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Kortright Centre building experimental subdivision

Imagine a subdivision of homes of the future—energy efficient, sustainable, accessible—where nobody lives, but is visited by hundreds of thousands of people.
 
That’s what the Toronto Region Conservation Authority is building at its Kortright Centre for Conservation in Vaughan. Construction will start in the next couple of weeks on the new BRE Innovation Park at the Living City Campus at Kortright. Although there are BRE (Building Research Establishment) parks in other countries, this will be Canada’s first, providing a stage for builders and suppliers to test new materials, products and building techniques and share the results with industry, government and academic researchers.
 
The site is already home to the Archetype Sustainable House, which showcases sustainable technologies, materials and practices. But over the next few years, that anchor project will be joined by seven new buildings of about 1,000 square feet each, forming a small inhabitant-less community. Installing the infrastructure will cost about $2 million—the City of Vaughan requires the project to be linked into the municipal sewer system—but much of the labour and material will be donated by partners eager to demonstrate how their innovative products and techniques can create more sustainable communities.
 
“Each of those new buildings will be built to different performance targets for water efficiency, energy efficiency, accessibility, etc. It’s basically a sandbox to test and evaluate green building technologies,” says Glenn MacMillan, senior manager of water and energy at TRCA. Some of the buildings, like the visitor’s centre that is being built by Ellis Don, will be owned by the authority, while others will be owned by the developer for up to five years.
 
 Although no one will live at the subdivision, the buildings will be tested for their liveability by the many visitors and by staff. “We can simulate as if someone is living there for research purposes,” says MacMillan. “We can control lightbulbs, heat, toilet flush, turn on washing machines. We have staff in the Archetype House doing research now so there are people coming and going all the time.”
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Glenn MacMillan

Bloor Annex BIA shows off new greening plan

Last week the Bloor Annex BIA unveiled its plans to green its patch of Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst.
 
The initiative will create four parkettes on city-owned rights-of-way, replace the existing raised tree planter with trees at sidewalk level and increase the amount of bike parking along the street. More than 100 people attended the open house and provided feedback on the preliminary designs that landscape architects dtah have been working on since last spring. The plan, 10 years in the making and expected to cost about $1.5 million, started with a growing frustration with the concrete tree planter boxes on Bloor.
 
“It’s a very busy street, day and night, and these things just get in the way. The attract garbage, they’re unsightly and, this might be the strongest point of all, they don’t allow the trees to grow to maturity,” says Brian Burchell, chair of the BIA. “Various technologies have been developed in recent years where tree pits can be built that allow the root systems to expand where the tree itself can mature and we’re not constantly fighting with Toronto Forestry to get our trees replaced in the planter boxes.”
 
The parkettes will see asphalts ripped up and replaced by long-lasting wood decking, seating made from Canadian granite, trees and planting that are pollinator-friendly for bees, birds and butterflies.
 
After going through the feedback from last week’s open house, the designers will come up with more detailed plans on where the trees and the bike parking will go, and what the parkettes will look like. Those plans will be presented to the public in the fall before they are submitted for approval by city engineers by the end of the year; shovels should go in the ground in 2018.
 
With the city considering approval of a Bloor bike lane pilot project this month, the new bicycle parking seems particularly timely. But Burchell says the improvements are needed just to meet current demands. “In peak usage of cycling, you can’t find a place to park your bike. It’s a problem,” he says.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source Brian Burchell

Real estate conference explores carbon reduction & urbanization

With buildings accounting for about 50 per cent of the GTA's greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the efficiency of our built form is the easiest and cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions.
 
At next month’s Land and Development Conference, attended by some of the city’s most high-profile owners, developers, investors, and lenders, two sessions will spotlight the relationship between urbanism and the environment.
 
“It’s fantastic that they’re now including this perspective on climate change and the role that the building and real-estate sector have in advancing a low-carbon economy, and looking at the challenges and opportunities for the sector,” says Julia Langer, CEO of Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), who will be leading a session on how cities can reduce their dependence on water and other resources, while improving health, biodiversity and waste management.
 
