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Tower Rush: Toronto To Add 80 New Skyscrapers in the Next Few Years

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Tower Rush: Toronto To Add 80 New Skyscrapers in the Next Few Years
14 min. read

Toronto has the 17th highest number of skyscrapers in the world. And with a grand total of 524 towers and high-rises, only New York City, Hong Kong, and Chicago boast a higher density of tall buildings. But judging by the most recently updated timeline, this is only the beginning, because Toronto plans to take its skyscraper frenzy to an even higher level.  

As of March 2019, Toronto boasts a total of 60 skyscrapers. In the past years, however, Ontario’s capital has seen a real explosion in the number of residential towers added to its downtown area. No fewer than 31 residential and mixed-use skyscrapers will be built by 2024, and an additional 50 are in the planning stage. Check out the video below to see how these new projects will change the city’s downtown skyline in the next few years.   

Density really seems to be the key word here, and given how more and more people are attracted to the city, urban densification may be unavoidable. To address this challenge, urban planners and developers mostly consider two options: tall or sprawl.

In Toronto, like in many other major cities, the debate around the best way to grow has been settled, at least for the moment, in favour of the high-rise. Being close to a city’s business and financial core and to its main entertainment venues, wins.

So what does that mean for Toronto? Although finding a gap in the city’s skyline seems fairly difficult, around 80 new residential and mixed-use towers and high-rise buildings will be added in the near future.

 

Going Up: Density Solved Through Vertical Growth

Skyscrapers are a symbol of ambition, innovation, and economic might. An astounding expression of construction and structural engineering, these bold milestones have completely changed the face of our cities.

Defined as a continuously habitable high-rise building taller than 492 feet (150m), a skyscraper represents a bold, yet elegant design solution to a large city’s hyper-density problem. And Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, definitely benefits from the condo boom that forever changed the city’s skyline.

According to TREB’s most recent numbers, the buildings aren’t the only thing on the rise; prices might follow suit. Condo prices jumped 6.1% year over year, reaching $562,161 in February. However, affordability continues to be the main driving force behind condos’ increasing popularity, as semi-detached and detached homes are far more expensive and continue to see significant price jumps year-over-year. If the average condo now goes for $562,161, semi-detached homes reached $832,569 after a 9.9% increase, and the average detached home declined 2.1%, reaching $980,914.

 

Hover over the green bars in this graph to see the total number of completions per year, starting with 2005, and over the blue triangles to see the name and height of the skyscraper completed each year.

Toronto currently boasts a total of 60 skyscrapers; 31 more will be added by 2024, and another 50 are in different stages of the approval process.

As for supertalls, buildings at least 984 feet tall, Toronto is paving the way to incorporating at least seven new ones into its skyline, the tallest of which might be YSL Residences. The 1,128-foot, 85-floor tower at 383 Yonge Street might have to be scaled back, but, if completed, will be one of the most impressive mixed-use buildings in the city.

But taking into consideration last year’s condo cancellation rate, that ‘if’ could be a big one. Over 4,500 units have been cancelled in 2018, compared to only 1,678 in 2017 and 379 in 2016, according to Urbanation. Rising construction costs, coupled with Ontario’s very long and complex planning and permitting processes are the main hindrances when it comes to achieving profitable results, both for developers and for potential buyers.

Given how sprawl is considered unsustainable by many, and seeing some of the hurdles rising in the way of the high-rise building, what other options are there for Toronto?

 

Choosing the Middle Ground with Missing-Middle Housing

Single-family detached homes continue to dominate Toronto’s housing market, but apartment living is preferred by more and more Torontonians. The percentage of people living in high-rises increases steadily – 29.4% of all housing options in the city are represented by apartments in buildings over five storeys tall. Moreover, with 14.2% of the city’s residents living in apartments in buildings under five storeys, it means almost 44% of the city’s residents live in some form of apartments, according to Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census.

But although the high rise and the sprawling suburb have been the norm when it comes to urban expansion, many urbanists and architects are beginning to reject this narrow, binary solution, looking for more sustainable models of development.

