The 300 square foot micro-condo is coming to Toronto. These small units will maximize the number of residential units available in an area with a high demand. For professionals who work long hours and spend little time at home, the conveniences of living in a walkable, mixed-use neighbourhood are more valuable than extra square footage. In such areas, the condo itself can indeed be smaller because the surrounding community serves as an extension of the living room and of the home. Nevertheless, they raise questions about how they will impact the diversity of residents and families living in Toronto’s downtown core.
One of the issues Toronto is currently facing comes as a consequence of this increasingly high value placed on location. By continually shrinking the size of the units and increasing the cost per square foot, Toronto's city builders are, in essence, predetermining who is allowed to live in these walkable, vibrant, downtown communities.
For one, the choice to sacrifice space for place is only a choice for those who can afford it. Many households simply do not have the means; others are forced out of prime locations because they need more than the minimum amount of space to accommodate the size of their family, and the availability of three bedroom units is low.
Additionally, the developments are emphasizing only a certain type of occupant: the Kingsclub development is being advertised as “an exclusive condo for members only;” Smart House sends the message that only those smart enough for the “streamlined… well thought-out space” are welcome. The implication is that elitism is acceptable - and even desirable - in Toronto.
Fortunately, the City of Toronto is sending a different message. Adam Vaughan, a city councillor for a downtown ward at the heart of new condo construction, has successfully required developers build three bedroom units to create more variety in the housing stock. In trying to address the affordable housing need, the city plans to buy 20% of the proposed units in a new $1.1 billion development and has added affordable rental housing to the list of community benefits municipalities can request in exchange for increased height and density allowances.
In this time of rapid growth and densification in Toronto, evident by the 185 construction cranes across the city in January 2013, we have the great opportunity to shape its future. Toronto’s Official Plan outlines the centres where significant growth will be focused, and urban planners at the City Planning department are engaging citizens in discussion about traffic congestion and transportation, public realm developments, and key policy and planning challenges. Despite these great efforts, a discussion about the diversity of who actually gets to live in these well-located, walkable areas of Toronto is still missing.
Who should decide which people live in walkable, well-located communities? The market alone, or is there a role for political intervention? What strategies has your city used in its development to address this issue?
Credits: Photos by Lindsay Vanstone. Data linked to sources.