Casual commentary about political, cultural and economic issues with a particular interest on the city of Winnipeg by John Dobbin
Friday, August 26, 2011
The Condos Changing the Toronto Skyline
Just got back from Toronto after a weekend convention.
I always tell people who travel to think carefully when contrasting their hometown to places they go to for business and pleasure. While it can be fun to take note of differences, it should also be viewed through the prism that we don't live in the city and don't see it through the daily lives of those who live there.
Having said that, it is not hard to see that Toronto may very well lead North America in how many construction cranes are in operation. That is not an idle statement. The boom in condo construction reminds me of what I saw in Florida over the years. In that sense, it alarms me as it was unsustainable growth in the U.S.
I can't say for certain that what is happening in Toronto could go bust but one thing is certain, it is transforming the skyline.
I didn't see as much in terms of pure office buildings going up. The last reports I saw indicated that the city was still absorbing a bit of stock from two years back when three tower went up.
However, this isn't about the financials underpinning Toronto today but an observation of where they are now.
What we see in Toronto today is a downtown filled with people. Some of this was organic growth, some of this was planned and a lot of this was fueled by 40 years of sustained immigration. In some respects there are two Torontos. The first being the urban one with offices, neighbourhoods and the like packed tightly together in higher density settings. The second is the suburban Toronto with subdivisions and regional offices and shopping. Throw into the mix service, industrial and manufacturing all over the city to keep people employed.
This is didn't all happen overnight. In my case, I stayed at the Harbourfront which got its kick start back in 1972 when the Trudeau government set up a plan to start changing the port of Toronto lands into something resembling Vancouver's Granville Island.
It is a work in progress to be sure. Many people come to the area for entertainment or work but the Gardiner Expressway, an elevated road creates quite a lot noise and blocks easier access. Transportation is via streetcar and the ferry can shuttle people off to Toronto Island.
The other noise in the immediate area is the Toronto Island airport. While obviously a huge convenience for those not wanting to use the ridiculously far and expensive Pearson International, the Porter Airlines aircraft take off at high angles and quite often.
It is obvious the city of Toronto has its hands filled trying to figure out how to make the area successful while still maintaining a functioning metro. Hence, the comment about the two Torontos.
Still, it is hard not to be impressed with with has been slowly achieved over the years. The downtown is filled with people and several districts have emerged and continue to thrive. It will interesting to see where it goes.
Now, the inevitable comparison to Winnipeg. We lack people in the central area of the city. With the exception of The Forks (which is Winnipeg's grand initiative on par with Habourfront), we have few places where people pour out onto the streets.
All of our grand downtown gestures save one did not think to include housing as a major component. The Winnipeg Convention Centre had a major component of apartment housing next door with the Holiday Towers. Sadly, the site was orphaned and left surrounded by parking lots.
In the last five years, Winnipeg has caught up with many cities in terms of building new condos in the downtown. Waterfront Drive has taken off and now we are seeing phase two being developed. Tens of millions are being spent. However, unlike the 26 floors of Holiday Towers North and South, we are seeing new construction of only several floors at a time.
So far, developers are only taking a tentative step forward in this regard. And why put themselves out? Twice now, two towers in the Broadway area and even further afield in the suburbs have met with resistance. Even smaller condo projects in River Heights and Linden Woods have run into trouble.
Maybe it is that way all over Canada and beyond. However, we seem to torpedo apartment and condo projects that are completely private investment driven.
After this next phase of condo and apartment building in downtown Winnipeg, are we likely to see some construction cranes and the buildings of high rises? One can hope.
We need more people living downtown to create dynamism. City Hall cannot continue as an impediment to this.