So You Want to Move to Toronto

Postcard Yonge St at Twilight, Ontario, Canada

John Chuckman / / CC BY 1.0

Apparently, How can I move to Canada was the top Google search after a certain Super Tuesday recently. On sister site MNN we tried to help with our post So you want to move to Canada? which gave a general overview, but in fact, among TreeHugger's 71,299 posts there are quite a few from America's northern neighbour. (I will use Canadian spelling throughout this post to help you get used to it, eh?) So in the interest of helping Americans figure out where to live, we will roll out a few roundups of our CanCon. (That's what we call Canadian Content, a big deal up here.) First up: Canada's largest city, Toronto.

The first and most important thing to note is that Rob Ford is no longer Mayor of Toronto. it's not Crazytown anymore. The bike and transit and LGBT hating Escalader is still on City Council but is quite sick these days and doesn't show up much. UPDATE: he has since died. I won't bore you with all the posts we did while he was mayor, but if you are interested...

Anti-Bike, Anti-Transit, Anti-Green Rob Ford Elected Mayor Of Toronto
Yes, there actually is a TreeHugger angle to the Rob Ford story
Watching The Dismantling Of Everything Green In Toronto
Directionless and Mindless Toronto City Council Rescinds Proposed Plastic Bag Ban
Toronto's political football provides more proof that bike lanes reduce accidents and injuries
Cyclists Protest Removal Of Bike Lanes In Toronto With Mass Ride
Bike Nation to Ford Nation: "We Just Want To Share"

Rob Ford may no longer be mayor of Toronto, but sense of automobile entitlement continues unabated

The Gardiner and The Don River
Ashton Paul / Flickr / CC BY 2

Rob Ford was succeeded by the amiable John Tory, who got himself elected by essentially being Rob Ford without the crazy, so that he could attract the huge suburban base that loves expressways and hates surface transit that gets in the way of their cars. Consequently, we still get pedestrian infrastructure erased and billions of needed dollars spent on subways where light rail would do a better job and expressways that are destroying the waterfront. But John Tory is a realist and is a bit more flexible, he is actually sometimes listening to his chief planner, the impressive Jennifer Keesmaat. Things are looking up.

Cities need more rules for pedestrians like Toronto had

Toronto rules for walking
Cartoon depicts how difficult pedestrian bylaw was to enforce. The Evening Telegram. November 4, 1944. Toronto Telegram via Torontoist

For years, Toronto had a terrible reputation as a boring place where you were not allowed to have any fun; the movie theatres were closed on Sunday and the bars closed early. They even regulated how you walked on the sidewalks. You had to fill out a form to buy a bottle of wine at the government dispensary, and the rules for where you could have a drink were ridiculous, and getting a liquor licence was hell.

Rod and Gun Barber Shop
Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2

In fact, Toronto has loosened up significantly; you can have a good time there, and actually get a drink without a letter of reference from your Reverend now. Just the other night I was shocked to use a gift certificate that I got for Christmas that gave me a haircut and a bourbon! in a hipster barbershop, the Rod, Gun and Barber Shop.

sign in store window
 Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2

Toronto calls itself the City of Neighbourhoods, and the shop was on Dundas Street in the Junction district, which is rapidly gentrifying and hipsterizing. The city has been going through and extraordinary transformation and unfortunately, is becoming prohibitively expensive. There has been a boom in condo development as giant towers appear just about everywhere. Architecturally and environmentally, many are problematic.

Can cities be too dense? Can condos be too tall? Are they built to last?

rainbow over Toronto
Rainbows and cranes over Toronto.  

I honestly had no idea that I had written so many stories about glass towers in Toronto. Here are a few:
Can cities be too dense? Can condos be too tall? Are they built to last?
What are the real costs facing owners of glass condos?
Glass Towers May Be Sexy, But They Need To Put A Coat On
Another reason not to build glass towers: They are not resilient

You can even hear me get interviewed about them:

And there is also an hour long documentary you can see: The Condo Game looks at how today's towers are built, and how they may fall apart

In praise of Brutalist architecture

Robarts Library
Cherry blossom time at the Robarts Library.  Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Toronto has some great architecture, including a shrinking supply of midcentury modern and brutalist buildings. Here I compare brutalism to the new Snohetta building at Ryerson University. More in TreeHugger.

