2005, the province passed legislation banning urban sprawl, so the only place to put the new masses of people will be by stacking them one on top of the other.

Not surprisingly, the number of condo towers in Toronto has doubled in the last decade to 1,300. That number continues to grow.

Former city councillor and current Liberal MP Adam Vaughan says Toronto has the highest condo development rate in North America.

He describes it as a problem that has “spiraled out of control.” Making matters worse is the Ontario Municipal Board.

It’s an independent organization appointed by the province to be a watchdog over development.

Yet according to planners, politicians and local residents, the board routinely overrules city council.

So, many condos are not only being built quickly but also cheaply and with little city oversight.

The result is often quick fixes that quickly fall apart.

In 2011, there were a slew of new condos that shed their glass balconies, sending the slabs shattering to the sidewalks.

Remarkably no one was killed.

But it was a wake-up call.

If parts of these new condos were crashing and burning three years in, how scorched will the city be in 10, 20 or 30 years?

Many critics believe today’s glittering condos could become tomorrow’s embittering slums.

Toronto Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says the city has been “very reactive” rather than proactive in addressing the burgeoning condo crisis.

She points out the development industry was let to set the standard.

Now she says the city is at a tipping point.

I want to ensure we tip in the right direction, so I reached out to all three major candidates in the mayoral race: John Tory, Olivia Chow and Doug Ford.

I wanted to know where they stood on the issue of condo development.

Did they see it as a problem and if so, did they have a plan to fix it?

At first I got vague responses from Chow and Tory, which necessitated follow-ups.

Eventually, Tory’s team admitted condo development is “fraught with potential to go sideways.”

But they tried to reassure me John is the man to bring in good policy and make sure developers abide by it.

Chow’s team said, “Olivia has committed to requesting that our city be exempt from the Ontario Municipal board” adding, “Olivia knows how to work with developers.”

Ford’s campaign gave no assurances.

His team ignored my email and telephone requests for comment. But we do know the Ford brothers like to boast about “cranes in the sky”.

So in light of these unsatisfying or non-existent attempts at leadership, I am reminded of another Emerson quote: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
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