Burkhard's Blog: Getting the suburbs on track for a liveable, affordable region

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Photo courtesy of the City of Vaughan via Ryerson report 

The GTHA is having a moment – that’s the finding of a new report out from the Ryerson City Building Institute. The report, “Suburbs on Track”, argues that with $32 billion in new transit spending planned as part of the Big Move, planning policies need to adapt to encourage smart growth along these corridors, especially in suburban communities.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the report:

  1. We have a “missing middle problem” – we are lacking in housing options that are large enough for millennials starting their families but still affordable and close to good jobs and transit. The choice is often a small condo right downtown or a single family home a 2-hour commute from the office. What’s missing are townhomes, stacked towns, and midrise condos along transit corridors to accommodate young families in livable communities.

  2. Developers build what’s cheapest – this is a no brainer, but the report lays it out clearly. With the lengthy approval process, fees, and construction costs associated with building in existing these “missing middle” properties, it’s no wonder developers opt for the cheaper, quicker single family homes on new greenfield. The report suggests reducing costs for “missing middle” housing types by pre-zoning to shorten the approval timeline, and reduced parking requirements to incentive smart growth.

  3. The economics of new transit won’t add up without density – take the Toronto’s Sheppard subway extension as an example. Chronically underused thanks to a lack of density along the line, TTC riders on the Sheppard subway are subsidized to the tune of $10/ride. Higher-order transit (subways, LRT, and BRT) need enough density around them to generate the ridership to be economically viable. What is the point in investing $32B in new transit projects if there aren’t people living close enough to take the new trains to work? We don’t have that kind of money to waste.

  4. Prezoning is a must-have – right now, developers have to make site-specific applications for each project along a transit corridor. Each application requires public consultation, a staff report, a Committee hearing, and a Council vote before the developer can apply for a permit. Even in the best of circumstances this takes a long time. If municipalities are required to change the zoning along transit corridors to permit townhomes, stacked towns and midrise condos as-of-right, projects will be approved much more quickly and are more likely to get built.

To accommodate 10 million people in the GTHA by 2041, as growth forecasts predict, we will need to move quickly away from the unsustainable suburban sprawl model of the past. Young families deserve to have affordable housing options within a reasonable distance of their jobs, local shops and entertainment. This latest report presents realistic, reasonable tools to foster the right kind of development in the right places to meet the targets and vision of the Growth Plan. I’m all for it.  

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BURKHARD MAUSBERG
      -- CEO

 

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