By Tracy Hanes
What changes will soon impact the way we live and build?
A vision of homes of the future in Toronto
In the urban centres of the Ontario of tomorrow, how will we live? Three to five decades from now, will autonomous cars and a seamless transit systems whisk us wherever we need to go? Perhaps robots or drones will deliver our packages and meals. Our kids or parents may be living in small separate abodes in our back lane or in a co-shared building with others. Much of our lives will be managed and controlled by technology in homes of the future.
Some clues can be found in Sidewalk Labs’ voluminous master plan to transform 4.8 hectares on Toronto’s eastern waterfront into Quayside, a high-tech ‘smart city.’ Toronto of the Future, a biennial event held in late June, also provided a glimpse into what looms ahead, with a display of forward-thinking residential, commercial and industrial, mixed-use, infrastructure and transportation projects.
We also asked several experts to gaze into their figurative crystal balls to predict how Torontonians and Ontarians will live a quarter- to half a century from now, and how the building industry is preparing for homes of the future. They include: Andrew Winters, COO, Development for Sidewalk Labs; Jeanhy Shim, president and founder of Housing Lab Toronto; Leith Moore, adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning and a builder/developer of creative infill solutions; and Sam Mizrahi, president and founder of Mizrahi Developments and top-presenting sponsor of Toronto of the Future.
Transit will be transformative, our experts agree. In the future, some or all of the dozen-plus initiatives Toronto and the province are working on will make getting around easy, thanks to an integrated network of subways, LRT and high-speed rail.
Want a more futuristic concept? Toronto start-up TransPod suggests we may even travel in pods through vacuum-sealed tubes coast–to-coast faster than by jet!
Pearson International Airport will become Union Station West, a major transit hub for more than airplane travellers. Currently, the area around the airport is Canada’s second-largest employment area and will continue to be a key driver for jobs. Fast forward a few decades and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority and Metrolinx partnership will have connected LRT lines, GO rail, local and regional bus services and added a direct Highway 407 connection to the airport.
Better public transit, more bike lanes and less reliance on private cars will shape the future of development. New neighbourhoods and more density will continue to spring up along transit lines. Condo buildings will have much smaller parking ratios. Toronto, in fact, already has a condominium with no permanent resident parking—just nine spots for car-share—at Tribute Communities’ the Residences at RCMI, and this may become the rule rather than the exception. Some condo developers are already paring down parking and allotting space for ride-share pick-up and drop-off.
Less car reliance is a cornerstone of the Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for homes of the future. Andrew Winters of Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company), describes how people will live there, assuming the controversial vision unfolds as proposed. Quayside will be much greener than dense urban neighbourhoods of today, with more public realm, trees and greenspace. The LRT and a series of parks, such as what exist now on the west side of Queens Quay, will extend west. Streets will accommodate fewer cars and more pedestrians and bicycles. Delivery and service vehicles or autonomous pods will use an underground network of tunnels, rather than roadways.
An extensive network of geothermal heated sidewalks and building ‘raincoats’ that block wind and rain will make it easier for people to spend time outdoors year-round, Winters predicts.
“The community and neighbourhood will be based around public spaces,” he says. “As an architect and urban planner, I know a major draw is inviting places where people want to stay and walk around and explore. People want to live there, businesses want to move there.”
Sidewalk will partner with developers to deliver housing—half being rental, with many offering two-bedroom or more to accommodate families. Since many units will be affordable, people of all ages, backgrounds and incomes will be able to enjoy living at the waterfront. They will live in mass timber buildings that are more sustainable, less costly and faster to build, with modular and pre-fabricated construction.
“There is a hard edge to a lot of the tall buildings in Toronto now and they use a lot of concrete. That’s a negative for the environment and most don’t have wonderful aesthetics,” says Winters. “A lot of cities—not just Toronto—need more housing built quickly. I see modular building as a solution. They don’t have to be wood, they could be other materials.”
