Ken Greenberg: Toronto Reborn | On Civil Society | Oct 8, 2019

Ken Greenberg: Toronto Reborn | On Civil Society | Oct 8, 2019


Cherise: Show of hands who’s read this book
already? Oh, okay. Well we’re selling them at the back, so that’s
great. [laughter] Cherise: It is a fantastic book in so many
ways, it is a gorgeous follow-up to Ken’s 2011, highly acclaimed book, Walking Home,
which showcases the rejuvenation of many cities throughout the world that Ken worked on. And I’ve always wondered that Ken could have
chosen any of these cities to put down roots, but it’s our great fortune that he has chosen
Toronto as his home. So this follow-up book, in some ways, I see
as the love letter to Toronto, it tracks some of the most important projects and changes
in the city that have shaped the arc of success for Toronto. Cherise: So I’m curious, my first question
to Ken is going back to the fact that you’ve worked in many cities, I’m curious why Toronto? What you saw in Toronto back then and what
motivated you now to write this specific book about Toronto at this particular moment? Ken Greenberg: So Cherise, it’s a bunch of
things that came together. I was watching the city transform and the
book is actually like a series of short stories about particular places. I’m an urban designer, so one of my lenses
is the physical world and I was fascinated by how in different parts of our city, change
was occurring, how it was happening, who was involved in it. And we’re not terribly good in Toronto at
telling those stories. And so, while all this was going on, I wanted
to capture that and capture this moment of the last couple of decades, while these things
were happening. But the real motivation actually was a bigger
issue. There were two things that came to the forefront
in Toronto for me that together, created a situation that is quite unique in the world. And that’s what I wanted to capture. And those two are an astonishing growth spurt. We’re growing faster than the next three fastest
growing cities in North America. And the second is who we are and the fact
that we are the most diverse city on the planet that over 50% of us identify as visible minorities. KG: That fact itself is not so unusual. What’s unusual is that we are experiencing
that in a way that is different from almost everybody else. And I’m not even sure I need the “almost”. If you look south of the border, they’re tearing
themselves to pieces over immigration and over a fear of the “other”. If you look at the UK, Brexit is largely about
a reaction to, “those Polish workers who are taking our jobs away”. But the… I’m being funny, but it’s about otherness. If you look at pretty much every European
country, there is an established anti-immigrant party, which actually has credibility. And Maxine Burney to the contrary, we don’t
really have that in Canada and I don’t think we will. KG: And so, I saw in that something very special. And of course, the welcome that we extend
to the world, our reputation for being a welcoming city… Is the reason why everybody wants to come
here. So these two things are mutually reinforcing. It’s leading us to play a lead role in the
world. We have something to prove that is different
from what everyone else is going through. With that comes a great burden and a responsibility
and it’s being expressed in facts on the ground, the way different parts of the city are transforming. So there was this great promise I came to
believe of Toronto being at this point in history, in its history, what I was calling
“a city for all”, and that became the kind of plot line of the book. Can we truly live up to that expectation? And be a city for all. Cherise: Great. And so it’s a very optimistic book. But Ken, we know that when you were just about
to go to publishing with this book, something happened. Doug Ford was just in the process of slashing
city council and he was about, there was a wave of cuts and provincial cuts and takeovers
that were about to take effect. So you felt compelled to go back to… You’re about to publish it, you felt compelled
to go back and rewrite the forward to reflect this. Talk to us a little bit about that. KG: So I had actually turned in the manuscript
and they were ready to start rolling the presses and then the provincial election happened
and we literally had a tsunami of shocking things. The first was slashing the Council in half
without any involvement from Torontonians, but then a succession of attacks on education,
on healthcare, on daycare on kids with autism, on the French university, on post-secondary
education in the 905. It just went on and on and on, it seemed like
every day. And in fact, it continues to this day. There were things that were challenging my
basic premise. Because in order for the promise that I had
identified to actually be fulfilled, that city for all that I was hoping and imagining
that we were becoming, if you take out the things that allow people from all over the
world to come and successfully integrate in this society, if you make it so difficult
