Architect fears Toronto may resemble New York

By Ulli Diemer

The history of New York will be the future history of Toronto if present patterns of growth continue, Annex residents were told Wednesday night.

Architect Colin Vaughan, known for his involvement in residents’ groups and in the Stop Spadina movement, was commenting to the Annex Ratepayers’ Association during a forum entitled “Will You Be Able To Live Here?”

The Annex is a middle class area with many old and beautiful houses, bounded by Dupont, Avenue Road, Bathurst, and Bloor. It has been one of the most stable areas of the city, but is now threatened by expressways, subway extension, and proposed high-rise development, Vaughan said.

Heathcliffe Developments president Herb Stricker had raised the spectre of “stagnation and chaos”, “accelerated outward urban sprawl”, and a rapid rise in the cost of downtown accommodations if “anti-development” forces were able to stop development in the city without presenting “truly realistic alternatives.”

Toronto, said Stricker, is faced with an influx of 50,000 persons per year, and with an increase of 200,000 in the labour force in the next 10 years. Failure to provide these people with new housing and new industry, he said, would lead to massive unemployment, and urban decay.

The only way to handle growth is to provide broad choice of different types of accommodation, through reliance on sound planning requirements and the laws of supply and demand, he claimed.

The logical person to carry out this development, he asserted, was the developer who “stakes his livelihood and his reputation” on providing acceptable forms of accommodation. “If anyone is concerned with the future of the city,” he said, “it is the developer.”

At the same time, he rejected suggestions that the developers should be responsible for providing low-cost housing, of which there is presently a severe shortage. Developers, he said, should not be expected to make a lower profit to provide this type of housing – this is the “responsibility of society.”

In addition, he maintained that zoning regulations and pressure from citizens groups make it difficult for developers to provide society’s housing needs.

Vaughan stated that the battle was not between pro- and anti-development forces, but between irrational development and “rational human development.” Quoting Stricker’s own description of “chaos”, “urban sprawl” and “downtown squeeze”, he held this up as a “perfect example” not of the stoppage of growth, but of “growth gone crazy”: the case of New York.

To avoid the fate of New York, he said, one factor was critical: that the city be inhabited and owned by people who are committed to living there and to making it work.

This would necessitate control over the utilization of downtown land to prevent developers from breaking it up, and a cheap diverse system of transportation, Vaughan explained. Such a state of affairs could be brought about and maintained only through a system of government that is decentralized enough to allow decisions to be made as close as possible to the people concerned.

Suggesting a system of neighbourhood and ward organizations, he asserted that such a concept was not parochial but rather much more likely to produce government concerned with the future of the entire city than was the present centralized bureaucratic system.

The way to attain such a form of government, he said, was primarily through citizens’ groups moving through five successive “levels of consciousness” – from a strictly formal local organization unconcerned with politics to an issue-oriented phase, to attempts to influence policy, to developing a program for the neighbourhood, and finally to the stage where the group moves to actually implement plans that it itself has formulated.

He was not optimistic, however, about these desired goals coming into existence. They were only he said, something worth fighting for.

Published in The Varsity, c. 1972

Keywords: TorontoToronto/DevelopmentMunicipal PlanningUrban DevelopmentUrban Planning