Forward-Thinking Or Virtue-Signalling?

Development | February 12, 2021


I’m going to take crap for this, but here goes…

Last summer, my 10-year-old niece saw me put a plastic straw in my drink and she said, “Why are you doing that?  Why are you using plastic?  Plastic straws are bad for the environment!  Some countries are banning them!”

My niece lives in England and goes to a private school, and I can only imagine the values that these children are taught.   But like any child, being taught by any person in a position of influence, children today are only going to be capable of so much free thought, since what they are taught is being shaped by current attitudes in society.

I explained to my niece that I feel the worldwide ban on plastic straws is much ado about nothing.

I pointed to some objects within arms distance, and said, “This sippy-cup is made of plastic.  This spatula is made of plastic.  This syrup bottle is made of plastic.  This ice-pack is made of plastic.  This scrub-brush is made of plastic.”  And I went on, and on, and on.  Until she said, “Okaaaaay!”

I explained that, while I understand that plastic is bad, and thus single-use plastic straws – something which is not necessary for our survival, can be done without, my intelligence is insulted by the people who want to BAN plastic straws, when all the while, millions of other products are made of plastic, not to mention, certain politicians who recommend banning single-use plastic are in the habit of using it themselves.

What can I say?  I’m a cynic!  I call it as I see it!

When Google held an environmental summit in 2019, celebrities around the world were attending – by taking private jets and yachts!

I don’t want to be lectured by Leonardio DiCaprio about mother earth when he flies solo on a private jet that generates 4 metric tons of C02, which is the equivalent of 500,000+ smart photos being charged at the same time.

So when people bitch and moan about plastic straws?  I have no time for it.

Everything in my office right now is made of plastic.  This keyboard I’m typing on, my office phone, this Nivea cream, the webcam, my mouse, my iPods charger – I’m surrounded by plastic.

So, why straws?

Straws!

It’s arbitrary.  It was picked, seemingly at random, by a do-gooder, and latched onto by other do-gooders, none of whom stopped to question or critique.

It’s hip.  En vogue.  It caught on.

And thus the war on plastic straws had begun!

I’m not denying climate change, but I’m a realist.  I’m also a cynic.  So I recognize that what’s killing the planet is people.  There are too many of us.  It’s that simple.  If the population was reduced by half, the world would last longer.  It would burn out slower.  And without people, Mother Earth survives.

So plastic straws?  Gimme a break.

That’s simple-think.

And those that shame others for having the audacity to use a plastic straw are the best example of virtue-signallers out there.  Hard stop.

My critics will suggest that there’s a fine line between being forward-thinking and being guilty of virtue-signalling, and I might, in some cases, agree.

Then there are times when what is virtue-signalling one day becomes forward-thinking the next.

And upon reading an article in last week’s Toronto Star, my initial reaction was most certainly different from the conclusion that I came to shortly thereafter.

Here’s the article:

 


 

“Toronto To Consider Ending Parking Minimums On New Developments, Imposing Maximums Instead”
By Tess Kalinowski
Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Toronto is taking a 180-degree turn in its approach to the amount of parking builders will be required to incorporate in new developments.

In the past, the city has required a minimum amount of parking based on the use and location of new buildings. But a review of parking regulations this year will instead consider the maximum amount of car parking developers can build in their projects.

It is Toronto’s first parking review since 2013, says a report by planning staff to the city’s planning and housing committee last month. It says the turnaround from parking minimums to maximums will protect the city from an oversupply of parking in the future, it said.

The review also reflects the city’s growing focus on environmental and affordability issues, said Toronto transportation planning program manager Michael Hain.

“From the environmental perspective this is really trying to shift away from car use and it’s about making it easier to implement different sorts of housing so people can live in the housing they want and increase the supply so hopefully prices can come down,” he said.

Between 1986 and 2016, car ownership declined from 1.2 vehicles per household to 1.02. Most of that drop was due to decreasing car ownership in apartments, where it went from 0.84 cars per household to 0.72 cars.

Richard Lyall, president of RESCON, the residential builders’ association, says the city parking review is overdue, given the falling interest in car ownership by young people, the proliferation of car-sharing and the likelihood of automated vehicles in the future.

He said it costs between $50,000 and $100,000 to build a single parking spot. That cost is passed on to homebuyers, an increasing number of whom no longer want or can afford to own cars.

Most parking is built underground and, in the downtown, water tends to complicate the construction, said Lyall.

“I was just on a call with a rental development company trying to reduce the amount of parking required because they say once they get four levels underground that makes the project impractical,” he said.

