2011 Civic Action Summit

In February 10th and 11th, 2011, the Civic Action Summit assembled over one thousand civic leaders from Greater Toronto to discuss the future of the city reigon. Topics ranged from Arts and Culture, to Transportation, to Sustainability. ERA actively participated in the planning and organizing of discussions related to housing and complete neighbourhoods – particularly…

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The Three Cities Within Toronto

In late 2010, David Hulchanski published The Three Cities Within Toronto, a research update of his pioneering work related to income polarization in the city of Toronto.

This work outlines the ‘Three’ Cities within Toronto’: City Number One of growing wealth; City Number Three of growing poverty, and City Number Two, the middle income city, which is gradually shrinking.

Published in partnership with the University of Toronto Cities Centre, St. Christopher House, and the CURA Network, the book provides new projections based on the latest census data, and brings the analysis outside of the borders of Toronto to the wider region. The book also provides a more detail breakdown of areas of increasing poverty, including Apartment Neighbourhoods. (A previous post related to Tower Renewal and Three Cities can be found here).

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Design Research: Mixed-Use Growth

In fall 2010, Dean Emeritus George Baird and Graeme Stewart of ERA, conducted an architectural design studio at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, exploring the potential for mixed-use growth in one of the Toronto’s Region’s many post-war Apartment Neighbourhoods.

The studio focused on one of the largest opportunities of Tower Neighbourhood Renewal: mixed-use growth within a large cluster of existing post-war Apartment Towers.

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United Way Report Released _ Vertical Poverty

The United Way released the Vertical Poverty report today, outlining the current state of apartment – tower living in the GTA.

The report’s finding are based on several thousand interviews with tower residents, and contains important recommendations to improve the livability of apartment neighbourhoods. These findings and recommendations complement those found in Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, released in late 2010 and prepared by ERA and planningAlliance for the Government of Ontario.

ERA participated in the United Way report as peer reviewer. Similarly, the tower research team at the United Way was a peer reviewer for ERA and planningAlliance’s recent study.

Visit the Vertical Poverty website, where you can download the full report and/or the executive summary in PDF format.

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Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe

Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe available here for download.

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is unique globally for its pattern of urbanization due to the proliferation of post-war apartment towers throughout the region.

In 2009 the government of Ontario’s Growth Secretariat enlisted ERA Architects and planningAlliance (the founding partners of the not for profit research organization CUG+R) as well as the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto, to analyze this housing resource, and examine its future role in our growing region.

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The Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R)

ERA Architects and planningAlliance launch the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R).

CUG+R is a non-profit research organization formed in 2009 to conduct cross-disciplinary research to further knowledge about the creation and renewal of sustainable urban, suburban and rural environments in Canada and elsewhere. CUG+R’s objective is to develop research to enhance public policy and promote private initiatives that foster City Regions and local communities that are: well planned and designed, economically vibrant, socially diverse, culturally integrated and environmentally sustainable.

CUG+R officially launched in December 2010 with the release of Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a report jointly repared by CUG+R’s founding partners, ERA Architects and planningAlliance, and the launch of cugr.ca.

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Tower Neighourhood Renewal Symposium

In early November, the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto hosted a symposium focused on Tower Neighbourhood Renewal. The symposium brought together  a variety  Tower Renewal stakeholders,  including architects, planners, engineers, community organizers, artists,  and politicians, as well as academics and students from the region’s Colleges and Universities, to share research, identify gaps in…

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ERA Architects Presents North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited

As part of this year’s North York Modernist Architecture Forum, ERA Architects released the 2010 edition of North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited.

The booklet includes new photographs of the over 200 buildings showcased in the original inventory, plus additional notable buildings built between 1945 and 1981 in North York. Included are many of North York’s finest examples of modern tower housing.  Also included is a proposed heritage policy strategy, biographies of several prominent architects, and an essay on North York’s modernist beginnings. 