There’s certainly a stereotype that developers care only about maximizing profit on any given piece of real estate, properties that show well to prospective buyers—floor to ceiling windows, for example—even if they are not the best for the environment. But Langer says the industry has been improving, as has consumer awareness of the need for sustainable buildings. “There’s attention through the LEED program, through green features. People prefer well-built buildings if they’re sold that way,” she says. “What hasn’t improved as much is attention to de-carbonization. We’re getting more bells and whistles than getting fundamentally to net zero in new construction. Of course, most of the buildings that will exist in 2050 already exist now, so the retrofit agenda really has to be accelerated.”
 
Through its Green Condo Loan program, TAF has helped developers like Tridel, M5V and Ottawa’s Windmill build projects that perform much better than building codes when it comes to energy efficiency; costs can be recovered through the condo corporation when they find they are paying much lower energy and water bills.  
 
The Land and Development Conferences starts Monday, May 9.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Julia Langer

Hamilton neighbourhood groups successfully fight off new hospital parking lot

A group of neighbourhood associations that joined the city to fight against a new parking lot in their midst celebrated a victory at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) this month.
 
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) wanted to expand its 640-spot lot near Hamilton General Hospital at Ferguson and Barton streets, creating 158 additional parking spots on an adjacent vacant lot abutting a residential neighbourhood. The City of Hamilton opposed the application, claiming that the plan for the area, already dominated by institutional buildings and asphalt parking lots, called for mixed-use development. Neighbours were concerned about safety, security and water runoff issues, as well as privacy. Because of the slope of the property, some neighbours worried headlights from the parking lot would be shining in their windows.
 
The case ended up at the OMB, where several neighbourhood groups banded together to support the city’s position against the new parking lot. They were granted participant status—able to make presentations but not using lawyers or having full “party” standing at the OMB. The provincially-funded Hamilton Health Sciences hospital network hired premier planning law firm Turkstra Mazza & Associates to represent them. But the OMB surprisingly ruled in favour of the city and residents.
 
“It was an interesting opportunity. We hadn’t had experience in that sort of situation,” says Allison Chewter, president of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association.
 
What advice would Chewter give to other neighbourhood groups waged in OMB battles?
 
“Be knowledgeable about how the OMB works. It’s very complicated. We’re fortunate we had another neighbourhood association where several of their members had extensive experience with the OMB and they were able to give us advice. Several other members have background in planning, so we had a good understanding of how it works and were able to not make the decision to spend money on lawyers and planners, and just represent ourselves,” says Chewter. “Be sure that you have a clear message and be to the point and to the facts. A lot of groups tend not to go to the planning argument, which is what the OMB wants to hear.”

HSS currently has an off-site parking lot with an employees shuttle to the hospital. Chewter says the hospital is on a major bus route. "It's not the most reliable bus. Transit could definitely be improved. We think that's something the hospital, which is such a large employer and really a driving force in the city, could have a hand in encouraging the city to expand transit options in that area."
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Allison Chewter

City awaits details as province promises to allow inclusionary zoning

Ontario should act quickly to allow Toronto to roll out inclusionary zoning to take advantage of the city’s building boom, says the group Social Planning Toronto and a network of other community groups.
 
On Monday, the province announced “a suite of legislative and policy measures” combined with $178-million over three years, to increase access to affordable and adequate housing in Ontario. Part of that suite is granting cities the power to practice inclusionary zoning—requiring developers to build a certain number of affordable housing units as part of each development project that meets the criteria. Though the news was welcomed by affordable housing advocates, the timeline and the process remain unclear.
 
“The devil is in the details. They’ve said they’ll introduce legislation ‘soon’ and the definition of soon matters,” says Sean Meagher, executive director of Social Planning Toronto. “This is enabling legislation that allows the municipalities to create these laws.”
 
Though the City of Toronto has done some preliminary work on the issue, Meagher says it’s hard for staff to draw up proposed inclusionary zoning bylaws without knowing what the provincial legislation will look like. A prolonged provincial process followed by extended discussions at the city level could delay the construction of affordable housing for years. “You can’t bring in legislation that restricts development without talking to the development community and the people of Toronto. Every delay at the provincial level means it will be a long time before we see the benefits,” he says.
 
