Some days it feels like there’s more development happening in Toronto than New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles combined.
By one standard that measures development, that’s true.
A July study from international real estate consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) counted the number of cranes in 13 major cities in the United States and Canada, most in use for home construction.
The “Crane Index” demonstrates how fast cities are growing, said Joe Pendlebury, who leads RLB’s Canadian offices in Calgary and Oakville, Ont. The study, which included Calgary and Toronto, was focused on cities where the company either has offices or operates in close proximity.
Toronto’s crane dominance wasn’t even close. In the most recent report, the study found that Toronto had 97 cranes in use − 32 more than second-place Seattle, which had 65. In January, Toronto had 88, and a year ago it had 72. All three times, it came out on top.
Mr. Pendlebury said he expects Toronto to continue to lead the pack in development over the next few years at least.
“We’ve come out of a bubble and there’s strong growth ahead,” he said.
The number of cranes in Calgary actually decreased a few years ago during the recession, Mr. Pendlebury said. But as the city recovers, there’s been a renewal of confidence among developers.
Still, he said, the city probably won’t see construction on a Toronto scale any time soon.
“I think it’s going to be a slow growth,” Mr. Pendlebury said.
Across all cities, 72 per cent of the cranes RLB counted were being used to build homes. Eighty-five of Toronto’s 97 cranes were building new living spaces, which begs the question: If the city is frantically building thousands of new homes, why are they still so expensive?
Mr. Pendlebury said he couldn’t answer that as the study didn’t look at how construction impacts price.
But Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson University's City Building Institute, said the answer lies not in the amount of housing being built, but the type.
It’s been known for some time that Toronto is building more than any other city in the United States and Canada, she said. The problem is that most of the homes that are being built are one-bedroom condos when what the city needs is “missing middle” housing − the middle ground between tiny condos and detached houses.
Even if a family wanted to squeeze into a condo, the vast majority of the units in the GTA are snapped up by investors before the shovel hits the ground − 94 per cent, according to a study Ms. Burda co-authored. Those condos are usually rented out, but that’s not the point, she said − to properly combat housing cost, houses should be built with the end users in mind.
“Let’s be honest here,' she said, “we can’t build any more detached houses in the city. There’s no room.”
But there are lots of places to build responsible housing in the GTA, she said. Places like parking lots, old plaza sites and warehouses can be developed “not just with missing middle family-friendly housing, but mixed-use communities with services and retail and things like that.”
“We’ve never built this many condos before. We are at an all-time high," she said. "You can have hundreds of cranes in the air, but if you’re not building the right supply … then we have problems.”