RAC Zone in Spacing: Rise of Mixed-Use Tower Neighbourhoods

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The fall issue of Spacing Magazine features a short piece by ERA’s Graeme Stewart in a section called “Opinion Makers.” The article reviews Toronto’s history of residential tower development and explains the evolution of the new RAC zone allowing new program and land use in our apartment neighbourhoods. Read the full text below:

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Toronto Star: Tower Renewal a “Big Idea”

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The Toronto Star’s ongoing “Big Ideas” series shares ideas from Toronto planners, architects, and creative thinkers on how to make the city a better place. Recently The Star’s urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume chatted with ERA’s Graeme Stewart about various issues and initiatives surrounding the Tower Renewal project.

To read this web chat, please go to thestar.com.

Photo: Jesse Colin Jackson

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New initiative w/ Evergreen CityWorks & Derek Ballantyne

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As announced recently in the Evergreen CityWorks’ Intersection Magazine, the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal is teaming up with Evergreen CityWorks and Derek Ballantyne (CEO, Community Forward Fund) to engage in new initiatives in Tower Renewal. The purpose of this Tower Partnership will be to develop feasible funding and implementation strategies for a series of Tower Renewal sites in the GTA, working with project partners City of Toronto, United Way, Metcalf Foundation, Toronto Atmospheric Fund and more. The ultimate goal is to provide usable new models for revitalization as hundreds of tower communities across the region begin exploring the possibilities of new RAC zoning and other tools.

Below, please see more detail on the new initiative, as published in Intersection, v1n1:

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Greening Jane and Finch: Competition finalists

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Recently the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) held a competition to create innovative master plans to revitalize Toronto’s San Romanoway Affordable Housing Complex. The “Greening the Grounds” competition asked participants to propose designs that would provide this priority neighbourhood with a new community garden, urban orchard, greenhouse, market space, shelters, seating, paths, recreation areas, and more. The winning entry will be refined and implemented beginning as soon as autumn, 2014.

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RAC Zoning Approved for 500 Sites

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This June, Toronto City Council approved the proposed Residential Apartment Commercial (RAC) zone. Following a process of nearly two years of research, public consultation, policy development, and advocacy in partnership with United Way, City of Toronto and Toronto Public Health, the RAC zoning will take effect by summer’s end, (barring appeal), in nearly 500 Apartment properties that form dozens of Apartment Neighbourhoods across the city.

The new zoning by-law provides a new and flexible land-use framework for Apartment Neighbourhoods. The goal of this new framework is to enable healthy, complete, and vibrant neighbourhoods better able to respond to local needs and opportunities. The goal is addressed primarily by allowing for a full range of uses within these neighbourhoods: commercial activity, social activity, and community services – amenities that most areas of Toronto take for granted.

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PechaKucha: Tower Renewal 101


Recently ERA’s Graeme Stewart presented a crash course in Tower Renewal at a Toronto PechaKucha event focused on urban innovation. The short, 7-minute talk covers half a century of Toronto’s history and, right up to some of the exciting new initiatives taking place in and around Toronto’s Tower Neighbourhoods.

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Unlocking High-rise Potential: Consultations

The following article by Edward LaRusic was recently published in the Toronto edition of Novae Res Urbis:

The city is proposing a new zoning designation to transform the concrete towers of Toronto’s inner suburbs, typically poorly served by transportation, retail and other amenities, into complete communities.

If approved, the new zoning designation of “residential apartment commercial (RAC)” would loosen restrictive rules on high-rise apartment neighbourhoods that date to the 1950s and, it is hoped, attract small businesses and services to the densely populated communities cut off from their surroundings.

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Jane Jacobs Prize to Graeme Stewart & Sabina Ali

The 2014 Jane Jacobs prize has been awarded to Graeme Stewart of ERA and Sabina Ali of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee.

 

According to the creators and stewards of the Jane Jacobs Prize, Ideas that Matter and Spacing Magazine, this honour “celebrates individuals who contribute to the fabric of Toronto life in unique ways that exemplify the ideas of Jane Jacobs. The prize recipients reflect the diverse aspects of city life.” 