Meagher estimates that if Toronto had had inclusionary zoning for the last five years, even the most conservative requirements on developers would have generated about 12,000 new affordable housing units. “Every delay means we’ve missed critical opportunities,” he says. “Inclusionary zoning only helps when people are building. You have to capture the moments when there is development going on.”
 
Some version of the strategy has been tried in U.S. cities but inclusionary zoning hasn’t caught on in Canada, partly because provinces here often keep their municipalities on short leashes.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Sean Meagher

Yonge Street between Bloor & College set to become Historic Conservation District

Grungy and greasy in spots, charming in others, Yonge Street between Bloor and College streets has a tremendous amount of history if you look closely enough.

This spring, City Council will consider a motion to designate that stretch of Toronto’s main street as Historic Yonge Street Heritage Conservation District, which would set out a plan to preserve the look and feel of the area and restrict what many property owners can change about their buildings. Considering the number of developments in progress and proposed for this part of downtown, the designation could have interesting implications.

“A Heritage Conservation District is a planning tool that municipalities use to manage and guide change. It isn’t about freezing a neighbourhood,” says Tamara Anson-Cartwright, program manager of Heritage Preservation Services with the city’s planning department. “The reality is that Yonge Street has a very a dynamic history. This plan recognizes it’s not just about the Victoria buildings, but about the evolution of Yonge Street until the 1960s.”

A draft plan, released in January, was prompted when the Bay Cloverhill Community Association and the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association nominated the area as a Historic Conservation District (HCD). The plan, likely what council will vote on, states that this part of Yonge Street is “valued for its commercial main street character which is expressed, in part, by mixed-use and commercial buildings that housed the services, amenities, and employment opportunities to support daily life in neighbouring residential areas. St. Nicholas Village, and the residential buildings within it, reflects this historic relationship and reinforces [the area’s] sense of place.”

The plan also sets out guidelines for buildings that are listed as contributing to the area’s character. Additions, alterations, maintenance and repair work could only be undertaken after the impact on the area is considered. Contributing façades would have be be preserved. Demolition or removal of buildings or structures on contributing properties would not be permitted and new construction would have to reflect the height and massing of the existing building stock.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Tamara Anson-Cartwright

BILD talks state of GTA housing market at Green Homes Summit

GTA home buyers are still very reluctant to pay more for an environmentally friendly place to live, but rapid changes in technology and construction methods are bringing the prices of greener homes down, says the president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

Bryan Tuckey is speaking this week about the state of home building in the GTA at the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council’s Green Homes Summit. The gathering of industry folk will explore new developments in greening for residential construction ranging from “ground-related” homes—that is single-family, semi-detached and townhomes—up to 12-storey midrise buildings.

“Embedded in BILD’s strategic plan is sustainability and green buildings. Our members are leaders in building greener homes,” says Tuckey. “Consumers are still price sensitive and tend to look in the shorter term than the longer term, so you really have to educate the buyer about energy efficiency and that’s still one of the challenges in front of the industry.” Faced with a choice between floor-to-ceiling windows or a lower energy bill, many buyers will still pick the former.

Amidst all the speculation about whether the GTA housing market is a bubble that will some day burst, Tuckey says the numbers suggest otherwise. Household formation in the region—which has held steady at about 36,000 annually since the early 2000s—is still proportional to the number of homes built here each year, about 35,000 in 2015.

“There’s not really a bubble. You’re just building to family formation,” says Tuckey.

But the market has essentially split in two, the low-rise and the high-rise market. The demand for ground-related homes far outpaces supply, fuelling double-digit price increases, up 17 per cent from 2014 to 2015. Condo prices, by contrast, have flat-lined, as supply has managed to keep up with demand.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Bryan Tuckey

Harbord Village Green Plan paves way for un-paving

A new plan to green up Harbord Village could become a template for other Toronto neighbourhoods to replace asphalt and concrete with trees, plants and grass.

“It’s a real breakthrough for us because this will be the first time the city will have rules of engagement over all the paved spaces that have been identified as possible green spaces,” says Sue Dexter, a member of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association and co-author of 2015 Harbord Village Green Plan. “It’s the beginning of a roll-out of a change in the landscape in a significant part of town, which could be replicated wherever there are lanes or flanking spaces.”