The new path that is beginning to take shape seems to have a positive impact on housing affordability. Including townhomes and stacked townhomes, as well as apartments in buildings under five floors, missing middle housing might help balance housing affordability and density goals.

In their Intensification Case Study for Mississauga and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the Ryerson University showed that “significant housing potential can be achieved on a fraction of [a city]’s land base, without relying on high densities.” Building more missing middle housing comes with many benefits for the region, including “reduced land consumption and more efficient infrastructure use.”

Whether this new housing option will take over the great tower rush or not, remains to be seen. For now, Toronto is ready to add hundreds of new units in dozens of new skyscrapers, creating more supply to address the city’s affordability and density challenges and, in the process, filling its skyline with more and more awe-inspiring mega-structures.

 

Expert Insights

To gain some perspective on the three solutions proposed for large cities’ density challenge, we talked with 6 experts, who told us whether tall, sprawl or missing middle housing would work best for cities which are expanding fast.

 

Nana-Yaw Andoh

Nana-Yaw Andoh
Assistant Professor in the Master of Architecture Program
Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

While I believe the answer is relatively easy and obvious, the reason it has to be asked is because the current choices being made do not reflect all the evidence that missing middle housing is the most viable option to resolve population growth in cities.

Horizontal sprawl comes with multiple issues such as automobile dependent development, which leads to an over-investment in roads which leads to traffic congestion and pollution and poor health for people and the planet, all very well documented.

The other end of the pendulum swing is vertical sprawl which does nothing to stitch together the urban fabric, and often times creates internal mini-cities with no connection to the neighborhood and great marketing ploys such as “all-inclusive” luxury apartments. Social interaction, if any, happens within the building and little to absolutely no activity happens on the sidewalk despite the increased population density, thus creating an urban social vacuum.

Most importantly in my opinion, neither sprawl options have been able to solve the issue of affordable housing with the dignity of design it deserves.

What missing middle housing offers is a reasonable and balanced option with multiple building types for multi-family housing and a size that never exceeds a typical large house. The size constraint allows for missing middle housing to fill gaps in the urban fabric while maintaining the architectural character of its locale. Whether it’s a multiplex with Spanish colonial detailing in the tradition of San Diego, CA, or a group of duplexes designed to hold the street and fit into the architectural character of Montgomery County in Baltimore, or an apartment building in historic Cooperstown, NY, nestled among turn-of-the-century single-family homes, or new townhouses designed to fit into historic neighborhoods such as the Distillery District in Toronto, the core mission of missing middle housing is to maintain and enhance the character of place, and all cities should see this as an asset.

Missing middle housing also offers something that both vertical and horizontal sprawl do not—attractive affordable housing. Historically, affordable housing has been designed with efficiency in mind and never architectural character, thus leaving most examples as a blight on the urban landscape. Missing middle housing is able to change this dynamic and allows residents of affordable housing units to live in dignified buildings.

Finally, missing middle housing is a sustainable development model. Such constructions are more economical to build, enhance social life in communities by creating walkable neighborhoods, and are environmentally friendly by not being overly reliant on the automobile.

For all these reasons, I would say that any city looking to accommodate for population growth should be looking at missing middle housing as the most logical development model.

 

Colin M. Cathcart

Colin M. Cathcart
Associate Professor of Architecture
Fordham University

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

Vertical sprawl in the “urban ring” 10-20 miles from the central business district and along access edges to the core. This allows for the social diversity and the diversity of building types (that leads to the diversity of primary uses) called for by Jane Jacobs. Vertical concentrations should be located at intermodal hubs like Yorkdale or Vaughan in Toronto, and Jamaica or Broadway Junction in New York.

Horizontal sprawl should focus on mixed low density, in terms of use and traffic intensity. Thus, main street retail, medium/low density residential, and light & craft industries. Examples include Caledon Hills near Toronto and Tuxedo Park near New York. To prevent ’single class’ residences, manufactured housing colonies (trailer parks), no-cost recreational areas and conservation areas must be integrated with hiking and biking paths.