In downtown Toronto, known as Policy Area 1, builders are supposed to provide 0.3 parking spots for a bachelor condo up to 484 sq. ft; 1 spot for a bigger bachelor; 0.5 parking spots for each one-bedroom condo; 0.8 spaces for a two-bedroom unit and 1 parking stall for condos with three or more bedrooms.

The city says it is already showing flexibility on the policy. Forty-six per cent — 473 of 1,033 — of development applications that received at least one approval in the fourth quarter of 2019 had parking below the minimum standard. In mixed-use developments, which may or may not include residential units, 81 per cent received approvals with less than the minimum parking requirements.

But in building applications for single homes and townhouses, 76 per cent received approval for more parking than the rules require.

“Every (development) application involves negotiation,” said Hain. “The city is quite willing to work with developers to trade-off parking in favour of other features we want to achieve like more public ground space for pedestrians, more bike parking, better amenities for the community.”

Among downtown home buyers, the desire for parking has declined in the last decade, said realtor Andrew Harrild of Condos.ca. Ten years ago, a unit without a parking spot might be considered less valuable.

That’s no longer the case downtown where there are transportation alternatives.

“For a smaller unit, a bachelor or one-bedroom, it doesn’t hurt re-sale value if the condo comes without parking,” he said.

The cost of a parking spot can be the difference between a first-time buyer being able to afford a condo or not.

“I can see it being a boon for first-time buyers who might be able to put that $50,000 or $60,000 towards maybe buying a bit more space, maybe getting a den and reducing the monthly fees,” said Harrild.

And it’s not just a one-time cost. Monthly maintenance fees on a home owner’s parking spot are about $50 or $60 a month but can run as much as $120, he said.

Linda Brett, president of the Bloor East Neighbourhood Association appeared before the planning and housing committee urging the city to include property managers and condo reserve fund experts in the parking review consultations.

She said buildings struggle to accommodate visitor parking and service vehicles that may need to be parked for extended periods. A full schedule of regular service and repair appointments and renovations by individual unit-holders can tax available parking, she said.

“As a building ages, the repairs and renovations to units within the building add to that demand,” wrote Brett, who said service vehicles end up in pay-and-display parking spots on the street when buildings don’t have enough space on-site.

Hain said staff will be holding public consultations and report back on the parking review by the end of the year.

 


 

Again, if we’re being honest here, the first thing I thought was, “Oh boy, here we go again…”

The war on the car and all that.

The idea of going from parking minimums to parking maximums didn’t sit well with me.  It reeked of politics.  It demonstrated incompetence.

To go from one side to the other, overnight, tells us that policies were mismanaged.  Surely, there can be no doubt about that.  The article above says that there hasn’t been a parking review at the municipal level since 2013, so that, in itself, is problematic.  But to go from one extreme to the next simply shows that the topic of parking spaces in new condominiums had gone unchecked for way too long.

When I got into this business in 2004, I would expect that any 300-unit condominium would have 350-400 parking spaces.  Most condos had a parking space.  Many condos had two.

Over the years, that ratio declined.

Some time in the early 2010’s, you started to see new condominium projects where you weren’t’ permitted to purchase a parking space unless you met a certain price, size, or bedroom requirement, ie. the buyer of a 585 square foot, 1-bedroom condo was not allowed to buy parking, and you had to purchase a 2-bed, 2-bath to attain the luxury of doling out $55,000 for an underground parking space.

Today, the ratio is nowhere near what you would think.

Just for fun, let’s check out a random development application.  You can bookmark this handy link: http://app.toronto.ca/AIC/index.do

That’s an easy-to-use map of Toronto, with a filter for different types of development applications.

I zoomed in downtown and found 114 Church Street, which is the parking lot across from Spire.

Their proposal calls for 479 condominiums and 125 parking spaces, but only 96 of those are for residential use; the other 29 are for institutional use.

So only 96 condo-buyers are able to purchase a parking space?

Consider this point in the article above:

Forty-six per cent — 473 of 1,033 — of development applications that received at least one approval in the fourth quarter of 2019 had parking below the minimum standard.

It seems to me that developers don’t want to build parking spaces anymore.

But dare I ask: is this because of the associated cost, or because they’re environmentally-conscious?

This is a chicken-and-the-egg scenario.

The above article notes:

Between 1986 and 2016, car ownership declined from 1.2 vehicles per household to 1.02. Most of that drop was due to decreasing car ownership in apartments, where it went from 0.84 cars per household to 0.72 cars.

