When I was in my late teens and going downtown often – while I grew up in Toronto near Coxwell and Danforth I spent my teens at Pharmacy and Lawrence in Scarborough – I would marvel at how many more people lined the westbound platform at Yonge than those headed east on the Bloor-Danforth line (now rechristened Line 2).
When I got older and met architects and urban planners, I learned about population density and how subways need a certain amount of people for each hectare to make sense and that many of our TTC stops don’t come close to qualifying. This, of course, led me to re-examine my earlier observation with a critical eye; while, like the east, much of the line west of Yonge has single-family houses, it also has more employment, more high-rise residential towers and more high streets.
Out east, other than the Danforth itself, how many high streets are there? Pape Avenue, perhaps, and a small section of Main Street? And while a few high-rise towers dot Broadview Avenue, much of what’s above the eastern portion of Line 2 consists of two- and three-storey commercial buildings, and very small houses from the 1920s and 30s that were impossible to divide into separate apartments (unlike the west end, where larger houses are the norm). Not many large employers, either.
Survey Danforth Avenue between Chester and Main stations and you won’t need more than one hand to count buildings higher than five storeys. The only density that occurred in the decades after the subway opened in February, 1966 – especially in the Sicilian section I grew up in – was in “top-ups”: owners of two-storey buildings would add one or two more to create rental income. Mid-rise density just didn’t exist.
Like it or not, mid-rises are coming to the Danforth and most are concentrated between Greenwood and Main stations, since prices along here – and the ability to assemble a few lots together – are more reasonable than in the Riverdale and Greektown portions. I should know: In November, 2018, my wife and I purchased a two-storey building on the Danforth and, beside us, an empty lot that sat for more than a decade finally found a buyer and a seven-storey, 16-unit rental building by CS&P Architects Inc. was announced a few months later.
“Bring it on,” said my shop-owner wife, Shauntelle, at the time. And I, knowing the good work of Carruthers, Shaw and Partners, agreed, even though I worried about new shadows falling onto my little brick-and-mortar chunk of Toronto. Many neighbours I spoke with were happy also, but when we attended a community meeting, much concern was expressed; then again, with the amount of development Toronto has experienced in the past two decades, concern that the colourful Danforth might become “yet another soulless condo-scape” was justified.
“Change is painful,” says Paul Indrigo of Century 21, who has worked his Danforth East territory since 2000 and hosts RealEstatePodcastShow.com. “Not changing is fatal. Not sure where I heard it but it applies here: If you love big cities, you will know that [their] soul isn’t just defined by [their] structures.
“As a big fan of New York, I always look at how it manages to keep its appeal while always being a decade or so ahead of us in terms of development. I understand that it’s not ideal for some.”
And, with home prices averaging $843,637, according to the latest Toronto Real Estate Board numbers and the city’s population expected to double during the next half-century, single-family houses won’t cut it. For new twentysomethings entering the workforce, the pathway will be rentals first, then condo-ownership, followed, perhaps, by single-family house ownership.
With that in mind, I took a walk along the Danforth from Greenwood Avenue to Main Street to see what’s in store for them.
- Replacing a parking lot at the southwest corner of Greenwood and Danforth, Platform Condos by Kirkor Architects Planners will be a nine-storey, 102-unit building clad mostly in tan brick with warehouse-style windows. While it will dwarf the old three-storey apartment beside it, precedence has been set by the 1970s, 14-storey Greenwood Towers across the street.
- At Danforth and Roseheath Avenue, a development notice has gone up for “Lynn Residences,” a seven-storey, 25-unit rental building that might be clad in copper-coloured panels.
- At the northeast corner of Woodbine and Danforth Avenues, the low-rise ValueMart and its accompanying parking lot may soon be replaced by two towers of eight- and 14-storeys by Turner Fleischer Architects, will a total of 402 condo units and 14 rental units. Since the nearby 12-storey Carmelina condominiums went up five years ago (2055 Danforth Ave.), these seem to be a shoo-in.
- Not far from the teal-green doors welcoming worshippers into Danforth Gospel Hall (east of Woodbine), the long, eight-storey Canvas condominiums are rising. This building, by Graziani + Corazza Architects, will offer 156 condos and 14 rentals.
- Near Main Street, a sign on the Shoppers Drug Mart suggests Verve, a 10-storey seniors’ residence with an accompanying four-storey apartment along Harris Avenue, by Sweeny & Co., is imminent; across the street, at the southwest corner of Main and Danforth, Turner Fleischer’s Linx condo tower will almost match the 1971 Main Square towers in height at 27 storeys.
While Toronto has always been the “City of Neighbourhoods” – which most would interpret as meaning single-family house neighbourhoods – how we define that word must change. Renters or condo-owners are not second-class citizens.
“[T]here are real people who own units in these buildings who should be very proud of their achievements,” Mr. Indrigo says. “Some are made to feel condo-shamed by those who don’t want anything to change. I will always stand up for those condo-owners as they just want to be part of our community.”
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