Though the area, bounded by Bloor, College and Bathurst streets and Spadina Avenue, has a lot of greenery, it has very little designated park land. The area’s 16 “pinchpoint planters”—concrete structures which narrow streets, signal one-ways and calm traffic—require regular care by residents and are frequently the target of graffiti artists.

The study proposes using “flanking spaces”—the often unoccupied city-owned paved spaces separating commercial and residential zones—for tree plantings, bike parking and seating. “Such spaces are contingent on sight-line priorities for safe routing of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians,” states the report. “In many places however, especially on corners along Harbord and flanking businesses on Bloor, there are lost opportunities to establish in-ground planting or raised container beds.” The plan also proposes greening some of the neighbourhood’s 25 laneways, starting with Croft Laneway and Sussex Mews.

“I think there will be an increased sense of stewardship and pride in our back spaces,” says Dexter. “People see the front of their house as the public space, so they put in gardens, doll it up. I think that if people realize they’ve also got a rear address to the world, then they’ll see they don’t need to give their rear address over to their automobiles.”

Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina) Councillor Joe Cressy has championed the plan. Dexter says the association is working with him to bring a motion to council that would better coordinate the street paving cycle and ad hoc utility digging to create opportunities to increase green space. Though the initiative may first apply only to Harbord Village, Dexter expects other Toronto residents would want to have access to the same process.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Sue Dexter

PortsToronto releases first annual sustainability report

Private vehicle dropoffs and pick-ups at Billy Bishop City Airport has dropped by more than 40 per cent since 2012 as the number of people walking, biking and taking transit has grown to 37 per cent, up from 27 per cent just three years ago.

That shift has occurred even the airport’s overall passenger traffic has increased from 2.3 million in 2012 to an estimated 2.5 million last year, according to PortsToronto’s first annual sustainability report. The document looks at how the government authority is doing in environmental protection, community engagement and economic performance at its properties including he Island airport, the Outer Harbour Marina and Terminals 51 and 52 in the portlands.

“The City of Toronto recognizes that rapid residential and business development in the area, with no significant improvement in infrastructure, roads and transit, has led to issues of congestion and poor traffic flow,” states the report, which was published this week. “As such, the City of Toronto began work in 2015 on a Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Plan to study improvements that can be made to ensure that this mixed-use community continues to thrive. For its part, Billy Bishop Airport continues to encourage its travellers to walk, bike, shuttle or take transit to the airport and has put measures in place to encourage this shift. This includes the addition of a fourth shuttle bus in 2015 to make this option even more convenient.”

Some of the changes in travel patterns might be attributed to the opening of the new pedestrian tunnel to the airport, which replaces the chore of taking the ferry with a six-minute journey beneath Lake Ontario. The $82.5-million tunnel opened in July and as well as improving flow, includes new water and sewer mains to the Toronto Islands, “saving Toronto taxpayers an estimated $10 million in duplicate construction costs,” states the report. “The new city water and sewage mains now provide reliable services to the Toronto Islands and replace existing pipes that date back to the 1950s.”

Other tidbits from the report: PortsToronto dredged 40,000 tonnes of material from the mouth of the Don River last year, up from 33,000 tones last year. The agency generated more than $8 million in revenue for governments last year. An engine maintenance run-up enclosure intended to reduce the noise impact of the airport is expected to be built in 2016.

A less quantitative effort saw the agency work with Evergreen Canada to green playground spaces at six waterfront and downtown primary schools. “Many of the schools selected for the program are located in high-traffic neighbourhoods in the downtown core where there is a limited ability to connect with nature due to a lack of greenspace. The projects supported through PortsToronto‘s contribution to this program range from removing asphalt and planting native plants and vegetable gardens, to creating stone seating and establishing shade trees to enable outdoor classroom experiences, to a water wall that will teach children about the properties of water,” states the report.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: PortsToronto

Council votes for tougher enforcement of tree violations, less notice for tree removal

Earlier this month, City Council backed revisions to Toronto’s tree by-laws to improve enforcement and transparency, and to provide better, faster customer service.

The by-laws that protect trees on city property and privately owned trees of a certain size were last amended in 2011. The revisions would change how fees applied when a possible contravention of the by-laws takes place.