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City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal Implementation Report


Article by NRU, published as “Implementing Tower Renewal: New Corporation Needed” on Friday, June 11th, 2010.

The successful implementation of the Tower Renewal program requires the formation of a new city corporation that can group projects to reduce costs and enforce a payment structure, according to a staff report coming to Monday’s executive committee meeting. “The corporation would have the ability to raise funds and manage the program commercially,” states the staff report submitted by Eleanor McAteer, the city’s tower renewal project manager.

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Walkability in Toronto’s Apartment Neighbourhoods:

Paul Hess, Department of Geography, University of Toronto and Jane Farrow, Executive Director, Jane’s Walk

Building on the arguments Jane Jacobs espoused more than 40 years ago, the importance of creating good places for people to walk is now increasingly being recognized by transportation experts, health advocates and public officials.

These discussions, however, are usually focused on downtown areas or new developments in the outer suburbs. This study is intended to put more focus on the many people living in Toronto’s inner suburbs. An ongoing walkability study of eight neighbourhoods with large concentrations of high-rise apartments in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke has currently completed more than 30 focus groups with residents.

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The Thousandth Tower – A Project by the NFB

The National Film Board of Canada presents HIGHRISE, a multi-year documentary project focusing on the suburban Towers of Toronto and nine other cities around the globe.

The first project of this series is The Thousandth Tower:

Join Mayor David Miller as the NFB showcases photos and storytelling in a
LIVE PRESENTATION AND LAUNCH of the WEB DOCUMENTARY
THE THOUSANDTH TOWER

with PANEL DISCUSSION

Wednesday, May 12, 6 pm
Toronto City Hall
First Floor Rotunda
100 Queen St West

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North Kipling Stories – Jane’s Walk 2010

Day: May 2nd Time: 4pm Start Location: Front steps of North Albion Collegiate, 2580 Kipling Ave. End Location: Action For Neighbourhood Change, 2667 Kipling Ave. As a follow up to last year’s Janes Walk – Towers on the Ravine, this year’s walk – North Kipling Stories, will feature youth and adults who live, work and…

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Tower Renewal in the EU – Researching Best Practice

In the late summer and early fall, ERA conducted an extensive survey of Tower Renewal efforts throughout the European Union.

With tower neighbourood refurbishment well underway in the EU for more than a decade, a host of projects showcase leading approaches to sustainable building renewal, community development and urban design. Better understanding these projects will help ensure the best results as Tower Renewal moves forward in Toronto.

In following posts, lessons learned from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany will be outlined.

A special thanks to the Swedish Consulate in Toronto, the German Trade Commission, the Clinton Foundation, and the C40 for their part in organizing this tour.

The following images are from selected projects examined on the tour. (All photos by Brendan Stewart and Graeme Stewart)

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Tower Renewal Wins Toronto Urban Design Award

On Monday September 21st, the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Opportunities Book was awarded the Toronto Urban Design Award of Excellence in the Vision and Masterplan category. For more information, view the Fact Sheet and Jury Report, or visit the City’s Website. Congratulations go to the full Tower Renewal team, including ERA Architects, The John H. Daniels…

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A Vision of Tower Renewal

The Greater Toronto Area contains a heritage of nearly 2,000 post-war concrete residential tower blocks located throughout the region.  The presence of this remarkable collection of modern housing represents an architectural, planning and construction legacy unique to North America. (For more on the history, visit here). This inheritance of high density neighbourhoods provide significant opportunities to create a sustainable, prosperous and connected region, able to meet the challenges of the 21st Century; accommodate growth, alleviate poverty and help grow the green economy.

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Gallery – Public Space & Commerce

For well over a decade, Europe’s extensive heritage of tower block communities have experienced extensive renewal and neighbourhood reinvestment. A key aspect of this has been to provide tower neighbourhoods with the diversity and activity of a vibrant neighbourhood found in the city centre. Two key strategies in this regard have been the introduction of commerce as well as public space into areas previously conceived of as primarily residential.

