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Toronto, May 30 (Canadian-Media): The problem of empty space in Canada due to decades-old suburban apartment districts have become sites of immigrant settlement and integration during the last decade, media reports said.
The suburban private-rental apartment district is Canada’s unique contribution to housing.
There are 2,000 such concrete towers in the Greater Toronto Area alone, most of them marked by empty voids and sprawling parking lots separating buildings from one another and from the wider world and its economy.
Canadian cities seem to lag at least a decade behind many of their European counterparts in recognizing the social, economic and ecological problems posed by empty spaces.
Some suburban cities, notably Surrey, B.C., and Mississauga have confronted this problem as part of their efforts to build more dense “downtown” districts.
And the construction of new rapid-transit lines in Vancouver, Montreal and the northern and western suburbs of Toronto has enabled higher-density development along those lines.
Canada’s most ambitious confrontation with empty spaces is the set of incentives Toronto has developed to encourage the owners of those slab apartment buildings to turn the parking lots and empty lawns between the buildings into hives of commerce, learning, community activity and, potentially, more housing.
Among those incentives is the city’s “Residential Apartment Commercial” (RAC) zoning category, which became law in 2016, and allows building owners to create restaurants, shopping and eating districts, galleries, child-care centres and other services in the spaces beneath their buildings without applying for approval.
Graeme Stewart, the architect (with ERA Architects) who developed and promoted these “Tower Neighbourhood Renewal” policies, says that these incentives have been slow to be taken up by owners.
“What we’ve found is that while there’s huge opportunity in all the open space around these buildings, there isn’t clarity on what’s the best way to do it. A lot of this housing belongs to existing neighbourhoods, so bringing change in is political and complicated.”
But a set of new developments this year, including more than $6-billion in funding for building rehabilitation (including in private-rental buildings) in the federal government’s housing strategy, may kick-start a spurt of construction in the valleys between towers.
Canadian cities are beginning to learn the lesson of Mexico City – that it’s the small things that count in transforming the dead zones. “The challenge is going from these micro-interventions – which are beginning to happen – to bring in macro-investments, like new housing, like mass transit,” Mr. Stewart says. “I think we’re at the beginning of a larger conversation about how we open up these spaces.”
But Canada also needs to learn the lesson of Amsterdam – that the empty spaces can house many more people and allow greener, more enjoyable lives, if we think big.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)