It’s not unlike me to talk politics on an open forum. Right?
What can I say, I’m passionate about topics in which I’m interested, and as I love the city of Toronto dearly, I hate standing by and watching when things aren’t going well, or well enough.
When it comes to the future of the city, I have a middle-of-the-pack outlook.
I’m not pessimistic, but I’m not optimistic either.
I’ve come to realize that politics is not about making major decisions on what’s best for the constituents, both present and future, but rather politics is about politicians staying in power for as long as they can. As a result, it’s very difficult for any politician, at the municipal or provincial level, to enact meaningful long-term change.
Why would a politician spend his or her time and energy working on a 25-year-plan, when that won’t get any proverbial “likes,” but screaming about the topic du jour would?
I’ve often lamented that there is no, and has never been any, long-term plan for the City of Toronto. The growth we’ve seen over the last decade is nothing short of shocking, and the city wasn’t in any way prepared for it.
Same goes for the province, to be fair.
And sometimes I wonder, “What would it take?”
What would it take, for example, to expand Highway 400 from 3-lanes to 6-lanes? Just for arguments’ sake. Every weekend, cars line up, bumper-to-bumper, and this will go on forever. So what would it take to double the size of a highway that probably sees ten times more traffic than ever was intended?
Same argument for the Don Valley Parkway, and 401. Residents of the GTA suffer every single day because of the archaic infrastructure that was sufficient for a population over fifty years ago, but no longer can support the demand.
What about the subway system? It’s a joke. It’s the worst of any world-class city.
We could do this all day, folks. But I think you get the gist of it.
Toronto’s population is far greater than the existing infrastructure that’s mean to support it, and I don’t know if we can every truly play catch-up.
Toronto’s little mini-cities have popped up without any real plan to support them.
Take CityPlace, for example. That’s about as dense an area in Toronto as you’ll find.
Is there enough infrastructure to support an area that’s home to 20,000 people?
Public transit is one thing. But what about schools, parks, greenspaces, doctors, dentists, daycares, and grocery stores? Is it possible for so many people to live in such a dense space, and still enjoy the same quality of life as an average Torontonian living in another neighbourhood?
Did the city plan for this kind of density?
Were the sewers equipped to deal with 20,000 people using them on a daily basis? Was this ever actually the plan?
I’m asking rhetorically, but I’m going to answer, “No, probably not.”
The more important question is, “Can the city keep up?”
And not just in areas like CityPlace, but across the entire central core. Because as we’ve discussed lately – whether it’s the lack of support to build on the greenbelt, or the NIMBY’ism that exists in most “nicer” single-family neighbourhoods, or the desire of many home-owners to get creative and build laneway housing – more density is coming to Toronto.
But is that even the right term? “More density?”
What about simply “Density,” as if to say that Toronto isn’t dense already?
“Density is coming,” I should have said, to be correct, because if you compare Toronto to other cities around the world, you’ll see it’s not actually all that dense.
First thing’s first – how big is Toronto? In terms of the population, that is?
Wikipedia offers the best source on this kind of data, and if we’re looking at “City Proper,” which as you might assume, is the City of Toronto, and not the GTA, then where do you think Toronto would rank around the world?
What if I told you that Toronto had a population of 2,929,886? Where do you think that would rank?
Chongqing, China tops the list at 30,751,600, and Shanghai comes in at #2 with 24,256,800.
That leaves Toronto at 105th.
You don’t have to be a geography major to know that there are countries around the world where “people live on top of people.” Whether you’ve travelled around, or whether you’ve simply seen a YouTube video of a subway worker pushing people into a railcar with a stick, you know that there are places on earth that closer resemble a sardine can than, say, Mimico.
So Toronto being the 105th largest city in the world shouldn’t be a surprise.
But how dense is Toronto? Where would it rank on a list of cities around the world?
Not at all.
In all my research (and I can’t tell you how long I’ve been going this afternoon…), I can’t find any list of most-dense cities in the world that drops down as low as Toronto.
Here is Wikipedia’s List of Cities By Population Density (Just keep in mind that some of these “cities,” like Le Pre-Saint-Gervais in France, which is home to only 18,121 people, doesn’t really give you any insight as to how dense a true world-class city is).
That’s the top 43 cities, and #43 comes in at 17,738 people per square-kilometre.
Do you know how dense Toronto is?
4,334 people per square kilometre.
In fact, Toronto is only the eighth most dense city in Canada, despite our incredible population growth, the condo boom of the last decade, and all the onlookers who deride the number of cranes in the sky:
Source(s): Census of Population, Highlights Tables (98-402-X2016001).
So with a density of 4,334 per square KM, knowing that the 43rd most dense city in the world has 17,738 people per square KM, where would Toronto rank? Any guesses? Maybe somewhere in the 500 range? As I said above, many of those “cities” in the top-43 are just little locales that we would never compare to Toronto.
So I took it upon myself to dust off my World Atlas, and pick the largest cities (by population and by stature/name) in North America and Europe, and compile a list of densities so we may more accurately compare Toronto to the rest of the world.
The reason I’m choosing not to use cities in China, India, et al is simply because we have a different way of life than they do. Comparing Toronto to New York or London makes a lot more sense than comparing Toronto to Dhaka, Bangladesh, which has the 5th highest density of any city in the world at 28,410 people per square KM.
So here’s my list, for what it’s worth:
I’m fairly certain that you could make an argument for any city above Toronto on the list, as to why that city warrants a higher density.
Paris is Paris; enough said. San Francisco is home to emerging industries and jobs galore; people want to live there. And on, and on, and on.
But Philadelphia is just Philadelphia. There’s nothing special about it, save for the Liberty Bell, I suppose.
Great cities, and famous, yes. But Toronto is the defacto capital of Canada. It’s a world power, and a world-class city, whether those of you that always argue “true world-class cities like London and Paris shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Toronto,” like it, or not.
Toronto is also home to high-priced real estate (not compared to the rest of the world, but on a recent appreciation basis, and in relation to income growth), and as people continue to debate, every day, and every night, how, why, or when real estate prices would become more affordable, is it possible that adding more density is the answer, at least in part?
I go back to my point about people generalizing about the “cranes in the sky,” and ask, even still, if we have enough density in the city.
One of my aunts, who must be very sheltered, told me a year ago, “I hadn’t been downtown in, well, probably a decade! I can’t believe all the buildings! You can barely see the skyline anymore, I didn’t even recognize the city!”
All that in a mere decade, and yet we’re still not nearly as dense as other world-class cities.
This blog post, as many of you have noticed, is continuing the theme from Monday’s conversation. So not to bring labels into this again, but is the answer for many of you NIMBY’s to simply add more density to the downtown core? Have people living on top of people, as we see in so many other large cities?
Should we allow 90-storey condos to be built next to 40-storey condos, that applied for 45-stories only five years ago, and got turned down?
Should we keep the residential “family” neighbourhoods, that are home to 2-storey homes, as such, and leave the density for more urban areas like downtown Toronto and Mississauga?
Would the people in charge of the City of Toronto be able to keep up with the demand for new, increased, and more efficient infrastructure if the downtown core added, say, another 500,000 people?
Because honestly, I think that’s where Toronto is going.
Despite many of the wishes to the contrary in the comments section of Monday’s blog post, I don’t see the city, or any municipality, relaxing zoning regulations so that the owner of a 3/4 acre piece of property in North York, with a single-family dwelling on it, can turn around and build structures to house twelve families.
I do believe that Toronto’s density will continue to increase exponentially over the coming years, and like it or not, I do believe it will result in a fantastic explosion in growth of the downtown core…