Fahad Rehman is a child of the suburbs. He grew up in a modest home in the Toronto suburb of Pickering. He played on the swing set in the yard and rode his bike to his friends’ houses. He loved it.
But the suburbs are changing.
Returning to Pickering after university, Mr. Rehman set up shop as a real estate agent. He noticed a startling number of development notices going up. Appearing in a mall parking lot or at a big intersection, they would inform residents that a builder was proposing to put up some very un-suburban-looking high-rise buildings there.
Curious, Mr. Rehman decided to investigate. He went on the city’s website and started to count the number of developments proposed or under way. The figure he came up with blew his mind: In his quiet community, no fewer than 75 towers are due to rise – some of them more than 50 storeys tall.
“It’s such an amazing number,” Mr. Rehman said over coffee this week. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, people have to know about this.’ ”
So he and his real estate team put together a little video. Mr. Rehman, an articulate 25-year-old in a sharp suit, is the narrator. He takes viewers on a tour of all the coming projects – and it is indeed quite amazing.
The biggest, Universal City, is already under construction. It will eventually boast several dramatic towers just steps from the Pickering GO train station. Another will rise on the site of a 50-year-old mall, Pickering Town Centre. It will include 11 towers, most from 30 to 50 storeys. The city is adding a new public library, a combined seniors and youth centre, a performing-arts complex and a European-style public square to the site.
Mr. Rehman’s video caused an immediate commotion, garnering thousands of views and dozens of comments. Many residents were shocked and appalled.
“Seventy-five new towers full of people, added right beside a highway 401 that stops dead every Friday (and a lot of other times too) already. Great idea!” said one.
“Overcrowding, high-density housing, overwhelming traffic. I’m so glad I have my childhood memories of a place I called home,” said another.
Mr. Rehman gets it. It’s a lot of change for his hometown. But he thinks the tower bonanza is actually a good thing – and not just because, as one unkind comment put it, he is licking his chops over the real estate opportunities.
Pickering is a great place, he said, but lots of young people can’t afford to live there. Though home prices are softening now, they nearly doubled during the pandemic’s real estate boom. Bringing all those new condos and apartments onto the market should make it easier to get a place for a reasonable price.
It should also make Pickering a more interesting place to live.
“Anyone who grew up here, yeah, we love it, but there is not really much to do,” Mr. Rehman said. The city’s population is expected to grow to 150,000 by 2036, from about 100,000 today. This influx will mean more restaurants, more bars, more fitness centres, more people on the sidewalks – a dose of urban vitality that Pickering badly needs.
At least some of those who commented on his video agree: “Wonderful that Pickering is finally growing up! Bring it all on. Life evolves and changes,” one resident said.
Quite so. Mr. Rehman and his supporters are on the right side of this argument.
Greater Toronto is growing at a staggering pace, and space is running out. For years now, the provincial government has been requiring suburban and exurban communities to make better use of the space they have. Those to Toronto’s west and north, such as Mississauga, Brampton and Vaughan, have been trying to build up instead of out.
Now it’s the turn of places to the east, such as Pickering. It has plenty of underused space, acres and acres of huge parking lots that are empty much of the time. Building on them makes perfect sense.
Pickering is making sure that the new projects go in places such as Kingston Road and the city centre that have been set aside for development. Settled, low-rise neighbourhoods are off-limits.
The city is also building in public transit. The Kingston Road corridor is to get a special busway. The improving GO service means that those who live in the tower communities near the station should be able to reach downtown Toronto in half an hour, leaving their cars at home and taking pressure off the roads.
Mr. Rehman ends his video with a brief address to his viewers. This, he said, is a coming of age moment for Pickering. The city stands on the edge of a booming global metropolis.
“We can’t escape our fate here, which is to develop into a vibrant, higher-density version of the city we were before.”
Instead of standing against the change, he said, residents should help shape it, making the future Pickering the best it can be. Well said.
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