A Millennial’s Perspective: The future of Toronto

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By Spencer Anderson (Student at Royal St. George’s College)

Future Skyline of Toronto

The outcome of two crux issues will affect Toronto’s immediate (12 year) future the most; changes to the city’s waterfront due to the PanAm Games of 2015 and the World Expo of 2025, and the continuation in the massive swing of demographics from the GTA to Toronto proper. Toronto is slated to experience an unprecedented level of population and economic growth in the next decade, but amidst fears of unsustainability, the city already famous for its inferiority complex is even more frantic. As the main focus of growth will be in the city’s vibrant and booming downtown, it will be examined as a whole. Predictions for downtown are generally positive, because economic and demographic growth are normally good things. However; Toronto’s Waterfront neighbourhood, itself a microcosm of downtown’s growth, will likely face some serious challenges, because the demographic increase is set to outstrip the carrying capacities of transit network, amongst a bevy of other issues. Downtown’s trends are visible in the Waterfront, and, as such, the trends will be examined first in order to get a better sense of the more focused issues affecting the Waterfront.

Toronto’s population has seen a recent change in regional density. After decades of sustained development in the GTA and the “inner suburbs” (Scarborough and Etobicoke), driven by the post-war Baby Boomer Generation (O’Toole), Toronto’s downtown is now experiencing a significant resident upsurge. Why? Because the Echo Generations, those born after the Baby Boomers, have been flocking to new downtown condominium developments in waves, citing reasons such as better access to transit, and proximity to the workplace. Downtown Toronto saw 16.2% population growth from 2006-2011 (Toronto Star), and since then, has had no signs of stopping. This was the first five-year period since the Second World War that Toronto has seen urban growth surpassing suburban and inner-suburban growth. Quite possibly the greatest reason for this upsurge in downtown development and population has very little to do with convenience, and has very much to do with money. Employment numbers have increased by nearly 15% in the same period (O’Toole), and this isn’t just the driving force behind inter-region migration- more than one in twelve new Torontonians in 2012 came from outside Canada. Studies by BMO and CIBC both indicate that Downtown Toronto’s growth in housing and population is sustainable, and that the long-expected “Condo market bubble burst” will not, in the next twenty years, happen (Perkins). If Downtown Toronto continues to see these levels of growth over the next 12 years, the whole city will look much different. Toronto’s urban population is currently about 280,000, in 2026; it will be close to 400,000, an increase of slightly less than 40% (Perkins). What will Toronto look like then? It is possible that Toronto’s notorious political imbalance between suburban and urban populations will stabilize, and that the city may grow to have an organized and focused government, but for a visual representation of 2026 Toronto, refer to figure 1.  This remarkable projection includes a majority of Toronto’s already under-construction and proposed high-rises, and was created by Scott Dickson, from a local marketing and design firm. Toronto in 2026 looks something out of the space age- or at least Hong Kong. Denser, yes, but certainly not inferior to the city that we have in 2014 (O’Toole). The increase in Toronto’s density will also likely result in a more environmentally friendly city, as less people will need to use cars to commute to work. Savings are also monetary in a situation with reduced numbers of commuters; Toronto’s high congestion cost the city’s economy more than $11 Billion in 2013 (Toronto Star). The city’s downtown is the focus of development in Toronto, but within downtown there’s one area that stands out amongst the others in terms of sheer quantity of development- The Waterfront.

By the year 2026, the most drastically changed neighbourhood in Toronto will be the Waterfront (of course, barring natural disasters and/or alien invasions). This area along the shore of Lake Ontario, spanning from the base of the Don Valley to Dufferin Street, has more skyscrapers under construction or proposed than anywhere else in the city, along with several large infrastructure projects. Most of these new skyscrapers are residential, and with the influx of people, inevitably, comes growing pains. Even with the under-construction improvement to the 509 Streetcar line, transit capabilities will be stretched for years to come, as the 55,000 plus riders reported on this line in 2012 and higher numbers for 2013 can testify (Moloney). The upcoming 2015 PanAm Games are largely responsible for the attempts to rectify these issues, as more than $215 Million dollars of infrastructure funding is being pumped into the city, with the majority of the projects being located in the Waterfront (Toronto Star). Transit and local road infrastructure is important for any neighbourhood, but that will not be the deciding issue on the future of the Waterfront- but the Gardiner Expressway will be (Billings). The Gardiner separates the Waterfront from the rest of the city of Toronto, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it takes up large swathes of valuable land. The Gardiner’s (figure 2) benefits as an expressway could be addressed by reconfiguring two or three other streets (Billings). Just repairing the expressway enough so that it is not a safety threat is expected to cost $627 million, and it has been delayed so that it will not be finished until 2027 (Billings). It is ludicrous to consistently invest in patchwork repairs, when it would be cheaper to remove the problem entirely, but that’s the logic of Toronto’s current government- disjointed and inefficient. (Billings)

So, Toronto in 2026 is measurably different; a radically changed downtown with almost half again as many people, a possible Waterfront without the Gardiner running through it, expanded transit to serve new residents of downtown, and two major international events in the past decade. While Toronto is a constantly changing city, it is not a young city by most standards, and it changes more slowly than many others. Yes, Toronto will be extremely different, but not unrecognizably so.

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Works Cited

Billings, Jason, Norman W. Garrick, and Nicholas E. Lownes. “Changes in Travel Patterns due to Freeway Teardown for Three North American Case Studies.” Urban Design International (2013): 165-81.

Moloney, Paul. Gardiner Expressway repairs cost rises by $19M — and another year of traffic pain . 10 04 2013. 22 05 2014 http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2013/04/10/gardiner_expressway_repairs_to_cost_more_and_take_longer.html.

O’Toole, Megan. Downtown Toronto’s pace of population growth triples, outpacing suburbs’ as Echo Boomers flock towards urban centre: report . 22 01 2013. 20 05 2014 http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/01/22/downtown-torontos-pace-of-population-growth-triples-outpacing-suburbs-as-echo-boomers-flock-towards-urban-centre-report/.

Perkins, Tara. Too many condos? Canada’s housing growth ‘sustainable’: BMO. 09 05 2014. 22 05 2014 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/housing/too-many-condos-canadas-housing-growth-sustainable-bmo/article18579796/.

Toronto Star. Density Toronto: As GTA population rises, so do expectations for denser living. 19 10 2012. 22 05 2014 http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/10/19/density_toronto_as_gta_population_rises_so_do_expectations_for_denser_living.html 

Photo: http://www.searchingtoronto.com/pictures/plog-content/images/toronto-images/toronto-skyline/torontoskyline2-from-plane.jpg