A wave of change is sweeping through the profession of city planning. A staff report going before council’s Planning and Housing Committee signals real changes coming to the city’s house-centric neighbourhoods. The report is the boldest and most progressive planning policy to emerge from city hall since the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998, where zoning rules expressly forbids anything except detached homes. The plan suggests “multiplexes” – buildings with two, three, four or more apartments to be allowed on the leafy streets where they are currently forbidden.
What kind of city do we want? How can we make room for housing to create the kind of city that works? Planning has been obsessed with protecting neighbourhood character. Toronto’s Neighbourhoods are reserved mostly for houses. This is known as “exclusionary zoning,” and in 2021 it locks down much of the city for multimillionaires. For years low rise residential areas In Toronto were basically off-limits to any kind of redevelopment except teardowns. Even more modest ventures, such as replacing a single-family home with a triplex, could face hurdles.
Toronto is considering reform through a planning effort called “Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods.” Such neighbourhoods cover half of Toronto’s buildable land. It notes that increasing the population of these areas supports public transit, reduces carbon emissions by letting people walk or cycle, and uses existing infrastructure such as parks and schools more efficiently.
The reality is that even progressive city councillors who throw around terms like affordable housing fear the wrath of the NIMBY: “Not In My Back Yard”– highly organized residents’ associations that oppose development at every turn especially where they live.
Yet the city’s planning policies such as the principle of protecting stable neighbourhoods, are evolving bit by bit. Last year, council adopted a report which cautiously puts forward the notion of permitting missing-middle-type projects, such as garden suites, to go up in low-rise residential areas. And look at Toronto’s new laneway-housing future. The city’s architects provided proof of the concept for laneway housing back in the late ’80s. City Hall held back the future’s arrival with red tape, as it does, for about 30 years. In 2018, it finally passed a bylaw permitting the construction of laneway housing. Laneway housing provides new rental housing opportunities within established neighbourhoods, contributing to a wider range of housing options.
Let’s be a modern voice of reason as opposed to homeowners who fear change, and city councillors who fear homeowners. Let’s take a risk.
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