for people to have housing, to have daycare to have healthcare to have quality education
for their kids, then you’re pushing in an opposite direction. And as I was looking at all these things happen,
I was… I felt I had to kind of sound an alarm. KG: So it became not just an accounting of
good things that I had been observing that were happening, telling those stories, but
it also became a question of advocacy. Of sounding an alert and saying we have to
be really careful or we’re gonna lose something precious. And the more I thought about it, the more
I realized there was an underlying pattern to all these things that were being attacked
it seemed almost random, but in fact I realized that it wasn’t random. And what it is doing is attacking an idea
about the city, which was 180 degrees off the idea that I was describing. To be sure, it’s not about the budget, it’s
not about the deficit, it’s not about the money, it’s about a vision of what a city
is, that instead of seeing it as a collectivity where we solve problems together. Which is what my whole book was about, it
was about people getting together to solve all manner of challenges, how we transform
streets, how we transform neighborhoods, our reconciliation with nature in a time of climate
change, how we create public spaces. The underlying, driving force for all these
things coming from Queen’s Park was really picking up on Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote,
“There is no such thing as society.” And if you believe that, then you see the
city not as a collectivity, you see it as a collection of atomized individuals and households. KG: And what you try and do is cut back on
everything public and send people to private solutions. And that is, I have to say, it’s a very American
idea. And Doug Ford spent a long time in Chicago,
as you know, and I think he was sitting there in Chicago marinating over this, and thinking,
“If I get my chance, I’m gonna come back and remake the Province of Ontario and in the
process, remake Toronto, which he saw as the antithesis in this model. KG: So let me give you an example, why… And I’ll give you two. And we’re hearing the same discourse albeit
in a slightly less crude way at the federal level right now. So the idea that you’re gonna put money in
people’s pockets as opposed to give them services, what does that mean? It means babysitting instead of daycare. It means you cut back on the quality of education,
public education, you take away the courses that have made our education system so productive. You enlarge the classes, you take away arts,
culture, recreation, sports. So what happens? Middle class people take their kids out of
the public schools and they do what Americans do in large numbers, which is to send their
kids to private schools and I think that is really what’s going on here, that whether
it’s healthcare, or daycare, or education or pretty much any of the underpinnings of
an equitable society that are crucial to enable our great experiment of being this different
place in the world that embraces difference and it takes advantage of it in ways that
we have been doing. If you take away those props, you put it at
risk. Cherise: Now the last time that we checked,
the… Doug Ford is not that popular in the polls. So the question I have then is this is about
a year now, it’s been about a year since this wave of cuts, since you were completing this
book. Do you feel like you’re retaining that optimism
that you had when you wrote that book? Is Doug Ford… Is this stuff gonna stick to Toronto? Is it going to have a lasting impact? Or do you think we will rise above it because
of who we are in Toronto, what we’ve done? And in some ways, do you think there’s a silver
lining? Has it brought Council closer together? Are we getting things done, like we haven’t
before? I’d love your thoughts on this. KG: Yeah, I’ve had to think really long and
hard about that. Is this set of body blows that we’re experiencing
is it fatal? Is it going to so drastically undermine our
great experiment that we won’t be able to recover from it? Or, I don’t know if I would go so far as to
say a silver lining, but is there a way out of this? And I’m seeing a few things happen. One, of course, is I take some solace from
the reaction in the polls because I don’t think there’ll be a second term. A lot of damage has been done but a lot of
that is reversible and in fact we’re seeing the government backtrack on a lot of things
already, because they’re so deeply unpopular. But I also feel we now have a critical mass,
within our population, a human capital that we have assembled from all over the world,
of people who are actually committed to each other and to this place that is so powerful
that it can’t easily be undone. And I see that, especially among young people,
I see civil society stepping up, stepping into the breach in many cases, filling in
the gaps, for the moment. I don’t see us in an inevitable push to that
American view of life, liberty, and the pursuit of… And my parenthesis… “individual happiness”. KG: I think we’re actually going to retain
