“I often ask myself how it is that some cities manage to make important and positive changes. There are a score of answers, but one seems to me to be common to all innovative cities: every city that succeeds has undergone an awakening, a new beginning.”
— Jaime Lerner, former mayor, Curitiba, Brazil

“Cities require continuous social and political creativity to address the problems that they throw up as they grow, mutate and decline.”
— Khan et al., Breakthrough Cities Report
 
 

“Cities are sandwiched between saloons and asylums in Canada’s Constitution Act,” says John Brodhead, former director of Evergreen CityWorks.

In 1867, cities were effectively made “creatures of the province,” subject to the same law-making powers that applied to hospitals, timber, prisons – and yes, saloons and asylums. This is a reality that persists to the current day. Brodhead believes that cities are all too often starved of the money they need to thrive. Nevertheless, he is an optimist.

“Canada’s cities regularly finish in the top three of global livability and resilience rankings,” he points out.

There is lots of work to be done, but the country starts from a place of relative strength.

 
 

2000+

Apartment towers built in the
Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area between 1950–1970
 

77%

are located in low-income communities

Evergreen CityWorks has a focus on policy, financial levers and the kinds of productive partnerships that can further bolster livability and resilience. This is an area in which experimenting with new policies and structures can be fruitful, even though the word “experiment” combined with “$50 million retrofit project” might appear daunting.

This is exactly the spirit that infuses the Tower Renewal program.

Two thousand concrete apartment towers rise over the landscape of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, built primarily between 1950 and 1970, representing the second-highest concentration of high-rises in North America. Seventy-seven per cent of these towers are located in low-income communities and, in many cases, require major repairs. Their renewal presents a huge opportunity to address housing affordability, environmental sustainability and social life.

In 2008, several civic actors, including the City of Toronto, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the University of Toronto, started to work on a new vision for Toronto’s high-rises under the banner of the Tower Renewal program. The vision is one of working with residents to reinvigorate these neighbourhoods through social and environmental retrofits to the buildings and surrounding areas, making them more livable and energy-efficient, while bringing new community amenities to the sites.
 

 
 

Brodhead is quick to acknowledge the mindset shift he experienced when CityWorks, with seed funding through Cities for People, became involved with Tower Renewal. “We thought the assets were the towers, but, in fact, the assets were the land around the towers.”

What has become apparent is that if sufficient funds are to be raised for retrofitting the towers, the value of the surrounding land will have to be realized. Currently, much of this land consists of little more than neglected, sun-scorched or winter-withered patches of grass. Seeing this land differently and acknowledging its potential to be turned to diverse use – low-rise development of the kind championed by Jane Jacobs – has been catalytic. There are now plans afoot to open up the space for playgrounds, public access computer hubs or cafés, to name just a few ideas. This approach has made it possible to overcome financial barriers, by offering opportunities for new investment, but has also exposed other barriers: the city’s own zoning bylaws. The city had prohibited commercial use and other activities in these areas.

The Tower Renewal program’s unique mix of players succeeded in influencing the city to change its laws. Now the spirit of experimentation continues, as the program zeroes in on one $50-million housing estate slated for a makeover, which could provide the valuable “proof of concept” to spur similar redevelopments, not just in Toronto, but across Canada.

 
JAN GEHL AT THE CITIES FOR PEOPLE NATIONAL FORUM “It is my very firm point of view that if we take a more systematic approach and take these ‘cities for people’ more seriously we will find that the cities would be considerably more friendly, livable, and lively because people will be in these cities more.”  — Jan Gehl In November 2014, Gehl, the world-renowned Danish architect who coined the phrase “cities for people” with his canonical 2010 book of the same name, delivered a public lecture to a standing-room-only crowd of 500 people, brought together by Evergreen CityWorks in Toronto for the Cities for People National Forum. Watch the entire presentation here Interview with Jan Gehl  Read Cities for People by Jan Gehl

JAN GEHL AT THE CITIES FOR PEOPLE NATIONAL FORUM

“It is my very firm point of view that if we take a more systematic approach and take these ‘cities for people’ more seriously we will find that the cities would be considerably more friendly, livable, and lively because people will be in these cities more.”  — Jan Gehl

In November 2014, Gehl, the world-renowned Danish architect who coined the phrase “cities for people” with his canonical 2010 book of the same name, delivered a public lecture to a standing-room-only crowd of 500 people, brought together by Evergreen CityWorks in Toronto for the Cities for People National Forum.

