Toronto has become a fast growing global center. As such, it experiences all the growing pains associated with this phenomenon. The city has traffic problems, accessibility issues, housing shortages, energy crisis, environmental erosion, brown fields and other pressing planning issues, all in a relatively short time span. The needs and problems of the cities have increased disproportionately in recent times and the issues are somewhat “out of sync” with the physical and intellectual resources of communities.
A democratic urban society normally functions best when all of its resources are deployed toward a clearly stated goal to solve all its problems together by planned action, not by a “piece meal” attention to individual details. For example, improving traffic is a good plan, but it is not the goal itself. Decommissioning contaminated sites is also a good goal, but not the plan itself.
Making or converting unsuitable or underutilized environments into suitable integrated living environments, however, does seem to be a significant and sustainable conceptual plan. This is where our professional attention should be focused.
There are parts of the city which history relegated into oblivion because of incompatible land use, industrial contamination, incorrect planning, inefficient land use or economics.
These unused or misused patches of land in the city do not serve the best private or public interest and seem to beg for redevelopment. Our design mission should be to explore how this process can be done expeditiously and efficiently.
However, such developments would work only with new innovative intensified design solutions, simply because the “land cost to sale price” ratio is a very harsh variable in the reality equation. It is the architect’s mandate to make nearly impossible development criteria into a feasible and workable solution.
In other words, the design must be a tight package, a model of efficiency in order to be feasible. Good architecture and value must be inherent in the solution, not in the frills.
Housing form, density, price and market preferences are variables yielding any number of solutions, but will likely point to one correct solution only. The high-rise apartment does not always win the feasibility or popularity contest and may not be first choice for people with children. Condominiums are also not the universal solution. There is a great need for rental housing, both in high-rise and low rise building form.
The pursuit of that correct solution is the purpose of this office. Urban land is a prime resource; it deserves the best thinking and analysis, so that the maximum benefits will accrue to the greatest number of people.
The best such projects aim to be located centrally, to be part of the urban fabric, to connect to its context where possible, to be of appropriate scale and to have regard for comfortable living at the lowest possible price or rent, and yes, it must be profitable to build and operate. Development is expensive, carries a risk and needs investment incentives.
Our future is in the cities, on lands we already use and have infrastructure for. We just have to increase its performance, we must regenerate, renew, intensify. Nevertheless, we must be able to do it with a benevolent process, appropriate compatible housing form and affordable cost criteria, which will prove to be “repeatable” elsewhere in the City. If we can do that, we have found our goal and the details will fall in place.
It is not an easy task to redesign, revise or even intensify a city. Obsolete lands usually have obsolete regulations and sometimes obsolete attitudes. With a co-operative community, developer, city planners and officials, and some “practical dreamers” such as architects, our purpose and the goals will, however, be attainable.