the notion of peace, order and good government. And by the way, the original term before the
BNA Act, was peace, welfare and good government. Before welfare was made a dirty word by the
likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Cherise: Okay, thanks Ken. I wanna dive into some of the details of this
book now. Because as you said, it’s a collection of
stories, amazing success stories, that have shaped Toronto. And one of them I want to talk a little bit
about is the Kings… What’s called the Kings Project, which really
is one of your great legacies. And it was regenerating a part of downtown
Toronto, two shoulders of King and Spadina and King and Parliament which at the time
were underutilized, a lot of parking lots. And it was revitalized into an amazing vibrant,
mixed-use community, just by changing the zoning. So can you explain to this audience why this
project… Maybe a little bit of background about this
project, but why it was so important to Toronto’s success? And what is the most important lesson from
this successful rezoning? KG: I’ll come back to the lessons ’cause like
any great experiment you learn about things that work and other things you might do differently. So I’m gonna say a few words about that in
the moment. But how did this come about? When Barbara Hall was elected in 1994, she
convened a little Ginger Group to come into City Hall, which included Jane Jacobs and
myself, a developer called Bobby Eisenberg, an economist called Gary Stem, Paul Bedford,
who was then the chief planner of the city. And we sat around a table and Barbara was
kind of saying, as newly elected mayors often do… “Wow, I’ve won the election. What can I do? What might be a special legacy project that
I can undertake?” KG: And we batted it around for a while, and
we decided… And honestly, I can’t remember exactly how
this took shape but essentially was to take a page from Jane Jacob’s great book, Death
and Life of Great American Cities, where she made these very interesting observations about
what happens in a city when you have a mix of people living, working, shopping. Mixed-use, essentially, as we now describe
it and radical mixed-use. And so we had these two shoulders of downtown
that had been industrial power houses for the city. The industry had departed, through some combination
of industrial obsolescence, globalization, move out to the suburbs and the city was desperately
holding on to industrial zoning. Which meant you weren’t allowed to use those
buildings or sites for anything but industry. You couldn’t even legally do office buildings,
contemporary office space. KG: And as a result, because the factories
were not coming back into that wonderful stock of buildings, the owners were tearing them
down to make parking lots, ’cause that’s the only way they could actually benefit from
the buildings. A lot of them were simply empty. There were a few squatters here and there,
but not to any great extent. And so we came up with the idea of what if
we simply removed land use zoning, altogether. If we simply let people do whatever they wanted
to do with those buildings subject to… We weren’t getting glue factories, we weren’t
getting things that were emitting toxic fumes. And by the way, there was provincial legislation
that dealt with issues of toxicity or damage. And so it was basically applying a sunset
provision, saying, we have accumulated this unhelpful prohibition on letting the city
exercise its ingenuity and all of the hundreds… And as it turned out thousands, of actors
in the city, who could take advantage of this new possibility. And that began the great experiment of the
Kings. KG: And in 20 years we got 50,000 housing
units, with no expenditure of public money. And here’s the most remarkable thing. We have more people working in King Parliament
and King Spadina today than ever did at the height of the industrial era. And both of those things happened simultaneously. And along with that, we got all kinds of other
things. So Jane Jacobs used to come and visit my wife
Eti and myself, we were in the first legal new residential building that was built in
King Spadina and she would come sit on the balcony, look over what was happening, where
all this activity was going on. And she was just fascinated to see how this
was all playing out. And so were we, as we got to a point where
month after month, year after year, there were just all these amazing new things coming
to pass within this area to the point where this has become kind of an example in the
world of releasing the energy of the city to do positive things and I’ve now coined
a term for this, it’s called Subtractive urbanism. Track the bad laws and let the city be the
city. Cherise: Okay, I’m gonna jump in on this ’cause
that’s a great term. And I love also how it’s described in the
book as a radical plan. So I’m curious, what do you think today’s
subtractive urbanism is? In other words, what is the big policy or
zoning, change that could shape the next chapter for Toronto? So what needs to be unlocked or fixed or future-proofed