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New opportunities through zoning reform: Your feedback needed

Photo: Jesse Colin Jackson

The City of Toronto wants to bring more vitality and convenience to its Apartment Neighbourhoods. In March and April, a number of public consultations will be held to incorporate the ideas of community members.

A new zoning type, “Residential Apartment Commercial” (RAC), has been created to provide more amenities and more usable public space in selected neighbourhoods.

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New Tower Study: Affordability Tenuous

Photo by Jesse Colin Jackson

Update: A new edition of this report is available as of March 12, 2014.

It has long been understood that while Toronto’s tower neighbourhoods are areas of social need (see reports “Vertical Poverty,” and “Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe”), they also provide a vital source of affordable housing in the region. Just how tenuous that affordability can be, however, is the subject of a recent U of T Cities Centre report by Emily Paradis.

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The Star’s Big Idea Series: The Region’s Future is in its High-Rise Suburbs

Image: Toronto Star

Throughout the first part of 2014, the Toronto Star is running a series called “Big Ideas“,  asking Torontonians to think big about the future of the region. What type of Toronto do we want to create in the years to come?

For our contribution to this series, we discuss Tower Renewal as the key to realizing the region’s potential. The piece can be found at Here at thestar.com, or below:


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Mapping Tower Renewal: Areas of Opportunity / Priority

Map identifying areas of high potential / priority for Tower Neighbourhood Renewal. Click on image for additional mapping.

As part of the ongoing to work to re-examining zoning in Apartment Neighbourhoods, a series of maps have been developed to identify trends, patterns and areas of high impact in phasing the implementation of the new RAC apartment zone.

The RAC zone is a new set of policies to provide tools and opportunities as part of the larger initiative of Tower Neighbourhood Renewal.

Building from mapping conducted for the report Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horsehoe, maps complied here show the distribution of towers throughout the City; where towers congregate into large clusters forming tower neighbourhoods; and where these large tower neighbourhoods experience high incidence of social need.

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Charrette: Apartment Neighbourhoods and Healthy Corner Stores

On Saturday January 18, The East Scarborough Storefront hosted a public design charrette with partners United Way Toronto, Toronto Public Health (TPH), Sustainable TO, Architext, and ERA. Saturday’s discussion focused on TPH’s new program “Healthy Corner Stores,” a project that proposes to give suburban communities better access to fresh produce, and other healthy food options, through convenience stores.

Healthy Corner Stores is part of the growing Tower Renewal initiative, which aims to bring new amenities, healthy choices, and life on the street to Toronto’s tower neighbourhoods.

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Fresh Food on Wheels – Bringing Fresh Food Trucks to Apartment Neighbourhoods

Photographs by Toronto Public Health

One of the key challenges facing the region’s Apartment Neighourhoods is providing convenient access to healthy fresh food to the thousands of residents that call these neighbourhoods home. Over the past few years, ERA, CUR+R and project partners United Way Toronto and Toronto Public Health have advocated for, and are in the process of implementing new zoning by-laws to allow the sale of food, goods and services in these neighbourhoods, which is today often prohibited.

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United Way Toronto + Tower Neighbourhoods – Update, Oct. 2013

Over the past several month, United Way Toronto has been hard at work with community partners and local residents across the City engaging in a series of initiatives in many of Toronto Apartment Neighbourhoods.  Key aspects of this ongoing work has been  summarized in an October 2013 memo, outlining recent practical achievements, and looking to the near future for goals for engaging in Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the coming year or so.

For the full memo, please download.

United Way Toronto Tower Neighbourhood Demonstration Sites

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Chief Planner’s Rountable: Toronto’s Modern Suburbs

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Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, Councillor Peter Milczyn, and panel participants. Photo by Garry Weiler, City of Toronto

On Sept. 30, 2013, ERA’s Graeme Stewart participated in a City of Toronto Chief Planner’s Roundtable, hosted by Jennifer Keesmaat. The Roundtable, entitled “The Shape of Toronto’s Suburbs,” is the first of three sessions devoted to critical thinking about the history, evolution, and future of the GTA’s suburbs. Participants included John van Nostrand, Leo deSorcy, Pamela Blais, Laurie Payne, and Leona Savoie.

