Walkability in Dense Places

by bennylin0724

Photo by bennylin0724

Living in Downtown and the Centres is a detailed survey produced by the City of Toronto City Planning Division.  The intent of the study is to take a measure of what people in Toronto’s Downtown and four Centres think about their neighbourhoods. Of particular interest to me is the section on why people choose to live Downtown and in the Centres.

reasons for living downtown or centres

What I find so compelling about the chart are the similarities between the reasons for living Downtown and in the Centres of the former cities of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough. The Centres were planned as transportation hubs, so it is not a surprise that access to transit is the primary reason for choosing to live in them. Being close to work and to shops is also a major advantage of living in denser neighbourhoods.

However, there is one glaring difference between Downtown and the Centres, walkability. The “ability to walk everywhere” is the fourth reason for choosing to live downtown. In the North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke Centres, the ability to walk everywhere does not even crack the top 15.

Why? Probably because you cannot walk everywhere. 45 percent of Downtown residents walk to work versus less than 10 percent of residents in those Centres. Clearly a missing ingredient in the Centres is employment density.

Despite this difference, there are many commonalities with how residents in the Centres and Downtown perceive walkability in their neighbourhoods. Overall the impression is that neighbourhoods are not pedestrian friendly, despite them being some of the most accessible and densest neighbourhoods in the city. Furthermore, residents in every neighbourhood, when asked about neighbourhood amenities and services, were least satisfied with pedestrian walkways, public spaces, and bike paths. This represents a significant failure to leverage density and access to public transit to build attractive and inviting walkable places across the city.

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What I’m Reading: Downtowns Booming

Photo by simon.carr

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. But I do want to highlight some themes that emerged from this week and then provide a brief summary below. This week’s theme:

Downtowns

Downtowns rental markets are growing in the US. The IndyStar and Pittsburgh Post Gazette both wrote this week about the high demand in rental construction:

In Indianapolis:

“The reality is….. we’ve never seen (so much new development) concentrated in a small market like Downtown before. Never had this many units at once,” said George Tikijian of Tikijian Associates apartment brokerage. “But Downtown is very popular. I do think they will be absorbed.”

In Pittsburgh:

“From working with developers and folks from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, there’s a clear demand and need for more housing Downtown,” he said.
“At this point, we can’t build it fast enough.”

Meanwhile here in Toronto, the Star is doing a great series focused on Density and Toronto. Toronto is coming to the end of an intense decade long condominium boom, yet the applications for taller new building keep on coming. In the last month three 80-85 storey and two 70 storey condominium towers were announced. The Star investigates the causes and discovers:

“It’s a trend fuelled in part by large swaths of the population wanting to live downtown.
‘People are willing to pay for luxury apartments in the urban centre in a way they weren’t a few years ago,'” .

Personally, I fear it is connected to Barclays Skyscarper Index study which showed “an unhealthy correlation between construction of the next world’s tallest building and an impending financial crisis: New York 1930; Chicago 1974; Kuala Lumpur 1997 and Dubai 2010.” But the Star did not take that line of investigation.

Back to the theme, having more people moving downtown is great, whether its here in Toronto or in Pittsburgh.  However, there are challenges in creating a high quality of life for downtown residents. Luckily the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City posted an excellent interview with Jeff Speck, author of the Walkable City, who highlights the economic, health, and environmental benefits for residents by creating walkable downtowns.  A great article, please do read it.

To summarize, downtown living is popular, but effort is required to ensure that with growth there must also be an improvement in quality of life.

Repost: Q&A with Sean Hertel: “A good city is worth paying for”

I thought Andrew Russell interview with Sean Hertel on Spacing Toronto complemented the themes I was developing in yesterdays post, so I’ll repost an excerpt:

Spacing: How have suburbs evolved and what did you mean by a more dynamic environment?

Sean Hertel: I think the suburbs have grown up, but our understanding of them has not. They’re no longer extensions of the city any longer, they are something new- something new happened. They are cities unto themselves and they have their own distinct character apart from the city. They’ve become something different, it’s not suburban, it’s not urban, it’s the new city.  And we haven’t really recognized that at all. We haven’t acknowledged the authenticity of the suburbs and the fact that they have become the new city. Whereas downtown is the city in history, the suburbs are the city in real time, whether we like it or not. That’s the truth that we have to reconcile our planning and our conceptions of urban space with.

I wouldn’t personally characterize the downtown as “the city in history,” downtowns are also evolving rapidly, but overall I think Sean makes a great point.

Click here for the full interview.