Our 15 minutes of fame on Metro Morning

We were up at 4:30 making coffee. We left the house at 5:30 to bike along the dark lake shore to the CBC building downtown. Really not much traffic then! Got to CBC about 6:30, cooled our heels in the “Green Room” for a bit and then had an interview with the capable and charming Helen Mann.

Gentle density

Shawn Micallef’s column in today’s Toronto Star, “Toronto’s grudge against apartments,” makes a strong argument in favour of co-housing, even though he never mentions it.

The column explores one aspect of Toronto’s outdated zoning bylaw, which designates the great majority of the city as  detached or semi-detached residential only,  leaving a downtown pocket as the only place where apartment buildings and condos are allowed to grow.

Not surprisingly, in those areas, they tend to grow very high. The city becomes a place of extremes, torn between the condo canyons of downtown and the residential neighbourhoods that, in their basic layout, often look a lot like suburbs.

Established neighbourhoods fight furiously to prevent development which they assume (most often correctly) will bring more ungainly towers to dominate their two-storey streets.

What’s missing is smaller scale development, from duplexes and triplexes to mid-rise buildings (usually six to ten storeys). “Don’t like tall buildings?” asks Micallef. “Then fight for density to be spread across the city.”

Density is the thing that makes great cities vibrant and liveable. We may, arguably, have too much of it in the downtown core, but we need more of it everywhere else. More density means more cultural activities, more restaurants, more shops, more diversity, more of everything that makes life interesting, if you’re an urban person.

Micallef quotes Sean Galbraith, an urban planner: “Everyone complains about tall towers downtown and everyone wants midrise, but part of the problem is an inability to unlock additional small scale intensification in existing neighbourhoods…. we should provide more smaller scale housing options everywhere in the city.”

There it is.

Humbly, we offer co-housing as a partial solution. Our view of housing includes a shared home for about 10 to 12 people. We expect the home to be about 6,000 square feet. That’s a rather large structure, especially in a residential area, but at 500 to 600 square feet per person it’s actually higher density than most condo buildings and certainly higher than a neighbourhood of single family dwellings. Higher density, but on a smaller scale.

By adding such ‘gentle density’ we argue that we improve the neighbourhood with our shopping, entertainment and recreational pursuits. We, um, look forward to having this conversation someday soon with a city planner.

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