The panel raised a number of issues, including employment, distance, transit, private vs. public investment, small-scale and large scale intervention, and zoning reforms that are about to change the way things are done in some communities.

Though the situation is far from simple, the sense coming out of this Roundtable is very positive: Toronto has an enormous resource in its suburbs (and in the apartment neighbourhoods that make up so much of their fabric). New design and policy approaches can help remove the false dichotomy of ‘suburban’ vs. ‘urban’, and help us imagine a healthy, vibrant metropolis for the entire region.

To watch the entire Roundtable, please see Rogers online.

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Tower Renewal Office Report: Successes and Next Steps

The City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal Office (TRO) recently published two new reports describing the project’s accomplishments in the last two years, as well as future goals that were adopted by the City of Toronto’s Community Development and Recreation Committee in Sept. 2013.

The two reports show TRO’s impressive outreach to over 300 buildings in the City, with plans for engagement, assessment, and action in many more in the years to come.

Taking advantage of new zoning to be initiated in 2014, and paired with efforts by partners such as United Way Toronto, Toronto Public Health, the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, and local community partners, apartment neighbourhoods across the city are poised for positive change.

The reports can be downloaded here:
Tower Renewal Accomplishments 2011-2013
Next Ten Years of Tower Renewal: Achieving city-wide improvement

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Transformative potential of Tower Renewal: Globe & Mail

Alex Bozikovic, Toronto-based writer on architecture and design, recently provided an update on Tower Renewal efforts in the GTA. The article describes the uniquely Canadian and Torontonian inventory of high-rise post-war tower apartment neighbourhoods, and recent efforts by local architects, not-for-profits, and city departments to rethink these neighbourhoods. With aging buildings in need of maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades, and zoning laws that see neighbourhoods underserved and undernourished, Toronto is ready for some practical changes.

Bozikovic is optimistic: By his estimation, the Tower Renewal project can truly transform Toronto for the better.

For the full article please see “Toronto hopes to revitalize its many postwar highrises” in the Globe & Mail.

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The Slabs vs. the Points: Toronto’s Two Tower Booms

A new article in Satellite Magazine on Toronto Towers by ERA’s Graeme Stewart, Josh Thorpe, and Michael McClelland.

The article compares Toronto’s two high-rise housing booms, which have generated housing in volume and distribution unlike anywhere else in North America: first, the suburban tower boom in Toronto’s post-war period, and next the contentious condo boom of recent years.

The two Booms: Housing Starts in the Greater Toronto Areas, 1950 to 2012 (CMHC)

In both cases urban form and infrastructure have changed radically in a short period for an immediate purpose. The challenge occurs in ten or twenty years’ time as the city’s needs change: Do these built forms have the resiliency and flexibility to be adapt?

Read the full article at satellitemagazine.ca.

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New Book: Large Housing Estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery; the Bijlmermeer and Beyond

Dr. Frank Wassenberg, Netherlands researcher, professor, and Tower Renewal collaborator  (see Symposium 2011), has recently published a book called Large Housing Estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery — the Bijlmermeer and Beyond.

The book documents origins, histories, and recent events in the revitalization of housing estates, and provides a pan-European and international perspective on the opportunities and challenges of Tower Renewal. The book’s main focus is Amsterdam’s remarkable Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, whose long-term renewal efforts represent global leadership in positive social, environmental, and urban transformation.

Having worked in the past with Dr. Wassenberg, a key expert on the Bijlmermeerproject, the Toronto Tower Renewal team has gained valuable insight in determining local opportunities and strategies for Tower Renewal. (See former posts Learning from Europe and EU Best Practice). Similarly, Dr. Wassenberg’s research with the team here in Toronto has led to his including of Toronto as a key case study in his research.


Large Housing Estates is published by TUDelft, and is available online for download.
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