Nice shades: Counterpoint House has louvred light shelves to bounce light deep into house

Counterpoint House Shade
Ben Rahn/ A-Frame

It's not all just condos; there is a lot of interesting residential architecture happening, new construction and renovation, like this house by Paul Raff. More in TreeHugger

Wood that wows: Partisan's Bar Raval is a ravalation

Bar-Raval Mahogany Bar
Bar-Raval, Toronto Mahogany Bar. Jonathan Friedman /

There is really interesting work being done by young firms like Partisans, who make CNC machines sing. More in TreeHugger

Airports need good transit connections and Toronto just got one

UP express train
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Like every modern world-class city, Toronto just got a decent dedicated train to the airport, which I have had many times to myself. It was way too expensive but they are just dropping the prices this week and it might finally get some customers. More in TreeHugger: Airports need good transit connections and Toronto just got one

How a dead raccoon touched the heart of a city

raccoon shrine
 Jason Wagar /

We are not all dour and humourless either; look what happened to poor Conrad the raccoon. More in TreeHugger: How a dead raccoon touched the heart of a city

Where do you stand in the war against raccoon nation?

rocket raccoon
 Lloyd Alter / screen capture

In fact, we sometimes seem obsessed with raccoons. Fortunately, we have our Mayor to stand up and rally us with his spirited cri de cœur: "We are ready, we are armed and we are motivated to show that we cannot be defeated by these critters. We have left no stone unturned in our fight against the Raccoon Nation. Defeat is not an option." More: Where do you stand in the war against raccoon nation?

Toronto park redesign goes to the dogs

fountain design in park toronto
Berczy Park Fountain design concept.

Some of our designers have a sense of humour too, as demonstrated by this park that's being redesigned by Claude Cormier and opening soon. I wrote:

It is a wonderful gesture. I would think even the "dogs don't belong in the city" types would smile at this and feel better about them. In an earlier talk, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat noted that cities are not places to drive through, they are places to be. This is certainly a place to be.

More: Toronto park redesign goes to the dogs

Foster to build Toronto tower with what looks like the largest living wall in North America

base of building with green wall
 © Mizrahi Developments

We've got all the international Starchitects, Libeskind, Gehry, Snohetta, a good early Calatrava, late Foster, almost everybody but Zaha and Rem. The city has generated a few international Stars right here, including Diamond and Schmitt, KPMB and Eb Zeidler.

Tiny home renovation pushes every TreeHugger button

small home renovation
credit: Carla Weinberg

And we have not so starchitects who are doing lovely and sensitive work, like this renovation of a very small house in the Parkdale neighbourhood by Solares Architecture. More: Tiny home renovation pushes every TreeHugger button

Market Street revitalization is a model of adaptive reuse at its best

Market street with David Crombie and Barry Lyon in foreground
 Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In the face of intense pressure to build condos everywhere and just go up up up, the late great Paul Oberman showed how even in this market one can do sensitive, appropriate historic restoration and renovation and make good money doing it. More: Market Street revitalization is a model of adaptive reuse at its best

Everyone's excited about the food truck revolution, but what are the implications for urbanism and the environment?

gourmet bitches toronto
 Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2

We have a growing (and controversial) food truck culture happening; I am conflicted about it but I seem to be alone among anyone who doesn't own a restaurant. The city should at least make them get off diesel. More: Everyone's excited about the food truck revolution, but what are the implications for urbanism and the environment?

Streetcars save cities: A look at 100 years of a Toronto streetcar line

St. Clair Car
City of Toronto/Public Domain

Toronto is famous for its streetcars; here's a slideshow I did as a lecture showing how an investment in streetcars led to the development of our neighbourhood and how a recent reinvestment in making it a dedicated right of way transformed the area, because investment follows infrastructure. I also try and make the case (that they don't get here) that surface transport is far better for development of neighbourhoods than subways. More: Streetcars save cities: A look at 100 years of a Toronto streetcar line

Life in the Fedex Lane, or is it the beer truck lane, or maybe the police car lane. It's rarely a bike lane (Video)

fedex lane
 Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Finally, I should note that we have a raucous time in the bike lanes, with loud and smart activists who are making a difference. We have far too many ghost bike rides (I knew two of the victims personally) too many stop signs, too many trucks and cars in the bike lanes, but every year it gets a little bit better. Bikes are finally being recognized as transportation and not toys.

So load up and plan your bike move to Toronto!