“The collection of fees will serve as a deterrent and make the contravention inspection process more equitable and efficient,” states the staff report. “Since the creation of the tree by-laws, their administration has been primarily based on an educational and compliance model. As a result, thousands of property owners, developers and builders have been educated on the importance of protecting and enhancing the city's urban forest. While most individuals respect and follow the tree by-laws, numerous contraventions are reported and investigated each year. Urban Forestry is aware of increasing community expectation that enhanced enforcement activities should be utilized as a tool to improve tree protection.”

Urban Forestry would have more clout in ordering that contravening activity be stopped or that work be done to correct the contravention. “Urban Forestry can also take legal action and pursue prosecution when warranted by the magnitude of the contravention.”

Urban Forestry issues approximately 5,600 permits annually, generating revenue of about $1.13 million. Although the changes are intended to improve response times and compliance, the staff report says the proposed amendments will not have an impact on total revenue. Organizations like the Swansea Area Ratepayers group have expressed concern about the new rates.

The action item would fine-tune several other regulations and policies regarding trees. For example, it would make by-laws more explicit about the definition of a “boundary tree” whose trunk crosses one or more property line, eliminate the need to post notices of application to injure healthy trees (notice will still be posted for the removal of trees), require that replacement trees be maintained in good condition for two years after planting, require that replacement trees that die or are in poor condition within two years shall be replaced and eliminate the current permit exception for injuring or destroying a tree for the purpose of erecting a fence. “In most cases a fence can be erected while protecting trees. Amendments are proposed that will eliminate this exception and require property owners to submit an application when a fence will be erected and trees may be injured or removed,” states the report.

Some community groups have expressed concern about reduce the notice process in “as of right” applications. “Basically, the recommendation would neuter councillors,” Jim Baker, president of the Avenue Road Eglinton Community Association, wrote to council. “It would make councillors the brunt of the public’s ire when the public becomes aware that a mature tree has been approved to be removed with just one day’s notice to the public advising of the approval.
Presently reducing the notice period from 14 days to 0 days is a substantive shift in the process.”

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: City of Toronto

Almost 2,000 homes built on waterfront since 2001

Waterfront Toronto has unveiled its first Social Responsibility and Sustainability Report since 2010, outlining how its redevelopment and reimaging efforts have extended beyond the basics of creating new communities on waterfront brownfields.

So far, the arms-length agency responsible for developing Toronto’s waterfront and portlands has overseen the creation of 496 affordable housing units with another 80 units under construction, with the private sector building 1,405 residential market units so far, with another 1,500 under construction. “The project will ultimately deliver 40,000 new residences, 40,000 new jobs and 300 hectares of public parks, making it one of the largest waterfront brownfield revitalization projects in the world,” states the report.

Four of the new buildings in the 2,000-acre area are certified LEED Gold for energy efficiency and sustainability, with 13 more in various stages of targeting LEED certification. Twenty-five parks and public spaces have been created or improved, and more than 28 kilometres of infrastructure constructed, including new watermains, sanitary and stormwater sewers. There’s been more than 3,600 trees planted and 108,920 square metres of aquatic habitat created.

“Construction projects on the waterfront are faced with complex urban conditions such as contaminated and geotechnically unstable soils, the result of many decades of infilling and high water tables,” stated John Campbell in his last letter as president and CEO. He’s stepping down this fall after 12 years on the job. “Often, outdated and unreliable drawings do not always accurately reflect underground infrastructure during planning and design. In the case of Queens Quay these challenges led to higher than anticipated costs. Lessons learned from past projects are used to inform our approach as we carry forward with waterfront revitalization.”

Waterfront Toronto was launched in 2001 with a 20-year mandate to redevelop the waterfront.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Waterfront Toronto

Council to vote on official plan changes

The Planning and Growth Management Committee has adopted policy changes to Toronto’s official five-year plan for City Council vote next month.
 
The amendments to the Healthy Neighbourhoods, Neighbourhoods and Apartment Neighbourhoods Policies aim to “clarify, strengthen and refine the existing policies as they apply to residential lands,” which came into effect in June 2015. The amendments implement the Tower Renewal Program “by promoting the renewal and retrofitting of older residential apartment buildings,” states the staff backgrounder. “The revised policies encourage small scale retail, institutional uses and community facilities at grade in apartment buildings to better serve area residents, particularly on sites that are not within walking distance of such facilities. Community gardens are also encouraged on apartment sites that are distant from shopping facilities offering fresh produce.”
 