Mass timber is factory-made, formed by laminating or fastening dimension lumber or wood veneers, fibres and strands together to create posts, arches, walls, flooring and roofs for homes of the future. It’s dense enough to be fire-resistant and has structural integrity. An eight-storey office building at 77 Wade Avenue in the Junction in Toronto will be one of the tallest modern mass timber buildings in Canada, targeting LEED Gold. The University of Toronto will also build a 14-storey academic edifice consisting mainly of mass timber on top of its existing Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.
Leith Moore is a partner in new Toronto company R-Hauz, which provides laneway houses in one- or two-bedroom plans over a single, double (or no) garage, that are panellized for quick construction. Its other product is the V6, a 6,100-square-foot, six-storey townhouse built of pre-fabricated mass timber that can be configured into one or multiple units. Both types of housing will be sold to those who already own property.
Solutions such as these will offer better affordability, provide more rental units and fill the ‘missing middle’ between detached and high-rise, suggests Moore. Though the city has “done an outstanding job” with developing laneway housing guidelines, streamlining of the process for wood-built, multi-unit housing is still a work in progress, he notes.
“Mid-rise will finally find a home in the city approval and construction regimes,” he predicts. “Right now, every time we build under our code, we build less well than we should. The building code will evolve to allow mid-rise homes to be built as they currently are in Europe.”
But it’s sometimes hard to focus on the future when the industry is lagging behind current international trends, says Jeanhy Shim. Concepts such as mass timber and pre-fabrication aren’t new, but haven’t been widely adopted here. “It’s happening in other cities in the world and we should legitimately be looking at this and exploring whether there are other ways to build better that offer better affordability.”
Moore foresees mid-rise as making up a much larger share of new-built stock as builders learn how to build between high-rise nodes on transit lines. Private homeowners will also use their properties to provide generational housing or supplementary rental housing.
“Generational housing means owning an asset that cycles through different occupancies without changing ownership,” Moore explains. “Laneway homes, coach homes, co-housing will be back, and new versions of the old rooming houses will be very significant to city economies.”
LOOK UP, LOOK WAAAY UP
Homes of the future are taller with higher density
Tall buildings, meanwhile, aren’t going anywhere—and they’ll get even taller as the GTA population continues to burgeon with 125,000-plus immigrants arriving each year, most settling in the Toronto area.
is anThe One – By Mizhrari Developments“Without question, we are redeveloping existing land into high density to accommodate this,” says Mizrahi. His project, The One at 1 Bloor St. W., will be Canada’s tallest residential tower at 85 storeys and create a second international icon on the skyline (the other, of course, being the CN Tower). It is Toronto’s first super tower (taller than 300 metres) and is under construction, and others are coming, such as the Mirvish + Gehry towers to be built by Great Gulf in the Entertainment District (81 and 91 storeys), Pinnacle One Yonge Phase 2 by Pinnacle International (95 storeys) and Menkes’ Sugar Wharf condos (89 storeys).
The vast majority of developments will be mixed-used, Mizrahi says, where people can live, work and play and access needed conveniences close to home.
“Technology will allow remote communication and sharing, so people will want their community to be what the workplace was—a social environment,” says Moore. Winters agrees and says while downtown housing units will still be small, neighbourhoods will have to offer things for people to do outside of their homes and places to gather.
Large condo developments will have their own district energy systems, using the sun, wind and even garbage to heat buildings, while waste will be treated on-site. Shim foresees these systems becoming common in big master-planned communities. One reason is that city infrastructure is straining to keep up and developers may have to look to their own solutions. But some of the current issues associated with district energy systems—how to fund the significant upfront investment (whether by public or private sources or a combination of both), how to plan strategically for siting and installation of the required infrastructure and who will operate the systems—will have been resolved.
Two trends in homes of the future will continue to develop. Shim and Mizrahi predict Toronto of the future will still be a magnet for foreign buyers. “There is a lot of money in the world looking for a home,” says Shim. “Canada will continue to be a safe haven and developers will still design for investors.”
