Toronto, renowned for its diversity and dynamism, stands at a crossroads in urban development. For years, it has “protected” its neighbourhoods from intensification, both culturally and through policy.

For the first time since the inception of the Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) initiative led by former Chief Planner Greg Lintern, we are witnessing a bold proposal, especially compared to everything we have witnessed so far. Unlike the solutions presented and approved thus far, this proposal stands a real chance of making a significant impact and moving the needle on our housing crisis.

In a nutshell, the proposed change presented to Planning and Housing Committee members tomorrow will allow a broader range of housing typologies on Major Streets within 'Neighbourhoods' – a land use designation marked in yellow on the Official Plan. For years, it has been mockingly referred to as the 'yellow belt,' drawing a parallel to the green belt, to emphasize how restrictive and challenging it can be to intensify these areas.

The new proposal will permit the construction of residential buildings up to 6 storeys in height or 30 units on properties designated as "Neighbourhoods." It will require varying setback measures for front, rear, and side property lines. Additionally, the proposed policy will permit the inclusion of small-scale retail establishments to meet local needs.

One of the main debates surrounding this policy concerns the potential impact that denser developments on Major Streets might have on the inner streets of "Neighbourhoods" designated areas. These inner areas will not be affected by the proposed Major Streets policy and will continue to permit nothing larger than a laneway suite, a garden suite, or a fourplex, as permitted by other components of the EHON initiative.

Critics, largely comprising local residents, argue that such developments could diminish the quality of life that their neighbourhoods currently provide. However, it’s about time for Toronto to learn that well-designed, denser developments typically enhance livability and improve quality of life by promoting community interaction, supporting local businesses, and providing convenient access to amenities.

What we have observed so far highlights a key issue in Toronto's urban planning landscape: inconsistent development standards across different street designations. Streets like Dufferin, Lansdowne, and Christie for example, are designated as 'Neighbourhoods,' and share similar widths with Mixed-Use streets like Bloor and Dundas. However, unlike Bloor and Dundas, which can have buildings up to 11 storeys tall (based on their width), these 'Neighbourhoods' streets are limited to low-rise buildings. This inconsistency has created artificial land scarcity and has significantly restricted our housing options.

Toronto has the potential to emerge as a prominent leading city of the future. Embracing the Major Streets policy tomorrow at the Planning and Housing Committee is a crucial step not only towards fulfilling this potential but also towards creating a city that genuinely embodies our values of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The Major Streets policy aims to address this by introducing new density typologies for those streets, expanding housing options for people with different income levels. This policy goes beyond simply constructing buildings; it's about ensuring our neighbourhoods are accessible to more than a select few.

Urbanity Fair