Have you noticed how much The Danforth from Jones to Victoria Park is undergoing redevelopment these days?
The pace of any neighbourhood's revitalization has been a topic of fascination for Canadian urban academics for the past sixty years. I know this through my own contribution to the research in the late 80s when I wrote an Urban Studies Thesis funded by The Ministry of Municipal Affairs called "Gentrification: Yuppie Porn In South Riverdale". The thesis, which included a comprehensive review of past research exploring the movement of middle class households into working class neighbourhoods, also explored my early fascination with housing as a symbol of self.
That foundation served as the basis for my Graduate Degree in 1993 called "Planning Housing Environments" from York University, where I focused on the adaptive reuse of former industrial and commercial buildings into loft condominiums (from which I would launch my career in the sales, marketing and concept of Innovative Spaces). It demonstrated that the moment a building(s) underwent redevelopment it would often set precedent for a rebirth in its immediate area, sometimes fueling a larger movement of rejuvenation. Now - having being in the Toronto real estate industry for over 25 years - I've seen entire swaths of our City shift from centres of industry to places for commercial and residential consumption, including the Fashion District, Cityplace, and the Distillery District.
Our city is constantly undergoing rebirth. Lately, with the sheer volume of real estate sales I've been doing this year on The Danforth, it's prompted this blog about the momentum of change I'm witnessing on this main arterial road, which is significant!
The Danforth neighbourhoods were originally developed as "streetcar suburbs" in 1920 after the Bloor Viaduct opened in 1918. And it would continue to grow when the Line 2 Bloor–Danforth subway line was opened in 1966. Today, with extensions completed in 1968 and 1980, there are now 31 stations located along 26.2 kilometres of track. This major transportation link prompted an influx of ethnicities into the area, with Greek becoming it's most recognizable in the 1970s and 1980s. However, it's also been home to Gujarati, Moroccan, Afghani, Caribbean, Pakistani and Ethiopian cultures. This has translated into hundreds of retail locations, restaurants, and cafes on The Danforth, supported by swaths of low-rise housing, and a smattering of higher density housing.
However, although it features moderately successful small businesses and boasted multiple subway stops, the area east of Pape in the City of Toronto has long lacked the vibrant pedestrian presence and the critical mass of foot traffic that distinguishes Greektown to the west. Most of this reason is that the geography lacks sufficient population to support these retail amenities. As a result, these areas are underutilized despite being so centrally located. It's long been a missed opportunity though conditions have not reached the tipping point necessary to fuel rejuvenation.
In fact, for decades two and three-storey commerical/residential spaces have lined the strip, along with empty lots and vacant spaces that have been slow to find new owners. Development experts agreed that increasing the population was the key; if the neighbourhood were more dense, the real estate more mixed-use, and the buildings had more storeys, the community would be better able to support its immediate micro-economy.
Luckily, Toronto's government identified the problem in the '00s and - looking to other cities for inspiration - started planning for "urban intensification". Here's a synopsis Toronto's 2007 Smart Growth which included studying the area in question.
In 2017, there was a more geographic-specific study done entitled Danforth Avenue Planning Study from Coxwell To Victoria Park which stated: "City staff will assess Danforth Avenue between Coxwell Avenue and Victoria Park Avenue for heritage resources and character-defining features of Danforth Avenue such as built form, public realm, retail vitality, community services and facilities within the context of the various surrounding neighbourhoods."
In it, creators of the study held meeting with community members and interviewed residents and store owners about the pros and cons of the community. The pros were fairly unanimous with result showing the top three community assets were: Public spaces, access to multiple modes of transportation, & a small, independent and diverse retail sector.
A more diverse look at the community's strength is represented in this cloud diagram:
For areas of improvement and growth, the results were broken up into the three following categories, in which we've summarized the priorities:
Public Realm: Adding more trees, landscaping, lighting, and seating along Danforth Avenue; Creating more parks and green spaces; Incorporating more community and art spaces for residents of all age.
Built Form: Promoting mixed-use development that has commercial or community uses on the main floor and residential or employment uses on the upper levels; Providing adequate building setbacks from the street to allow for wider sidewalks and patios; Ensuring new development complements and preserves the existing community character.
Transportation: Building separated bike lanes; adding bike signals and providing more bike parking; Making Danforth Avenue safer and more inviting for pedestrians; Building a better connection between TTC Main Street subway station and the Danforth GO station
*Further suggestions were to include ecomonic revitalization as part of the scope of the study, and emphasize the importance of protecting local history and heritage.
As you can tell, the residents almost unanimously called for "densification". Again and again, responses and data point to the need for more foot traffic and higher pedestrian population, as well as new building developments (that have commercial option on the main floor and condos or rentals above) that mesh with the existing history and architectural story of the community, and allow for sidewalk and social patio spaces in front.
