ERA Architects

Affordability and resiliency: Renewing Toronto’s towers

Photo courtesy Jesse Colin Jackson

Over time, Canada’s aging mid-century towers have become the backbone of the country’s affordable rental supply, home to hundreds of thousands of low and middle-income households across the country.  

There are 2,000 postwar apartment towers located throughout Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Region alone, representing nearly half of the region’s affordable rental stock. In 2006, more than 40 per cent of tower households in the city are considered low-income, up from 25 per cent in 1981. As the housing crisis continues to mount, it’s only imaginable that this number continues to rise. Maintaining these largely privately-owned buildings to ensure their continued affordability is a vital and necessary part of improving Toronto’s housing ecosystem.

A tower

ERA’s Tower Renewal projects focus on rehabilitating these aging and neglected towers, creating comfortable, affordable and healthy homes for residents. These tower renewal projects also include energy-efficient and low-carbon retrofits that help maintain affordability while limiting the impact on the environment.

Through the Tower Renewal Partnership, ERA collaborated with the City of Toronto and ULI Toronto to host a week of events focused on exploring how we can better retrofit our apartment towers in order to create a more resilient city. 

A group of people in a meeting

ERA hosted an opening session on affordability and resilience in our tower blocks at the office.

The week culminated with an Advisory Panel on Friday, February 28, where experts focused on solutions, providing a series of recommendations to the City to encourage broad investment in the improvement of private apartment towers while maintaining rents at affordable levels.

The recommendations emphasized the importance of acting swiftly when it comes to retrofitting these towers. They include: incentivizing higher levels of affordability and accessibility, accelerating tower renewal with a retrofit program and more. Watch the presentation below, and for the full list of recommendations, visit the Tower Renewal Partnership website.

These conversations could not have been held at a more critical time. This week, residents began to return home to their building at 650 Parliament Street following an August 2018 electrical fire.

Graeme Stewart on CBC Radio.

The displacement of the building’s more than 1,500 residents paints a clear picture of the potential future of some of our towers if they are not upgraded to ensure they remain safe and affordable for Torontonians. ERA principal Graeme Stewart was interviewed on CBC Radio’s The World at Six about Tower Renewal and 650 Parliament. 

A group touring a tower neighbourhood in Toronto

Learn more about the Tower Renewal Partnership, and the Advisory Panel event, and explore more ERA tower renewal projects.

Alexis Cohen presents at the College Art Association (CAA)

1953 aerial photograph from the City of Toronto Archives, annotated by ERA.

1953 aerial photograph from the City of Toronto Archives, annotated by ERA.

Alexis Cohen presented at CAA’s 108th Annual Conference, held in Chicago February 12-15, 2020 as part of a panel exploring zoning in the histories of modern art and architecture. The panel was hosted by Christopher M. Ketcham and Deepa Ramaswamy.

The CAA is the preeminent international leadership organization in the visual arts, and promotes these arts and their understanding through advocacy, intellectual engagement, and a commitment to the diversity of practices and practitioners. CAA (collegeart.org)

Her paper, “An Incremental Urbanism: Zoning Infractions at Toronto’s Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village, 1943-1963,” examines user-driven zoning infractions that led to the incremental creation of Toronto’s most beloved and iconic discount retailer – Honest Ed’s – and the adjacent artists’ colony known as Mirvish Village.

This research emerged from ERA’s work as heritage consultant for the redevelopment of Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village. Special thanks to Amanda Ghantous for her research support.

Hidden house-forms at Honest Ed’s, by ERA.

Hidden house-forms at Honest Ed’s, by ERA.