Again, the location of our condo and proximity to the subway made for an easy escape to a concert last night for what would probably be the final “date night” during our condo stay. It was a great evening and finally, it was starting to feel like summer. Speaking of summer, school was done and classrooms and homework were now a thing of the past. Learning however, was not. With construction right outside our window, still serving as art in motion, it stirred their young, active minds and continued to be the source of interesting conversation.
My eldest asked why the building under construction across from us wasn’t the same height in its entirety. It was higher in certain areas with an uneven floor count on opposing sides. This led to a conversation on “zoning” and the influence that government regulations have of the building industry. I explained that our city (just like others) has zoning bylaws that legally control how land can be used. It divides areas into land use zones, specifically commercial or residential as well as the specific standards such as permitted sizes and locations where buildings can be. You have to comply with the bylaws in order to be issued a building permit.
Since I was familiar with the area (and the industry) I was aware that the building we were discussing originally fell under commercial zoning. It was a parking lot, prior to the current construction of a highrise. This led us to take the conversation a step further as I explained rezoning, a process where you apply for a zoning change if you want to use or develop land that not allowed under the current zoning by law. This would have been the case here, as it was rezoned from commercial to residential. I was also able to show my son how technology in rapidly encroaching on the industry. Just this past year I attended an industry event at Ryerson’s DMZ (Digital Media Zone) that is just one example of how the planning and development process are evolving. Check out mapyourproperty.com
Toronto’s planning staff are already taking advantage of 3D open data that is easing the process of visualizing our city, in terms of zoning, terrain type and designation of buildings such as heritage. OpenStreetMap is an example of a crowdsourced, open data mapping service that brings 3D modelling to the public. Toronto planning is also using social media to gather input from the public on their ideas regarding future development.
We also talked about the design guidelines that the city of Toronto follows, which helps to set shared criteria of best practices when planning the development of tall buildings for our city. It discusses things such as architecture and design that can define our city’s topography. It has to be done “right,” and there is a lot to consider. Sunlight, shadows, views, noise, wind and traffic in the neighbourhood it’s situated in can all be affected. It’s important to balance everyone’s interest. The builders, the new residents, the existing neighbours, and the community as a whole in all aspects, socially, economically and environmentally.
Since he’s interested and old enough to “get it” we also talked about Section 37. This is part of Ontario’s Planning Act that ensures new developments include the investment to improve the quality of life for its residents and that it provides benefits specifically to the community in which they are being built in and it’s particular needs. These are often in exchange during negotiation with the city, when a building application exceeds the permitted density or height.
Just yesterday, I heard our own Mayor Tory speak about community amenities we are privileged to have in our city. Whether you’re a supporter of his or not, it’s hard to disagree with the facts. People want to live where the “action” is. This often means 600-700 square feet urban condos. Condos in which residents who live there, do their bare essentials, but move beyond the perimeter of their suite walls to do the remainder of their “living.” This builds community. We need to continue to invest in these community amenities. With my family’s own daily use of the surrounding amenities that brought us outside more frequently, facilitated meeting neighbours etc., I couldn’t agree more.