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Livable, booming core stirs envy, but raises infrastructure worries

Page 2 of Wednesday's Globe and Mail carried a telling photograph of the Toronto-Dominion Centre rising in the heart of the city's financial district. It is the only modern skyscraper in sight. It opened on May 14, 1968.

How things have changed. A new report from city hall planners looks at the dramatic growth of downtown since those days and the further growth to come.

The population of downtown – the 17-square-kilometre area bordered by Bathurst Street, Rosedale Valley Road and the Don Valley Parkway – has doubled to more than 200,000 in the past 40 years as the trend to downtown living took hold and dozens of condominium towers rose in the core. Between 2006 and 2011 alone, the downtown population jumped 18 per cent, four times the figure for the city as a whole.

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Young people are flocking to inhabit the lively, walkable neighbourhoods springing up downtown. In some, such as King-Spadina and Waterfront West, seven out of 10 residents are 'echo boomers,' 20 to 39 years old.

The number of people working downtown has been soaring, too. Downtown gained more than 43,000 office jobs in the five years to 2011. A host of big companies, from Google to Telus to Coca-Cola, have moved into new downtown offices. Although downtown contains just 3 per cent of the city's land area, it accounts for half of its GDP, a third of its jobs and a quarter of its tax base. More than a quarter of a million people commute into downtown each morning by public transit.

The rate of construction is staggering. The city whose skyline was once dominated by church spires is now a thicket of glass towers. The planning report says that in the decade 2003 to 2013 there were 11,686 floors of residential construction completed, under construction, approved or under consideration – the equivalent of 74 CN Towers. The figure for non-residential construction is 1,736 floors, or 13 CN Towers.

This is all great news for Toronto. A thriving downtown is one of the keys to a successful modern city and Toronto's is booming. "Downtown is the envy of cities across the world for its mix of uses, growing neighbourhoods and economic prosperity," says the report, called Comprehensive to the Core: Planning Toronto's Downtown.

The question is no longer how to put a lid on all the growth. Toronto is outgrowing the fear of tall buildings and dense development that was once a characteristic of the city's politics. The question is how to accommodate the growth.

Gregg Lintern, downtown planning director, says most people who live downtown accept that a certain amount of intensification is a good thing. But in community meetings they tell planners: "I see the cranes but I don't see my park, I don't see my community centre, I don't see my improved sidewalk. What's the plan to deal with infrastructure?"

Mr. Lintern says the point of the study is to take a big-picture look at the downtown boom and what is needed to keep it livable. "Because it is livable – it is very livable, it is very exciting, it is very celebrated – but we want to make sure we have the right formula to continue to achieve that."

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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