“When you are looking at pedestrian realm, traffic flow, site lines, skylines, things are very different when you take it from an individual site to a complete neighbourhood,” Sarah Doucette, councillor for Ward 13, told the committee at its meeting this week.
 
Some of the changes are subtle, like adding the words “promoting walking and cycling by” prior to the words “improving streets” in one non-binding section, or better defining the phrase “geographical area.”
 
Other proposed amendments will have more tangible effects. Developers in mixed-use areas adjacent or close to residential areas would be required to “orient and screen lighting and amenity areas so as to minimize impacts on adjacent properties in those Neighbourhoods” and “locate, enclose and screen service areas, access to underground parking, and locate and screen any surface parking so as to minimize impacts on adjacent properties in those Neighbourhoods.” This possibility attracted the attention of Loblaw Properties Limited and Choice Properties Ontario Properties Limited (CP REIT), which suggested in a letter from their lawyer to the committee that “in order to maintain flexibility for adjacent developments… a range of strategies should be contemplated as opposed to requiring enclosed service areas, which is not always desirable or needed.”
 
The plan would encourage owners of existing apartment buildings to achieve greater conservation of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, achieve greater conservation of water resources, improve waste diversion practices, improve safety and security, improve building operations, improve indoor and outdoor facilities for social, educational and recreational activities and improve pedestrian access to buildings. Apartment owners will also be encouraged to create “small-scale commercial, community and institutional uses” at street level on major streets and gardens for growing food on “underutilized portions of open space.”
 
City council is slated to consider the review amendments on December 9.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Sarah Doucette, Planning and Growth Management Committee

Humbertown redevelopment goes under the microscope at Swedish conference

How do you accommodate large-scale sustainable growth right next to low-rise neighbourhoods?

In a presentation last month at the Performative Places conference in Lund, Sweden, Cyndi Rottenberg-Walker, a partner at Toronto's Urban Strategies, used the company's Humbertown project as an example of how smart urban design can reduce environmental impact through increased density, greener buildings and shared community spaces.

The project at Royal York and Dundas West, which last year won the Excellence in Planning Award for Urban/Community design from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI), would replace a 1950s shopping plaza with a mixed-use village within Humber Valley Village, doubling the commercial space and adding 1,000 residents in a variety of building types, with 12 storeys as the highest building.

Despite the increased density and more intensive uses, there would be five times the number of trees on the site, including green roofs, and a goal of LEED Gold sustainable buildings. Interestingly, the site plan, broken down into five blocks, echoes the existing shopping centre's footprint, a nod to the historic significance of one of the GTA's earliest modern shopping plazas. But the parking, now a dominant feature of the site, will move underground to make way for public spaces that recognize the Kingsway as a main square, knitting the development back into the broader community.

“Humbertown is taking a site which is highly underutilized today, but still plays an important role as the focus of its community from a single-use development pattern to a mixed use development, which is by its nature more efficient, introducing opportunities for different forms of living into the Humber Valley community,” Rottenberg-Walker told Yonge Street Media after the conference. “Children who have grown up there can conceivably buy their first apartment there. There's a retirement housing component, so at the other end of the spectrum, once you've finished with your large house, there's a possibility of moving into a condominium or something that has assisted living.”

Initial community opposition has largely evaporated after extensive consultation. “You're asking for people to buy into something they can't see or feel,” she says. “The reason it happens is that people care passionately about where they live.”

The project is currently awaiting site plan approval. After about a year of infrastructure work is done, construction could start within the year.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Cyndi Rottenberg-Walker

City adopts idea of food education hub on TDSB property at Dufferin and Bloor

The city is moving ahead on a proposal to a Toronto District School Board property into a hub for food and learning.

As Yonge Street reported in the spring, the 7.3-acre site at the corner of Bloor Street and Dufferin Street) is home of Bloor Collegiate Institute, Alpha II Alternative School and Kent Senior Public School. But the TDSB has designated the property for redevelopment and the city has put together an idea that would turn it into a community hub focusing on food and agriculture.

