Weaponizing Heritage in Toronto


Recently, Heritage Preservation Services (HPS) in Toronto recommended that over 1000 buildings on Bloor, Danforth, and other main streets be added to the city’s heritage register. Their stated rationale was that this ‘preserved an early 20th-century streetscape’. Unfortunately for us, many of these low-density heritage buildings line main streets, which are:

  1. Often the only streets on which density is allowed (due to a regressive city planning regime that avoids densifying the detached-only “Yellowbelt”).
  2. The streets with higher-order transit (most of the designated buildings are 2-storey and line Bloor, along which Line 2 runs).

My cynical impression is that this is an underhanded move by Toronto City Planning to do an end run around the province’s requirement that areas around major transit stations (MTSAs) be densified. Early in, the Ford government demanded that such places increase in density – part of its move to wring more value from its transit dollar. This would have meant that large swaths of the Bloor-Danforth line would have to be upzoned dramatically – something residents in that corridor and City Planning have been incredibly resistant to since the line’s construction. It looked like density would finally come as a result of the province’s rules, but – designating hundreds of buildings along the corridor as heritage (along with the comically restrictive rules already in place) make it even more cost-prohibitive to increase density. As an underhanded stalling tactic it’s remarkably effective: which heathens would be against heritage?

Heritage alone isn’t bad, of course. But, when combined with a strategy that marks large swaths of Toronto as off-limits to anything other than detached development, and makes it incredibly hard to add missing-middle to permissively-zoned areas – it’s essentially a giant “STOP” sign. And that’s a huge mistake for a city that needs more density to reduce housing costs, meet population growth goals, and become more vibrant. These heritage designations work against all those goods.

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