The “Manhattanization” of Toronto’s Downtown Core

Two days of Toronto city council meetings in late August concluded with the approval of 18 new buildings in the downtown core, three of which are commercial, and will be located on Front Street and King Street West. The construction developments will add 755 storeys (6,887 new units and 377,900 square metres of non-residential development) to Toronto’s skyline, adding to the 70,000 units already approved by city council. The estimated cost of completing the 18 approved projects is an estimated $21-Billion. During a quick recess on the second day of meetings, Councillor Joe Mihevc was quoted by Betsy Powell and Jennifer Pagliaro of The Toronto Star:

“If ever there was a meeting that signified the Manhattanization of downtown (Toronto) it was the approval of 750 storeys of new development, mostly concentrated in the downtown area.”

The use of the term “Manhattanization” by Mihevc, sparked a lot of interest in the media about the concept, becoming the latest buzzword in Toronto real estate circles. Mihevc by no means coined the term, with Monika Warzecha of BuzzBuzzHome, tracing the lineage of its usage back to the 1971 San Francisco Mayoral Race. The term can best be understood as describing a form of neighbourhood gentrification, whereby an influx of wealthy inhabitants to a specific community leads to mass home redevelopment and construction. What makes Manhattanization unique from typical gentrification, is the construction of skyscrapers in the downtown core for the purposes of increasing population density.

An aerial shot of Manhattan's skyline
An aerial shot of Manhattan’s skyline

The overwhelming consensus in the media is that of impending doom, expressing concern over the escalating number of high-rise developments under construction, with many pointing to the fact that Toronto currently tops all North American cities in high-rise construction. Christopher Hume of The Toronto Star is one of the few urban analysts in the media to argue that Manhattanization is the best thing for Toronto’s future, but that residents and city officials have been slow to embrace it. Hume argues that Manhattan residents are unique, in that, they are passionate and accepting of population density, foreseeing the infrastructure changes that will be needed in order to facilitate that density.

Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, in a public statement made to the press after meetings ended (read here), stated that investment in essential services and city infrastructure will be needed in order to accommodate population growth. Investment in the public realm, in transit, and in park space, Keesmaat argues, is needed in order to ensure Torontonians don’t experience a decline in the standard of living to which they are accustomed. Of utmost importance, she argues, is investment in a relief subway line for the already overwhelmed Yonge line, congestion which will inevitably get worse should 70,000 new downtown units find occupants in the near future. To address these concerns, the city has agreed to undertake several assessments to determine what changes to the “hard and soft infrastructure,” like water, sewage, schools and parks, may be required. The question as to whether or not Toronto’s infrastructure can keep up with population growth, is a question for additional speculation and discussion.