what’s that? What’s the next Kings? If you could do it now, what would it be? KG: Well, I think we’re starting to do a few
things very tentatively following those footsteps. One is Laneway suites, we have 250 kilometers
of laneways in Toronto, there are an extraordinary asset and so, allowing people to actually
build residential units on their own property, rental units of modest scale, which other
cities have done as well, and in commercial areas to start businesses. Workshop Studios is an example of once again,
allowing things to happen. I think and Cherise you’ve written a lot about
this. The so-called yellow belt. KG: Yellow is the color on planning maps that
is typically used for exclusive residential areas, very often single-family areas and
allowing if you go back to the early part of the 20th century, and you go to older neighborhoods,
I lived in / on the beach, for many years. If you know the beach, that whole stretch
along Queen street there all these little walk-up apartment buildings there are fourplexes
there’s a whole variety of building types and what that enables, is a variety of people
to live there. And we somehow got to the idea in the early
part of the 20th century, that we were gonna segregate people by household types and even
worse by class. KG: So, I’m now working in the City of Brampton. And they have a category in their zoning bylaw
called Executive Housing as if the executives don’t wanna live near the Hoi polloi, so they
have bigger lots, and they’re in a separate little subdivision. And then you have the single-family detached
as an area and then you have the town houses as another area. So what that does is it sorts of people out
by how much money they have, and I think getting rid of all of that paraphernalia and allowing
for diversity to creep into all parts of the city. Another thing is the prohibition on people
working in a lot of residential areas, so many people now work from home, they have
small businesses, and again, like the Kings they’re not harmful, and so enabling people
to use their houses. We have now rattling around in big single
family houses a lot of people who, if they had alternatives in their neighborhoods to
move into another kind of accommodation would happily do so would free up all of those empty
bedrooms at a point where we’re in a housing crisis, so I… I think that’s… Those are a bunch of things we could do on
the housing front. Cherise: So, unlocking those restricted neighborhoods
and opening them up to housing… There is a… A panel following ours which is talking all
about affordable housing. So, I will restrain on asking a bunch of questions
about that ’cause it is a hot topic. I do have one question for you ’cause it kinda
relates to the book really tracks this amazing path of success that Toronto is experiencing,
and you often hear people say,”Well, Toronto is a victim of its success, that’s what happens
when you’re a successful global city. Suddenly, housing is unaffordable, suddenly
real estate is really expensive. You just have, it’s inevitable.” So I’m curious what your viewpoint is on that
is that I know it’s a number of factors, but I’m curious what you think about that explanation. Or is it attributed to more to other things
like policy barriers or even the financialization of housing as an investment, or a commodity? KG: So let me go back to the Kings for a moment
to start answering that question. There are a couple of things in retrospect
three that I wish we had done a little differently as well as things have turned out. These would have made a huge difference, one
is had we had inclusionary zoning, if 20% of those 50,000 housing units, if 10,000 of
them had been affordable housing, scattered throughout King-Parliament and King Spadina
that would have housed 20 to 30,000 or sorry, 40 to 50,000 people who are the people who
do all the work, in our city who are forced to live at enormous distances from downtown,
so-called Workforce Housing. That’s one thing, and I think we have really
missed the boat, but it’s never too late, we have to… And by the way, that’s one of the things the
provincial government has stepped in and said we can’t do. The city council was poised to do inclusionary
zoning city-wide, and the province is now preventing that from happening. Another thing is we should have put even more
emphasis on public spaces, public facilities, to serve this increased population. I think there was a huge miscalculation on
the part of the city and the development industry initially, thinking that young families wouldn’t
want to live vertically in the heart of the city, and so we didn’t have the schools we
didn’t have the daycare or the recreation centers, the playgrounds, all the things that
you need to support that population. KG: We’re playing catch-up in CityPlace today
we’re getting two new schools and a community center next to Canoe Landing Park, but it’s
taken all those years and the school is way over subscribed already. CityPlace, which is the area, the former sea
