I read with interest Marcus Gee’s recent article in The Globe and Mail, regarding Edward Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier. In a bold statement about urban planning realities, Glaeser presents substantial evidence that high-rise condominium and apartment towers are having the opposite effect in cities than what the late author and activist Jane Jacobs predicted. As respected as Jane Jacobs is, it appears she was wrong in her early work, in which she advised keeping urban buildings shorter to keep cities vibrant and affordable.
In fact, rather than dampening the vitality of older neighbourhoods and placing them out of the financial reach of the multitudes, tall residences have led to energetic street activity and affordable choices for everyone including first-time home buyers. Marcus Gee uses the thriving examples of Manhattan and Hong Kong, whose towers have densities far in excess of what Jacobs recommended. He also points out that Greenwich Village, which did retain low density, is now an area that only millionaires can afford to live in.
The information in this new book is wonderful news in Toronto, where residential skyscrapers are invigorating our cityscape with architectural distinction. Our new condominium towers in Toronto are not only striking, but also conform to the intensification called for in the city’s Official Plan and in Ontario’s Smart Growth initiative. Building “up” rather than “out” also helps the environment by placing residents close to existing amenities and infrastructure, thus lessening dependence on gas-guzzling vehicles. Things really are looking “up” in our condo market!