The following photo collection, taken in 2006, documents a series of tower blocks throughout Western, Central and Eastern Europe, in various stages of renewal, achieved through both grass rootes initiative and large scale master planning.

For picture information and larger view, click fullscreen mode.

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Gallery – Aging Modern

The Concrete Tower in the Park is the perhaps the most definitive housing innovation of the 20th Century. Built in abundance in response to the housing shortages following the war, it has found a unique position in the housing stock of jurisdictions throughout the world.

Approaching their 40th, or in some cases 50th birthday, these utopic structures have begun to show their age.

The following photo collection, taken in 2006, documents a series of tower blocks throughout Western, Central and Eastern Europe, in various stages of repair.

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Gallery – The Tower in the Landscape

The idea of the tower in a genuine ‘park’ or ‘landscape’ setting was a popular notion during European reconstruction following the Second World War.

Modern towers offered what was felt to be the highest housing standard while access to an abundant and unobstructed natural landscape provided light and air, community recreation space and ‘breathing room’ in the context of high-density living. A highly desirable alternative to the difficult conditions found in post-war city centres, tower communities proliferated throughout Europe, and the world over, during the second half of the 20th Century.

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Urban Agriculture and Tower Renewal

This past spring, the Design Exchange hosted Carrot City; an exhibition examining the potentials of achieving future food security, sustainable food networks and engaged communities through urban agriculture. Tower Renewal participated in this project, contributing research related to the potential for urban agriculture within Toronto’s post-war tower block communities.

The following is a review of the exhibition by Canadian Architect:

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Concrete Toronto – Concrete Boston

This past May and June, Pinkcomma gallery in Boston hosted an exhibition on Concrete Toronto Published in 2007, Concrete Toronto catalogued Toronto’s remarkable heritage of concrete builidngs built throughout the region in the booming 1960s and 70s’ – including it’s unique stock of tower blocks. With a wealth of spectatular Concerete buildings in Boston, Pinkcomma…

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Jane’s Walk – Towers on the Ravine

Day: May 3rd
Time: 11am
Start Location: North Kipling Community Centre, at 2 Rowntree Rd, Kipling and Rowntree Rd, North of Finch.
End Location: Albion Centre Food Court

A NOW Magazine article on the walk can be found here.


Photos from the walk by Jesse Colin Jackson

Perhaps the two physical features that distinguish Toronto are it’s extensive ravine system flowing throughout the city, and it’s heritage of nearly 1000 high-rise ‘tower in the park’ apartments found throughout the region. On Kipling Avenue, north of Finch, these two features merge, creating one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods.

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A Suburban Future of Concrete and Gardens – Nice. Right? From Worldchanging.com

Written by Julia Levitt on Worldchanging, April 23rd, 2009. Photo by Jesse Colin Jackson. Could Toronto’s aging concrete high-rises be North America’s most promising new frontier for sustainable suburban development? A new City-backed plan is banking on it. The Mayor’s Tower Renewal aims to turn the greater Toronto metropolitan area’s 1960s apartment blocks into a…

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Docomomo Journal 39 – Postwar Mass Housing

“..In Toronto…the continent’s private enterprise-dominated housing system, when coupled with a structure of strong regional planning  dedicated to the fostering of high-density ‘hot spots’ in the centre and periphery, succeeded in generating a landscape of massed towers and slabs in open space, almost rivaling the USSR in consistency and grandeur ”.

_ Miles Glendinning
Introduction to the Docomomo Journal 39

The Docomomo Journal’s 39th issue is dedicated to post-war mass housing. From the Docomomo lens of ‘documentation’ and ‘conservation’, the issue provides a varied perspective of this global phenomenon, including, among others, articles exploring the tower block legacies of France, Russia, Brazil, Singapore, as well as Toronto.