If you do both of the above, the third, “missing middle housing,” comes naturally. W.A.S.P.s will avoid locating next to the lower, middle and working classes, recycling facilities, big-boxy parking facilities and industrial nightlife.

 

Fred A. Forgey

Fred A. Forgey
Chair, Public Administration and Real Estate Department
H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship
Nova Southeastern University

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

The challenge that local governments have when faced with an expanding population is determining the optimal approach to manage that growth. While increased density seems efficient, the extra burden of increasing infrastructure capacity could become problematic. In other words, a city might be required to increase the capacity of water, natural gas, and sewer lines, along with handling additional demand for electrical power and increased vehicular traffic on the streets.

Assuming those issues have received proper planning for expansion, then higher density development could be ideal. New greenfield development has the appeal of being able to start fresh with modern infrastructure at the beginning of new real estate development activity. However, having to expand the infrastructure has costs that may be recouped through development impact fees.

As for developing the missing middle housing, as with the other types of expansion, sufficient infrastructure capacity is key.

 

Ivy Hu

Ivy Hu
Professor and Chair of Urban Planning
School of Architecture & Urban Planning
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

For a large city like Toronto, it is important to have a mix of housing of different densities, sizes, and costs. The mixed housing can increase supply to meet the growing housing demand in booming city centers, stabilize soaring housing prices, and at the same time provide quality housing for a diverse population with varying housing preferences and budget constraints.

Planners and developers do not need to limit their options between skyscrapers and low-density single-family housing. Instead, they should consider housing types as diverse as the population in Toronto.

 

Rick Snyder

Rick Snyder
Real Estate Lecturer in the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

From a planning perspective, the focus needs to be on increasing urban density connected to mass transit. Many cities are combining retail/office with residential, utilizing vertical designs.

Increasing commute time, between home and work, is one of the primary negative factors affecting quality of life.

 

 

 

Elaine Worzala

Elaine Worzala
Finance Professor and Director of the Carter Real Estate Center
College of Charleston School of Business

For cities with expanding population, like Toronto, which do you believe is the optimum expansion path: vertical sprawl, horizontal sprawl outside the city or developing the missing middle housing? Why?

For me, it has to be the middle road. People want to live in communities that are comfortable to be in, walkable, safe, and enjoyable where all the services for daily life are relatively close at hand, such as schools, day or elderly care, grocery shopping, churches, entertainment and recreational areas such as parks and water features. Density is not a bad word and it is important as continuous sprawl is clearly unhealthy for all. Three-hour commutes are disastrous for society for countless reasons.

However, too much density with row after row of very high skyscrapers creates an environment that can quickly become cold, unfriendly and difficult to live in. To me, there is a fine line to getting this right, but cities need to work hard to listen to their constituents, all of them, and focus on human scale density.

As the famous real estate educator James Graaskamp put it so wisely: “We live in a terrarium and our real estate decisions affect the terrarium we live in.” So, we need to build wisely and realize that sometimes the built environment that we create can be detrimental to our health. Public officials and our space producers need to put themselves in the shoes of our space users, the consumers of the real estate. What will life be like for them? How easy will it be for them to live their daily lives? They need to pay attention to their whole life, not just a few minutes or a few hours, but their days, weeks, months and years.

Real estate is essentially permanent, and the old saying, “if you build it they will come” is only true if you have done your homework and created a space that people want and that they will enjoy, because that is how and why they will pay for it—in rents, taxes and a happy society.

 

Methodology

For the purpose of this study, the Point2 Homes analysts researched all residential and mixed-use skyscrapers (developments above 492 feet high) constructed in downtown Toronto since 2005.

We looked at the high-rise buildings’ height, the number of floors, their exact location, and their completion date to estimate the impact they will have on the city’s skyline, as well as on its housing supply and urban density goals.

For the data on types of home in Toronto and their respective share of the housing market, we used the numbers from the Canadian Real Estate Association, and for the current average prices on the condo market, we used the February stats from the Toronto Real Estate Board.

 

 

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the story in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to Point2Homes.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.

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