And Artificial intelligence (AI) will evolve to become a critical component in buildings, says Mizrahi. His company is venturing into this future with The One: “It will get to know the rhythm of the building and come to understand the habits of the residents. For example, if you leave for work every day at 8:20 a.m. and will need the elevator then, the building will anticipate that demand and send the elevator to your floor 30 seconds before, where it will hover until you get in.”
If there are multiple people needing an elevator at the same time, Mizrahi says the beauty of AI is that it computes instantly how to effectively and efficiently move everyone throughout the building at the lowest possible time increments.
Future buildings will also have “very robust” AI in concierge and security services, Mizrahi notes. Key fobs will be a relic of the past as residents gain entry via facial recognition. AI will also be a big part of life in Quayside, which will be the first project in the province to use ethylene tetrafluoroethylene-composed building ‘raincoats.’ Using sensors and data collection such as checking the current and forecasted weather, these expandable canopies can be retracted and extended over sidewalks, parks and public spaces to respond to the elements.
Prototypes unveiled in early March also included a high-tech hexagonal sidewalk made of concrete pavers. Lighting could be incorporated into the pavers to reprogram streets for traffic, bikes, construction and for special events. Sidewalks can also be heated, pedestrians counted, traffic flow monitored and air quality measured.
Taller towers and more density doesn’t mean the suburban house is going anywhere, though, Shim figures. “There will still be the dream of the suburban house. For young immigrants, part of the dream is ‘I can have a house where I don’t have to share space.’ It’s still the dream, but less and less of a reality (in Toronto).”
Shim sees more people moving to smaller cities and towns, such as Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, to achieve the dream, or farther afield to places such as Collingwood and Cobourg. With improved transit connectivity, someone living in Kitchener or London will be able to get to Toronto in reasonable time. The Places to Grow plan will be fully realized with more development in these communities, she says. “The key to mobility is transit and I don’t think future jobs will be all concentrated in downtown Toronto. Employment opportunities will be more spread around,” says Shim.
Of course, not all of this will unfold seamlessly. “Government needs to think of how to provide basic infrastructure such as sewers and power lines,” says Shim. “Key services will be critically important and buildings will have to be able to withstand flooding.”
This infrastructure must also take in the needs of people raising families in downtown Toronto. Shim was a consultant on a 2015 study, Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities, that established City of Toronto guidelines for integrating family-suitable design into projects of 20 units or more. There is a serious lack of public parks downtown, but future urban neighbourhoods should have a strong network of parks and greenspaces, schools and community centres. Parks will be diverse in design, catering to different ages and uses.
Canada—and particularly Toronto with the Sidewalk Labs proposal—is going to have to look at the ramifications of the digital city on privacy and data protection. This is not a Toronto-specific problem, says Shim, as cities around the world are grappling with it. “It’s not up to the private sector. There is an accelerated agenda because of Waterfront Toronto/Sidewalk Labs and exploring how technology can build better cities and homes of the future. All three levels of government will have to determine where the goal posts are.”
Self-driving vehicles are going to be a big part of the future, not just for transporting people but for making deliveries and something every condo developer will have to consider, says Shim. And larger storage rooms, automated parcel lockers and designated car-sharing pick-up areas may not be enough.
“With all these deliveries and Uber and Lyft, there is a constant revolving door at the front of buildings and no one is measuring the impact on the environment,” Shim says. “There’s a convenience and safety issue. Downtown there is chaos as streets are jammed with bikes, pedestrians, cars and delivery vehicles. Do we leave it up to developers to decide how to deal with this?”
And then there’s the challenge from above. “If delivery is by drone, where does it land and drop off?” Shim questions. “Is there a landing pad on the roof and will the concierge have to go up there to get packages? Who will keep it shovelled and sanded?”
The aging population and associated health challenges will post another big challenge. “Are we making sure that we’ll have enough places for them to live?” asks Shim. “We need to design homes and communities so couples don’t have to be split up if one needs care but the other doesn’t.”
Indeed, in many respects, some of our future challenges may look somewhat familiar.
For more information on homes of the future, please contact OHBA and the developers mentioned in this article.
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