and railway lands south of the rail carter, is full of young families with kids. So that’s a second. A third is a regulation that we should have
kept, and that is typically there are a couple of ways of controlling development, one of
them is height limits and another is what’s called Floor Space Index FSI, which says given
the area of lot how much actual density you can put on the lot. So it could be two times the area of the lot,
three times four times. Naively, we thought Let’s just go with height
limits and let’s give the developers envelopes based on height within which we imagine creative
architects will come up with all kinds of interesting buildings and we don’t wanna hamstring
them too much by getting to prescriptive. This will not be a problem. Well, and what happened is, and I guess we
could have imagined this, but we didn’t. KG: The speculative land market kicked in,
they took the height envelopes, so if you had let’s say a height of 25 meters, the speculators
would come along and say, “Well we have a lot of X dimension and we have a height limit
of 25 meters, we can just fill up the whole lot with a building 25 meters high, and that’s
what we’re entitled to. Which was never the intention. And then they went, hired an architect who
said, “Well you know, you can’t really build a residential building, that fills up the
whole envelope. We have to have a tower and then off to the
OB. And so this set off a wave of speculation
that got challenged over and over and over. And unfortunately, it kind of got out of control,
in some areas and it’s hard to contain it. And had we done a simple thing, which is to
have both a height limit and a floor space index, we would have put the city in a much
stronger position to control development. But back… Back to your original question, Cherise, I
think here’s what happened globally; cities became popular again. People, especially young people, fell out
of love with the idea of living in distant suburbs and doing long commutes by automobile,
and so all the places that had the ability for people to be near transit to walk to do
their shopping, to have all the services and amenities that they associated with city life
that they were looking for became more desirable. KG: So when I came to Toronto in 1968, I lived
in the beach, and I moved to the beach, shortly after I got here, the residents of the beach,
which is now such a popular neighborhood, were selling their properties for almost nothing,
and moving out to bungalows in Scarborough ’cause they were persuaded that that was the
future. And this fantastic neighborhood with the boardwalk
on the beach and Queen Street was passé. The city at that time, was quite affordable,
it was affordable for newcomers, like myself and many of my neighbors who were coming from
all over the world because it wasn’t valued so much by the larger population. Neighborhoods like Riverdale, like the Annex,
like all the parts of the city, the Annex was largely rooming houses. A lot of it for students, but also for young
people who found an easy place to land. The affordability was because of this, not
to the extent that the Americans did but we had this exodus to the suburbs, ’cause that
was associated with the good life. Everything flipped and so everybody wanted
to be in the pre-war city, the parts of Toronto that were built prior to World War II, that
were not built around the automobile that had all these conveniences, so we started
to call that gentrification and gentrification meant guess what? KG: This huge growing population is all bidding
whether rental or purchase for the same limited amount of real estate and the prices go sky
high. And that’s happening, not just in Toronto,
it’s happening in cities around the world. There are two answers to that, one is as I
said, before, the inclusionary zoning, we have to recognize that the private market
left to its own devices is gonna price people out. And the only way to deal with that in addition
to opening up more opportunities which I was describing before is to say that a significant
percentage of the housing that is created, has to be done by taking it off the private
market into other forms of housing, affordable housing, co-ops all manner of other solutions. Other cities in the world in the Nordic countries,
for example, that’s what they do, they are very prosperous. They would have exactly the same phenomenon
that we’re experiencing of polarization by geography, but for the fact that in the hearts
of Stockholm, of Helsinki, of Copenhagen, of Malmö, a very significant portion of the
housing that gets built, and that’s true by the way, for German cities, French cities
is not just private market housing, it’s a blended mix. KG: The Netherlands they do the same thing,
that’s part of it. The other thing that has happened, which exacerbates
the problem, and this is a much harder problem to deal with, especially for a city is precarious
employment and the fact that wages, because everybody now is a contract worker, they don’t
