Over the past few decades, Torontonians have been rediscovering their love for the Don River - and developers are increasingly taking notice.
Montreal-based construction company Broccolini is the latest firm seeking to capitalize on the revitalization of the Don, with two upcoming condos that are being marketed for their proximity to and renewal of the river.
As one of the iconic waterways that runs through the Greater Toronto Area, the Don has been an integral part of the city’s development. Once a pristine waterway, the Don has been the site of heavy development since the late 19th century. As the city of Toronto grew in scale, so too did the misuse of the river, which was diverted, industrialized and at times spontaneously set on fire due its level of pollution.
“Back in the 1800s it was something to be ignored, controlled and frankly abused,” says Toronto chief planner and executive director of city planning Gregg Lintern. “Now, we see it as something to be integrated, to be naturalized and really to be loved.”
The City, province and federal government have dedicated increasing resources to the revitalization of the river. In 2017, $1.25-billion in funding was approved aimed at building the initial infrastructure to naturalize the mouth of the Don, establish flood protection and improve water treatment. But governments are not the only stakeholders interested in the Don. Real estate firms have long been keen to build on Toronto’s undeveloped waterfront areas, from the Unilever lands to East Bayfront, the area that was supposed to be the site of Google’s now-abandoned Sidewalk Labs. Now, this interest is simply moving up the river.
While relatively new to the city, Broccolini has wasted no time diving into Toronto’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods, and hopes its two new condos will be part of what developers are trying to dub as the “River District.”
Broccolini’s developments could be part of what Geoff Cape, the CEO of Canadian conservation charity Evergreen, sees as a trend among Toronto firms such as First Gulf and Cadillac Fairview that have “made significant investments in restoring the ecology and river quality.”
River and Fifth, on the west side of the Don near Regent Park, is Broccolini’s first development in the neighbourhood and one that has been praised by the City for its contributions to the surrounding valley. While the 37-storey condo has already started construction, what sets it apart is the on-site land that Broccolini has given to the city to create a public park and walkway linking to the Don Valley.
“We’re creating a connection down the river that just wasn’t there before,” says Phil Brennen, the vice-president of real estate development at Broccolini.
Likewise, the firm’s 34-storey LeftBank condo a few blocks away also includes a proposal for on-site parkland or a privately owned publicly accessible space, also known as POPS. While LeftBank is still under review by the city, Broccolini envisions it as a development with even greater ties to the valley.
“It’s a vital area – you can feel the energy,” Mr. Brennen says. “I think River Street itself has been ignored a little bit, so we’re looking to animate the street with new retail as part of our Left Bank development.”
Combined, these two condos will offer 965 new units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom suites.
While Broccolini is touting its commitment to revitalizing the Don, experts such as Susannah Bunce from University of Toronto Scarborough are concerned about who gets to benefit from the revitalization.
Despite what developers may say, Ms. Bunce doesn’t see them as part of the larger project of revitalization so much as being beneficiaries of governmental revitalization projects.
“We really need to increasingly consider how affordability factors into the development and the revitalization process,” says Ms. Bunce, who is an associate professor in the department of human geography.
Ms. Bunce points out that market-rate developments near the water are not in the price range for large segments of Toronto’s population, and thus low-income groups will have unequal access to the river.
She also adds that “for all revitalization processes of Toronto, it’s absolutely necessary and it should be a requirement to address Indigenous histories and contemporary concerns around the use of space and land.”
Mr. Lintern acknowledges the issues surrounding affordability in Toronto and says that the City has policies in place to maintain the stock of available housing, and particularly affordable housing, whenever existing residences are taken down.
Likewise, Mr. Brennen believes that having more housing will always help what he says is the supply and demand imbalance that drives prices up. And while Broccolini has not worked with Indigenous communities on their projects yet, Mr. Brennen says that they are hoping to build partnerships on another site that is currently under development.
Despite concerns around affordability, Toronto may be seeing more developers trying to leverage the natural advantages of the Don, which in Mr. Cape’s opinion can only bring good things to the city.
“These are the sorts of developments will make Toronto the best city to live in in the world because these types of natural outdoor spaces are so critical to a healthy city,” Mr. Cape says. “That’s become incredibly obvious this year as we deal with a pandemic and the city looks for these types of spaces for people to go.”