Toronto’s “Manhattanization”


A looks out at Toronto in July. The city just gave the green light to a massive amount of urban development. (Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail)
Toronto is experiencing a ‘Manhattanization’ of its downtown core:

Construction cranes will continue to dot Toronto’s skyline, with city council approving 755 storeys in new development this week, including three new office towers – a trend that underlines the increasing density in the downtown core and the need to plan transit and infrastructure to support it, says the city’s chief planner.

Toronto city council is meeting for the last time before the fall election – a fact that had developers rushing to get approvals before the months-long break. The result is that this week’s marathon meeting has given the green light to 6,887 new units and 377,900 square metres of non-residential development, according to figures from Toronto’s planning department.

Three office developments on Front and King streets that will add a total of 114 storeys of commercial space were approved, as were five mixed-use buildings and several condo towers.

Before the last vote on a development project was taken Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Joe Mihevc asked his colleagues to consider the magnitude of the growth they had approved in less than three days – an amount that by his estimates added up to a whopping $21-billion in development.

“We did that today, and yesterday and the day before. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

“We’re experiencing the Manhattanization of the downtown core,” Mr. Mihevc said after the vote. “This is going to be a very different city in 20 years when these developments all get built out.”

Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, said the volume is, in part, a result of work by her office to move projects through the approval process more quickly, but also because of the demand for space in the downtown core. It all points to the need for infrastructure investments, she said.

“We have a tremendous amount of growth. With that growth there’s investments that we need to make to ensure the livability of the city over the long term,” Ms. Keesmaat said.

Of those investments, Ms. Keesmaat said the city cannot afford to pause its efforts on plans for a relief subway line to take passengers off the Yonge line.

“The downtown relief line is critical and absolutely necessary for a key reason, which is that the Yonge line is at capacity and we have to find ways to divert some of the pressure off that line,” she said.

Work on an environmental assessment for that line has begun, she said.

Sandy McNair, president of Altus InSite, which tracks Canadian commercial real estate markets, notes there are seven office towers under construction in Toronto’s downtown, which represent about 7 per cent of the existing market, a pace that is rivalled only by Calgary.

What’s surprising, he said, is this building boom is taking place as companies put more workers into less space – a result that will bring even more people into the downtown core.

Ms. Keesmaat said she believes the downtown – which is growing at a rate four times faster than the rest of the city – can still be livable. Toronto planners, she said, are working on a study to ensure there is a connection between growth and infrastructure needs.