But did condo-owners, who owned parking spaces, stop driving cars?

Or did downtown-seekers, with cars, find condos that didn’t have parking?

I’ve long argued that for the last decade or more, condo developers have designed and built condos for investors, not users.  They build micro-condos because they’re trying to reduce the absolute cost (ie. purchase price), not relative cost (ie. price per square foot), so more buyers can afford to invest.  Excavating for parking has become incredibly expensive, and building parking spaces has become a loss-leader for developers.

So did developers stop building parking spaces because they’re forward-thinking, environmentally-friendly, and ahead of the curve with consumers’ wants and needs?  Or did they stop building parking spaces because they are selling condos to investors who want to rent the units out to young people who can’t afford to keep cars downtown?

Six of one, half dozen of the other.

As it pertains to consumer preferences, however, I’ll admit that in the last few years, I’ve seen fewer and fewer condo-buyers truly needing a parking space.  In fact, I’d say maybe 40% of my condo buyers have cars.

Fifteen years ago, every condo buyer wanted and “needed” a parking space.  But the 24-year-old who was buying for $270,000 owned a car and didn’t use it during the week; he or she just took it out on weekends to visit mom and dad in Markham, or to go golfing with buddies.

Fifteen years ago, that was a luxury that the downtown-dwellers could afford.

Today, it costs about $40-$50K to own a parking space, and that space comes with an additional $50-$60 per month in maintenance fees.  That spot might rent for $150 per month in the average downtown condo.

So while the trend towards seeing fewer and fewer people downtown owning a car or needing a parking space may have been forced on us by developers, you can’t deny that the need in the marketplace today isn’t what it once was.

So does this new maximum on parking spaces in pre-construction make sense?

Do we truly NEED this policy?  If 46% of development applications are seeking lower-than-minimum parking standards, then can’t we let the market police itself?

Here’s where my cynical side takes over and suggests that it’s good public image to enact maximiums on parking spaces in new developments, rather than just let nature take its course.  Fewer and fewer parking spaces are being needed, constructed, and applied for, but if you’re a politician, why wait, when you can get out ahead of this and be heroic?

The policy will certainly seem forward-thinking, I’ll give it that.

The long weekend is coming up and I think the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

It’s been a very tough start to the year for a lot of people.  I’ve had those conversations about mental health with too many friends and colleagues in the past two weeks, as so many of us are just “not feeling it” these days.  The pandemic, the cold, the economy, the monotony.  Groundhog’s Day, and all that.

I feel it too.  Every day feels too much like the one before it, and there are no movies to see in the theatre, restaurants to hit up, sporting events to take in, or friends to chill out with.

But we’re all in the same boat.  Some of us have it slightly better or worse than others, but until we regain “normal life,” we’re all in this together.

Here’s hoping we all have a chance to relax and recharge over the next three days.

See you back here on Tuesday!

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19 Comments

  1. Marty

    at 6:32 am

    I think that in certain areas, like downtown, no parking maximums or minimums are needed, as street parking is already priced and controlled sufficiently.

    More outlying areas it might be more problematic.

    But nothing that can’t be adjusted. The fact is, “free” street parking, either for hours during the day or overnight is what makes ANY out of pocket costs to parking on private property *look* expensive.

  2. Thomas

    at 8:09 am

    The public transport in Toronto is nowhere near as good as it should be. Any moves discouraging car ownership is more than an inconvenience until we fix that

  3. Appraiser

    at 8:14 am

    “Canada welcomed 184,000 new immigrants in 2020. Immigration to Canada fell to the lowest level since 1998.”

    “The pandemic will continue to have an impact on Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan, but we can expect levels to surpass 401,000 annually once COVID-19 has been contained globally.”

    Looks like Canada’s future requires more housing AND more parking.

    https://www.cicnews.com/2021/02/canada-welcomed-184000-new-immigrants-in-2020-0217133.html#gs.tbf8si

    1. Chris

      at 8:46 am

      “A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist, arrives at a similarly dire conclusion. It predicts that rich countries with access to proven vaccines—including America, Britain and most of the European Union—will manage to inoculate their most vulnerable citizens by mid-March. (The EU’s timetable may slip owing to a bitter spat over delayed vaccine deliveries by AstraZeneca, a British drugs giant.) Other rich countries should catch up by the end of June. Most middle-income countries, meanwhile, will not be able to do the same until late 2022. The only exception is Russia, thanks to its home-grown “Sputnik V” vaccine. (China and India also have their own vaccines, but will probably be stymied by the size of their populations.) In poorer countries, meaningful vaccination coverage—enough for life to return to normal—may not be possible until 2023, if ever.”