Watch the entire presentation here
Interview with Jan Gehl 
Read Cities for People by Jan Gehl

 
GREENING GREATER TORONTO Evergreen CityWorks has helped drive forward the Greening Greater Toronto initiative, a unique partnership of individuals and organizations across the GTA committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions, clean air, clean water, reduced waste and improved waste management, and more sustainable land use. Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

GREENING GREATER TORONTO

Evergreen CityWorks has helped drive forward the Greening Greater Toronto initiative, a unique partnership of individuals and organizations across the GTA committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions, clean air, clean water, reduced waste and improved waste management, and more sustainable land use.

Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

 
GTA HOUSING ACTION LAB The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Housing Action Lab is a cross-sectoral working group of over 60 organizations from government, the private, not-for-profit and academic sectors that has come together to help build programs and policies that support the affordability of housing, create a more sustainable housing system by increasing public support for intensification, and develop a policy and regulatory framework that encourages diversity in form and tenure. Since beginning in 2014, the participants have identified eight areas of focus, which include smart intensification, incentivizing purpose-built rental, leveraging assets locked in social housing, partnering with the private sector to build more affordable housing, scaling affordable ownership programs, Tower Renewal and an income tested housing benefit. The lab has produced new research and partnerships that are strategically pushing to alter the housing system in the GTA. The lab was co-convened by Evergreen CityWorks and Foundation grantee Natural Step. Photo courtesy of Nick Kozak

GTA HOUSING ACTION LAB

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Housing Action Lab is a cross-sectoral working group of over 60 organizations from government, the private, not-for-profit and academic sectors that has come together to help build programs and policies that support the affordability of housing, create a more sustainable housing system by increasing public support for intensification, and develop a policy and regulatory framework that encourages diversity in form and tenure. Since beginning in 2014, the participants have identified eight areas of focus, which include smart intensification, incentivizing purpose-built rental, leveraging assets locked in social housing, partnering with the private sector to build more affordable housing, scaling affordable ownership programs, Tower Renewal and an income tested housing benefit. The lab has produced new research and partnerships that are strategically pushing to alter the housing system in the GTA. The lab was co-convened by Evergreen CityWorks and Foundation grantee Natural Step.

Photo courtesy of Nick Kozak

 
MOVE THE GTHA Move the GTHA, a coalition started in 2012, is a group of organizations working to build awareness and engagement in support for investment in a better transportation system for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Move the GTHA is advocating for long-term dedicated funding for an efficient, accessible, affordable and fully integrated regional transportation system, with accountable and effective regional governance mechanisms. The coalition developed a suite of activities that leveraged the resources and strength of individual members to create a coordinated public engagement campaign to increase public support and political will to make investment in transit central to the 2014 Ontario Provincial election. The subsequent budget included an additional $15 billion for regional transit investment. Photo by AshtonPal, Flickr

MOVE THE GTHA

Move the GTHA, a coalition started in 2012, is a group of organizations working to build awareness and engagement in support for investment in a better transportation system for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Move the GTHA is advocating for long-term dedicated funding for an efficient, accessible, affordable and fully integrated regional transportation system, with accountable and effective regional governance mechanisms. The coalition developed a suite of activities that leveraged the resources and strength of individual members to create a coordinated public engagement campaign to increase public support and political will to make investment in transit central to the 2014 Ontario Provincial election. The subsequent budget included an additional $15 billion for regional transit investment.

Photo by AshtonPal, Flickr