Today this community is beginning its rebirth, with a multitude of condos and apartments being developed along the strip which will include commercial spaces on ground level. Combined with the existing transit infrastructure and the multitude of retail and restaurants, the east half of the Danforth - all the way to Main Street and beyond - is finally getting its due!
Here are some of the new developments that will be completed in the near future, which signal this area is set for a new level of vibrancy:
Sunday School Lofts (14 Dewhurst Blvd)
4 Storeys - 32 Units
Sunday School Lofts is a boutique 32-unit loft development located within a residential neighbourhood in Riverdale. The intimate 4-storey building will incorporate an existing 1925 Temple Baptist Church facade, windows, doors and north and south return details. The project will be comprised mainly of 2-3 bedroom suites (27 of 32 units) and the average size in the building will be over 1,000 square feet. There will be eight penthouse units, seven of which will be two-storey units with both main floor terraces and roof terraces. To be completed spring 2019.
Platform Condos (1177 Danforth)
9 Storeys - 102 Units
Platform Condos is a nine-storey condominium designed by Kirkor Architects for the Sierra Building Group and Fortress RDI on the southwest corner of Danforth and Greenwood Avenues in Toronto's East End, steps from the subway.
CANVAS (2301-2315 Danforth)
8 Storeys - 170 Units
With a stunning 8 storey profile of sleek glass alternating with an articulated blend of brick surfaces, glass balconies and terraces, CANVAS will offer urban savvy condominium suites with designer features, finishes and modern amenities in one of Toronto’s most vibrant evolving neighbourhoods. Marlin Spring Developments is the developer, with Graziani + Corazza Architects.
On The Danforth (2359 Danforth Avenue)
10 Storeys - 139 Units
Situated at Danforth & Westlake Avenue, this 10-storey building was developed by Diam Developments and Onespace Unlimited was the Architect.
Verve Danforth (2494 Danforth)
10 Storeys - 140 Retirement Home / 4 Storey - 20 Unit Rentals
Situated at Danforth and Chisholm avenues in Toronto's East End. Designed by Sweeny & Co Architects for Tawse Realco Inc.
Main Square (286 - 294 Main Street)
30 Storeys - 301 Units
Situated steps south of the Main Street subway station and designed by Turner Fleischer Architects, the proposal would see the demolition of four existing commercial buildings which range from one to five storeys tall. Set to replace them would be a 30-storey mixed-use condominium, with retail and office space incorporated in the lower levels. This is a Tribute Communities and Greybrook Realty Partners joint venture.
The Village By Main Station (14 Trent Avenue)
12 Storeys - 277 Units
An affordable condominium development by Options for Homes. Designed by the IBI Group. Due to be completed this year.
So what does urban intensification mean for the east half of the Danforth? First, it won't be just Danforth residents that benefit; surrounding communities like Greektown, East York and Gerrard Coxwell could profit, and at the very least see a rise in economic viability. It's certainly not gentrification as we traditionally see it here in Toronto; usually large numbers of people move to an underdeveloped community to take advantage of lower cost of living, and in doing so, drive up the need for grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, recreation venues, green spaces, etc. Thus, the area blossoms with amenities - mostly new and sometimes revitalized - and the neighbourhood is considered gentrified.
Here's a great ApartmentTherapy article about how people themselves are gentrifiers without even realizing it; they suggest that folks be cognizant and try to slow gentirification, in Can Gentrifiers Help Fight Gentrification?
In the case of The Danforth strip between Pape and Victoria Park, many or the retail and merchants have long existed, but are having trouble turning a lifestyle-supporting profit without the foot traffic to bring in customers. After all, with the subway close by, fewer people are driving through the area to shop. As a result, the pedestrian-count is quite low impacting retailers. By increasing density with Main Street structures that accommodate more residents, the intensification will create the population necessary to sustain and fuel positive growth in the community. Why is this so exciting? As the process has been so carefully curated, The Danforth neighbourhood is going to end up with a great range of rentals, condos, lofts, and townhomes - and not rows of ubiquitous boxes-in-the-sky.
I think it's pretty fair to say that higher populations densities and land use intensification will sustain and grow the existing infrastructure and amenities, with a transit line ready to serve. This will be an interesting one to watch!
If you like to be close to the action, how about a prime pad like this one: A Live/Work Brownstone On The Danforth. This two-storey dynamic property underwent a significant renovation in 2014 converting it into a contemporary three-bedroom residence, but could easily be reverted to commercial use with an upper floor apartment (zoned as both residential and commercial)! Tailor this dream home to suit your needs for $1,189,000!
Want to learn more about Toronto's East Side? Check out these blogs:
Have you seen our Neigbourhood Pages - including flavour videos, Ward Profiles, and amenity blogs on:
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