City council voted this week to enter into discussions with Toronto Lands Corporation (which is tasked with handling underused TDSB real estate), the Toronto District School Board, the province and FoodShare, a non-profit that works with communities and schools to deliver healthy food and food education, and other groups to come up with a plan. FoodShare’s HQ is already in the neighbourhood. The total property involved in a deal would be 10.4 acres and include Brockton High School, though a portion of the property would likely be sold to private developers to generate some revenue from the project.

“The property is strategically important for all four of the city’s defined municipal interests in school properties, and in particular is recommended as the setting for a flagship urban agriculture centre/community food hub, as requested by Council in 2013,” states the city’s agenda item. “Such a hub would promote linkages between education, community economic development and a healthy, sustainable urban food system.”

The staff report points out that there is a significant shortfall of licensed infant child care spaces in
Ward 18, where the property is located, as well as a shortage of parkland, both of which could be remedied with the right kind of facility. Since the provincial government has made the creation of community hubs one of its signature priorities, the city is hoping there will be increased motivation (and possibly cash) to make it happen. “Hubs can provide co-located services that are managed and delivered separately, or the hubs may be coordinated to respond to specific needs, populations, or sectors,” states the report. “Community hubs are advantageous in Toronto for many reasons, including potential cost-savings, service alignments and integration, the ability to target priority populations, bringing services to residents in their neighbourhoods, providing better customer service, and maximizing the use of and repurposing of public property. Every community hub will be spatially and organizationally unique, to reflect local conditions and community needs.”

An urban agriculture centre would provide education and training around growing food, provide economic opportunities and pathways to employment in the food processing and catering sectors, improve the city’s green infrastructure and create a vibrant public space.

The TDSB will review an updated report on the proposal next month.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: City of Toronto

UPDATE: The headline and story have been amended to reflect council adopting the item at its Sep. 30 session.

How can the suburbs woo younger residents?

Can developers spark a love affair between Generation Y and the suburbs?

Certainly, the stereotype is that Generation Y dreams about social networking, not cars, craving connectedness that sprawling commuter communities have difficulty delivering. But high home prices in metropolises like Toronto, combined with better planning and transportation in smaller cities, may encourage Gen Y to re-evaluate the merits of living in 905.

A September 28 panel hosted by the Urban Land Institute Toronto examined how planners and developers in 905 can do a better job of building and shaping residential, commercial and recreational spaces that will attract those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

“They’re not necessarily going through anything different than previous generations, but their response to it may be different because the economic circumstances they're in,” said moderator Lou Iafrate in an interview with Yonge Street before the event. He’s executive vice president of research, valuation and advisory for Altus Group, which provides solutions for the commercial real estate industry. “The affordability issue wasn’t the same when Baby Boomers went through this part of their lives.”

Much of what panelists considered important to Generation Y may sound good to homeowners and renters of any generation: urban villages where people can live within walking distance—or easy transit distance—of where they work and play. While some complain that 905 cities aren’t especially pedestrian friendly, not all of it can be blamed on poor planning and design. Many of the cities are young and not particularly built up. Increasing density can fill in some of the gaps.

“Certainly 905 has a lot of work to do in streetscaping,” said panelist Lisa Lafave in a pre-panel interview. As senior portfolio manager at HOOPP (Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan), she helps manage a portfolio of more than $10 billion annually, including investments in real estate development. “It takes time to densify an area. It’s not going to happen overnight. In Mississauga, there are some areas where there are no sidewalks or bus shelters.”

Lafave says she won’t invest in a project that’s not transit-oriented. “I’ll move with the transit, but I won’t speculate on something that’s not transit-linked. By that definition, cities are denying themselves more investment in the city if they don’t invest in the infrastructure first,” she said.

The cities along the top of the GTA can also be smarter about connecting to each other, so work and recreational patterns aren’t all under the influence of Toronto. “If you can link Vaughan, Brampton, Markham, Richmond Hill, then people living in the 905 don’t necessarily have to come into the 416 for entertainment. The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre or the Markham City Centre are good examples of where they’re trying to create that urban village feel, that urbanized centre, in a traditionally suburban market. But it’s going to take time,” said Iafrate.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Sources: Lou Iafrate and Lisa Lafave

 
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