Sometimes it takes decades to realize who the true visionaries are. So it is with the development of high-rise condominium living in Toronto which traces its impressive growth to the 1970s.
The area of Yonge St. north from Highway 401 for about two kilometers to north of Finch Ave. is what some call the Yonge North Corridor. This is where Toronto’s large scale condo developments began. Politicians and planners refer to this area as North York Centre. It now includes the largest concentration of high-rise condo buildings in Canada along with commercial buildings, retirement homes and apartment buildings. Yonge Street has expanded to include seven traffic lanes and is a busy Highway 401 off-ramp. Area development is now migrating north to Steeles Ave.
A reimaging is underway to help rebuild the community feel of the area. This may include wider sidewalks, fewer traffic lanes and bike lanes all intended to make the area more appealing for pedestrian traffic.
Toronto’s condo development begins with Mel Lastman, founder of Bad Boy Furniture, who became known for publicity stunts including travelling to the Arctic to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He served as mayor of North York from 1973 until 1997 at which time he was elected mayor of Toronto and served in this role until 2003.
Mayor Lastman’s vision of a second downtown for Metropolitan Toronto was the beginning of large-scale condo development in Toronto. He showed it was possible to build high-density residential buildings that appeal to locals. Over the past 35 years, this early condo development has served as the model for development throughout Toronto. Similar developments now extend throughout the city and are a big part of the Toronto in which we now live.
It takes a true leader to follow through on a plan spanning decades and involving many individuals with conflicting interests. Risk of failure was high.
Mayor Lastman showed the same leadership, vision, aggressiveness and drive as mayor as he did when running Bad Boy. He became known for keeping property taxes low while managing the city efficiently for the citizens who elected him.
It is not uncommon for Toronto mayors to serve in this role as a second career. It was the case for Mel Lastman as it is with current Mayor John Tory. It is the rare individual capable of managing and implementing on a city-wide scale. Fortunately for Toronto this skill is seen in a new generation of Lastmans as both Blayne and Dale have shown promise. Blayne has followed in his father’s footsteps. He purchased the Bad Boy name in 1991, reopening Bad Boy, expanding to more than ten locations and rebuilding the company to its former grandeur. Dale Lastman has taken a different route as Chair of Goodman’s law firm, director of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (which owns Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC), and Alternate Governor for both the NHL and NBA. Perhaps one day Toronto will see another Lastman as mayor if Blayne or Dale choose politics as a second career.
Toronto Condo News wishes Mel Lastman well as he celebrates his 85th birthday this month and reflects on his contribution to Toronto’s success.