I received an email from a client last-night that made me pause to reflect on the changing urban landscape of our city.
Before delving into this brief exchange, let me first give you some context.
As most of you know, I’ve been a big fan of Minto Communities’ latest downtown project, Minto Westside at Bathurst and Front for some time now.
I think this landmark project will be a game changer and represents genuine value for both investors and end-users alike that get in the game early.
Builders such as Minto often offer first project access to Realtors who have worked with them on past successful condo launches.
This translates into discounted pricing, flexible deposit structures, unique floor plans and a range of other incentives unavailable to the general public.
By the time the sales office opens its doors, our clients usually snap up some of the best units and any other goodies available at the time.
There’s a caveat here however, we are usually given only a small window of opportunity for our clients to invest, and sometimes the time frames are as narrow as a few days, a weekend or in some cases, within 24 hours.
As such, fortune will often favor the bold and the decisive that act fast.
A few investor clients did take advantage but for those who did not, I sent an email requesting their feedback. One response in particular, drew my attention: Stevie I’m not interested in this project because I’m waiting for something in the core of downtown Toronto to come up.
The words “the core” stood out in my mind because clearly, Bathurst & Front was indeed—downtown.
Then, it occurred to me that my client, let’s call him John, who is not likely alone in his opinion, drew a clear separation between “downtown” and the “downtown-core.”
In effect, John was highlighting a distinction that in today’s urban landscape, no longer exists.
Instead, what has emerged is a single downtown area-without any particular core, per se. Here’s why.
Gone are the days when in traditional terms, Bloor Street on the north, Dundas to the south; Parliament and Spadina to the east and west, respectively, represented the core of urban activity.
The idea of a “downtown core” emerged because those physical borders were, traditionally where the majority of people lived, worked and played.
That picture has changed. We now have centers of interest sprinkled across a vast downtown area that includes: The Entertainment District (King West), The Financial District (Bay Street), the Arts District (West Queen West), the Shopping District (Yorkville), Toronto’s Theatre District, The Cultural District (Harbor front), China Town, Little Italy and the list goes on.
The common thread here is that these points of interest are spread out quite sporadically.
They are significant socio-cultural and economic hubs situated downtown but they are not linked to the “traditional downtown core.”
As of 2013, Toronto surpassed Chicago to become the third largest city in North America behind New York and Los Angeles.
With the lowest crime rate per capita in the developed world, two major universities downtown; Corporate headquarters to the country’s leading Banking institutions, Insurance & High Tech firms; mega entertainment venues that attract thousands annually such as the CN Tower, Rogers Center & Air Canada Center, Toronto’s downtown commands much of what the city vibrancy.
It’s a place where a significant majority of new-comers want to live, work and play.
When we speak about the downtown core, we are now referring to an entire area extending from Bloor Street on the northern tip, south to the Lakeshore, east to the DVP and west towards Strachan Avenue (the gateway to Liberty Village).
This expansion of “core” to include wider borders was born of necessity, as urban density has become an imposing reality in Toronto.
Speak to any executive among Toronto’s largest developers and you will hear a recurring theme: “There is virtually no more land downtown to acquire and develop.”
But, what about the plethora of construction cranes still dotting the downtown skyline?
The term, “land-banking” comes to mind. It refers to the strategy of buying land as an investment, holding it for future use, and
making no specific plans for its development.
Many of the lands upon which these condo developments have sprung were purchased years, even decades before the first spade hit the ground.
The majority of owners, comprised of pension funds and families who rank among the city’s wealthy elite, held on and waited for the right opportunity to sell or develop the land themselves.
As a result, going forward we will see the scale of properties being developed in the “traditional downtown core” reduce significantly as most of the available supply has already been absorbed.
Whatever plots remain will cost a significant premium for a developer to acquire, resulting in those costs being passed down to purchasers (end-users & investors) in the form of higher prices.
Finally, the idea of a downtown without a core is amplified by the availability of transit reducing the need for households with vehicles.
How long should it take to navigate between essential points that include, home, work, shopping, entertainment, friends, education centers, and childcare?
The common expectation is usually within a 25-minute walk or within 15 minutes via transit. If one resides between Lakeshore and Bloor, west to Strachan and east to the DVP, “the new-downtown core” it is certainly doable.