Toronto’s future is in tower neighbourhood renewal

Toronto is unique. The Greater Toronto Region contains over 2,000 high-rise apartment towers built in the post-war boom. Unlike any other city in North America, these towers are found in nearly every community, from city centre to outer suburbs, and are home to more than one million people. These towers and the neighbourhoods they form are at the core of Toronto’s diversity, its urban form, and its future potential.

Planned in the 1960s with the ambition of creating the suburban communities of the future, these ‘tower in the park’ neighbourhoods provided views and natural green space a convenient driving distance from local suburban amenities.

Over the past decades these communities have welcomed the world and become the centre of Toronto‘s diversity. Yet as outlined in the United Way report Vertical Poverty, these communities are facing challenges.

Blocked by chain-linked fences and facing zoning regulations that largely inhibit community facilities, shops, grocery stores, small business, markets, local entrepreneurs and social innovators, these communities are not meeting the needs or aspirations of their diverse and dynamic resident communities.

Yet Toronto’s apartment neighbourhoods have incredible potential. Large tower neighbourhoods are home to ten of thousands of residents, and are genuinely cities within the City of Toronto. The open spaces between buildings have ample room to host markets, festivals and community gathering spaces; the base of buildings can host shops and community facilities; and towers can be retrofitted as models of low-carbon living. With new rapid transit planned, some of these communities can host new mixed-use housing, and be connected to the city at large through new paths, cycle networks, and transit. As has been demonstrated the world over, tower neighbourhoods can be the foundation for vibrant, connected, and low-carbon community hubs for a more dynamic city, and a more prosperous and sustainable region.

My organization, E.R.A. Architects, has been working with United Way Toronto, the City of Toronto, and community partners, to remove existing zoning barriers and enable tower neighbourhoods throughout the city to reach their full potential as vibrant, thriving, and sustainable communities.

We imagine a Toronto in which every community thrives. Together we can make this happen.

4 thoughts on “Toronto’s future is in tower neighbourhood renewal

  1. Excellent post and great thinking! I had the honour to hear Graeme speak at United Way’s AGM this year and he was a wonderful speaker. Really made me think on how great our communities can look and how much they can thrive!

  2. I don’t think I’ve every thought about towers the way that Graeme has made me think about them. It’s really amazing how you can transform a community with something as simple as allowing a famers market in summer in the open space near the buildings or a corner store in the first floor of one of the towers. I really get excited when I imagine what our city could look like if we invested in revitalizing our tower communities. Who knew?

  3. Changing the perception that these towers are ‘Assets’ is fantastic. Mobilization of all stakeholders in this transformation is how I imagine a city.

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