Many talk of communities. Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner and executive director of the planning division for Toronto, has the difficult task of creating them. According to Ms. Keesmaat, a complete community is one where pedestrians come first.
She elaborates on this in a Toronto Star editorial.
“Complete communities provide options for getting around both your neighbourhood and the city. You don’t need to drive or even own a car in a complete community, and it is possible to have a high quality of life without one. The downtown currently bears this out: 41 per cent of downtown residents are likely to walk or cycle to work while 34 per cent take transit.”
This is more than just opinion. Ms. Keesmaat explains that the younger generation, the fastest-growing demographic in Toronto, have chosen urban living. They “are forgoing a driver’s licence in favour of walking, cycling and transit.” They have chosen downtown as where they want to live because it is a mature and complete community. Downtown is a place where people can live, work, and participate in activities a short walk or transit ride from home.
The reasons for this downtown migration are many; cost of driving, awareness of environmental impacts, drawbacks and sacrifices of a long commute and the ease of which it is possible to live without a car. People enjoy the culture, food, people, job choices and activities that come with urban living. And they want all this close to where they live.
The downtown population is growing at four times the rate of the rest of the city. Large employers are moving their offices downtown to be close to this workforce.
Ms. Keesmaat says that complete communities don’t just happen. They are planned and designed for multiple uses in proximity to each other. Local retail and other services are not viable without higher densities. The closeness of destinations makes walking enjoyable and creates an atmosphere where people are more likely to know their neighbours.
“Pedestrians are expected and they are treated as a priority.”
Complete communities contain housing options and support a range of income types. They are areas that accommodate all stages of life. In the downtown core 40% of condos are rented and 60% are owner occupied. About 50% of housing is condos with the remainder a combination of houses, co-ops and rental apartments. This diversity in housing, according to Ms. Keesmaat, “allows aging in place.”
Consider the Yonge North Corridor – Toronto’s largest condo community. While the area lacks many of the traits inherent in older and more complete communities, each year shows improvement in achieving this goal.
No single type of community or housing can accommodate everyone. Some will continue to choose the suburbs and longer commutes in exchange for a larger house or lot. Others will chose smaller and less costly accommodation that provides easier access to transit, employment and everyday activities.