have benefits. Wages have been kept extremely low, we’ve
allowed that to happen as a society. So I just heard in a survey that was done
in the last few days that points out that young people and new arrivals to the country
are making, roughly the same amount of money as people made in 1980, and at the same time,
obviously, the cost of living for everything else, has going way up. And this is contributing to a huge disparity
in people’s purchasing power and that reflects in all aspects of affordability. And that’s somehow the big thing that happened
after World War II, is that people who had reasonable jobs were paid well enough so that
they could lead a good life, and for some reason we’ve allowed corporations to create
conditions for employment that are frankly exploitative and are taking away all the hard
won gains that people fought for over decades. Cherise: Great, I’m getting the five-minute
mark, so I do wanna get two questions in before we open it up from / for the floor, so we’ll
make these really quick. Jumping back into your book. You mentioned the suburbs. I wanna talk about the suburbs for a minute. You have a chapter in there dedicated to the
urbanizing the suburbs and you talk about Mississauga, which is a project you’ve been
working on. You also, as I know, ’cause I’ve been with
you in Brampton, you’re working on revitalizing the downtown of Brampton. So, maybe just help us understand as quickly
as you can. Why are the suburbs, suddenly ready for a
retrofit? And can you maybe spell out some of the… They’re not all the same. Maybe help us to understand a little bit how
say retrofitting or urbanizing Mississauga might be very different from what’s happening
in Brampton. KG: Mississauga is a simply a head of Brampton. So Hazel McCallion, whom I worked with in
Mississauga was the queen of sprawl. She basically filled up… S?: That was her Monica. KG: That was her Monica. She came from Streetsville. She had been the reeve… That’s an old term, that you probably haven’t
heard for a while. She was the reeve of Streetsville. And so she presided over that pattern, that
we’ve come to know so well. At some point, she figured out that this wasn’t
working anymore and to her great credit, she started to see the opportunity to turn Square
One, which is what I worked on is just this regional mall, surrounded by thousands of
parking spaces into a city center. So, a city hall, a Living Arts Center, a library
eventually Sheridan College. All of these civic chess pieces came into
Mississauga city center along with all of this residential development and the plan
that I worked on was about how you could take this resource, which was all the surface parking
lots and create a pattern of urban streets and blocks so that it could get filled in
as neighborhoods with employment and living and walkability, and then pushing for the
light rail which is coming from Port Credit up here Ontario. KG: Brampton was the next big municipality
to the North while Hazel was making this change, Brampton, was still madly pursuing the old
paradigm. And Brampton has now caught up and they have
done something called Vision 2040. My colleague, Larry Beasley, helped them articulate
a vision for how they could make the shift. They’re getting all day go service, 15-minute
headways, on-the-go, three go stations, the shift. They’ve… They’ve to realize the same thing that Hazel
McCallion realized a couple of decades ago, that they had to make the change. And so, that is causing them. And I’m working with the city as a kind of
strategic advisor with people in all the different departments mainly attached to urban design
in the planning department, but also increasingly ’cause everything is connected to everything
with all of their colleagues. And how do you change all the practices that
were designed to produce a dish that nobody wants anymore? What’s the new recipe? And how do you change everything from these
gigantic arterials from the form of development that they were doing from how they do community
hubs, how they get walkability? So our big slogan is 20-minute neighborhoods. KG: How do you convert Brampton, in a way
that will give people within 20 minutes of where they live, the ability to walk, to serve
all their daily life needs, instead of getting into a car. No mean feat but it can be done. And I’ll just go back to Jane Jacobs ’cause
when she wrote the last book before she died, called Dark Age Ahead, she devoted a chapter
to suburbia and how suburbia could transform and she came up with something that has stuck
with me ever since she said, “There are so many intractable things about the way the
suburbs are designed, there’s divisions of property, their laws, their regulations but
when the time will come, when the paradigm breaks when it’s no longer useful,” which
is now, “there will be a forced measure” which she identified “that will actually sweep all
of that away.” And that’s what we’re living for now… Living through now in pretty much all of the
municipalities in the 905.

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