      – The Economist, Jan 28, 2021

      We could be waiting a very long time for COVID to be “contained globally”.

        1. Chris

          at 10:01 pm

          This is Canadian Experience Class. As government said they would, making it easier for people who are already here and have been for at least a year, to stay and become permanent residents. Not really immigration so much as trying to staunch outflow.

  4. TOPlanner

    at 9:22 am

    The discussion on parking minimums has been happening for years (decades?) in urban planning, so definitely not an overnight change. You are now just starting to see the actual policy proposals get publicized.

    An example – the laneway suites policies, which came out in summer 2018, exempt properties with laneway suites from having to provide vehicular parking (must provide bicycle parking instead).

    Changes to parking regulations, and especially removing minimums, will be very relevant to the changes the City is contemplating on ‘missing middle’ housing – garden suites/coach houses, multiplexing, increasing building permissions on major streets, etc.

    1. Joel

      at 10:42 am

      “An example – the laneway suites policies, which came out in summer 2018, exempt properties with laneway suites from having to provide vehicular parking (must provide bicycle parking instead).”

      Here is a policy that will increase on street parking and remove off street parking. The city doesn’t allow parking pads, but does encourage higher density with less parking. This looks great in an article for the 100 people in the city that have a laneway suite (Costing around $500,000 each, which makes them non-affordable rentals) but degrades the quality of life for others in that neighbourhood.

  5. Jenn

    at 9:22 am

    Very nice sign-off today, David! Hope you get some time with the family this weekend!

    1. Whaaa?

      at 2:13 pm

      Until David’s sign-off, I had forgotten this was a long weekend. Blame it on Covid, I guess.

  6. Joel

    at 10:38 am

    I think this policy, like so many this city puts forward are not properly thought out and in place to make the councillors look progressive in articles, more-so than to better the city.

    If they worked on big picture changes, such as transit to support people without cars and increased density through mid-rise buildings throughout the city, then they wouldn’t have to waste millions of tax payer dollars on studies for policies that have minimal impact.

    Garden suites and laneway suites all sound good, but 2-3 mid-rise buildings approved outside of the core do more for housing affordability than these small and expensive measures.

    The new $2 million land transfer tax is another example of poor planning, that promotes a good story rather than good policy. Raise property tax for everyone, by a small amount and have predictable income rather than an arbitrary tax.

    In regards to the straw, single use plastic is obviously different than your mouse or sippy cup. One you use for 5 minutes and discard, the other you use for several years.

  7. J

    at 10:57 am

    The article mentions the technical challenges of building many levels of underground parking. So politics and preferences aside, it seems unpractical to maintain the same ratio of parking spaces to number of units going forward, given increasing building heights and decreasing unit sizes. I don’t have the numbers, but no doubt the ratio between the average number of stories of a condo and its base land size has been increasing over the years. If the average condo height has doubled, it may not be technically feasible to keep up the same ratio by going from say 4 levels of underground parking to 8. Further compounding this issue is the decrease in the average square footage of units we’ve seen over time (while vehicle preferences have gone from sedans/coupes to crossovers/SUVs even in urban centres, so taking a similar approach to parking by cramming more spaces in the same area is not a solution).

    A technical solution to this issue could be above-grade parking, but this seems to be discouraged/disallowed/impeded by city building design guidelines:

    https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-57177.pdf

    1. Dafacts

      at 1:58 pm

      Above-grade parking podiums make for a pretty dismal streetscape. You end up with blocks looking onto parking garages.

      Downtown Miami, not being able to dig down due to their proximity to the ocean, gives you a good impression of what the streetscape would end up looking like:
      https://www.google.com/maps/@25.7737102,-80.193617,3a,75y,109.97h,80.85t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sH0-J5ZiVi-FHzsiJC8oQgA!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo0.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DH0-J5ZiVi-FHzsiJC8oQgA%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D268.31024%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i16384!8i8192

      1. J

        at 2:34 pm

        Agreed, that is downright hideous. The document I mentioned above on pg. 29 suggests surround an above-grade parking area with other structures, but I’m not sure how practical that is.

  8. Kyle

    at 1:31 pm

    IMO, the bigger issue when it comes to condo parking, is that other than a few projects none of the condo parking spaces built or being built are equipped to handle electric car charging.

  9. Steve Mitchell

    at 2:23 pm

    The great minds at City Hall are gonna turn this place into San Francisco. And not in a good way. If there is a good way.

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