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