Toronto, an anomaly in North America, fits within the canon of aggressive tower block housing development found the world over. Built within the free market Canadian context, Toronto’s history of modern housing adds its unique contribution to this 20th Century story.

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Mayor’s Tower Renewal

opportunities-book-cover-sm.jpgMayor’s Tower Renewal

Over the past year, E.R.A. Architects has been working with the City of Toronto to implement the Tower Renewal Project.

Beginning in Spring 2007, the City began working with E.R.A. and the University of Toronto to adapt the ideas of Tower Renewal into policy. The result is the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Opportunities Book, and the Mayor’s recommendations, which will be presented to the Executive Committee at the City of Toronto on September 2nd. It will be recommending that the City adopt Tower Renewal as a major policy objective, knitting together goals related to environmental sustainability, complete communities, economic development, infrastructure and growth.

The Opportunities Book, edited by E.R.A., compiles research conducted over the past several years by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, (particularly the building science research of Dr. Ted Kesik and Ivan Saleff), and E.R.A., outlining in further detail some of the information that has been released on www.towerrenewal.com in the previous months.

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Mapping Tower Renewal

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Map 1: Potential zones of Tower Renewal, in relation to existing and proposedrapid transit (yellow), priority neighbourhoods (grey), intensification zones (red), and natural systems (green). For full map, click here.

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The following series of analytical maps were developed over the last several years in partnership with the University of Toronto, E.R.A. Architects and the City of Toronto, in an ongoing effort to understand Toronto’s heritage of modern planned apartment neighbourhoods, and their evolving relationship to our dynamic city.

Selected maps from these investigations were on display as part of the Fringe Benefits: Cosmopolitan Dynamics of a Multicultural City; an exhibit curated by the Editor of Canadian Architect, Ian Chodikoff. First shown at the Design Exchange, Fringe Benefits was dispalyed in multiple venues throughout Canada. 

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Towering Enviro, From EYE Weekly

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High-rise apartmens at Kipling and Steeles in north Etobicoke, overlooking the Humber Valley

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Written by Dale Duncan. This article first appeared in Eye Weekly, April 17th, 2008

Take a stroll down Kipling Avenue, just south of Steeles, and you’ll see a row of grand towers overlooking the Humber Valley that house the equivalent of half the population of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood within a few blocks. A total of 19 towers in all are home to roughly 13,000 people in this northern Etobicoke community, enough people to make up a small town. When governments express the importance of encouraging intensification to prevent suburban sprawl, this is the kind of city-building they’re talking about. At least in part.

The difference here is that much of the green space that surrounds these buildings is fenced off from neighbouring properties and often sits empty and unused. What’s more, a couple of small strip malls are all that is within walking distance for residents in need of amenities, including service centres and community hubs where people can linger, share ideas, build plans and seek help. Despite the density, getting around by car, for those who have one, is still the most convenient way to travel.

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Transit City and self-sufficient communities

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Map 1: Toronto’s modern apartments with existing rapid transit

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Map 2: Toronto’s modern apartments with the proposed rapid transit of ‘Transit City’

The legacy of modern planning has left us with a stock of high density housing and adjacent open space nearby to existing transit. As compared with the low-density suburbs with typify North America, this is an advantageous starting point for the creation of a connected and sustainable region.

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Bathurst and Steeles – 1960’s smart growth

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Bathurst and Steeles, late 1960s.

In the 1960’s, Steeles Avenue was the end of Metropolitan Toronto’s servicing area; the northern boundary of the region’s planned urbanization. North of Steeles, the rolling pastures were to remain as the area’s green belt, while in contrast, dense, mixed-use post-war communities emerged to the south.

Bathurst and Steeles emerged as a dense community containing nearly forty modern residential high-rises. Incorporated with the ravine, neighbourhood parks, elementary and secondary schools, churches and synagogues, shopping plazas and the cul-de sac’s of adjacent single family homes, the towers provided the bulk of housing for an area of over twenty thousand.

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