In any city, there are thousands of desired urban planning updates underway on any given day. As cities age, old infrastructure, opportunities, and community needs change, and space stays limited. And while most North American cities were designed with the idea that cars would be the main source of transportation, it’s been shown that walkable communities are better for our health, economy, and the environment.
Currently, Toronto is the second most walkable city in Canada and ranks 45th globally, but one city councillor is looking to change that. In his 2021 Holiday newsletter, Josh Matlow, Councillor of Ward 12, announced that he had motioned in city council for the ‘Creative repurposing of Underground Parking Spaces’. What does this mean?
We had the chance to connect with Matlow to help others envision what this initiative would look like if approved, and here is what he had to say.
Josh Matlow on Overturning Parking Minimums
In December 2021, the Toronto City Council changed regulations for minimum parking spots to remove most minimums for new developments and limits the number of spaces that can be built. This was seen as a clear message that Toronto City Planning was focusing less on the car and more on livable neighbourhoods.
But in heavily developed neighbourhoods, like Midtown, many buildings were built when the City required an equal number of parking spaces for units. Now there are miles of underground parking not being used, and some are being used as pay-per-use or day-parking. At the time of the 2021 policy change, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) says data shows that in new condo projects, an average of 33% of parking stalls were left unsold.
Matlow’s goal is to see this parking space re-zoned completely, and used by local businesses to provide much-needed social amenities and address food desert concerns. Matlow also hopes that businesses moving into these spaces can support the 489 Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) in Toronto.
Matlow had the pleasure of visiting Oasis programs, an organization already trying to connect seniors in NORCs with resources and programming designed for them. By opening up space under buildings for community programming and service, we can combat some of the intense long-term care shortages we are facing in Ontario.
What kind of services do NORCs need?
- Regular social activities; like exercise groups, art classes, or community gardening
- On-site Health consultations; personal support workers are always in demand in Canada
- Regular Shared Meals; communal cooking spaces and places to serve the patrons, or meal delivery services
- Administrative assistance; with technologies and service options changing so quickly, aged people will need more help accessing rides and other services with limited internet knowledge
Global Trends in Parking Lot Repurposing
Here are some of the most popular ways that cities are repurposing parking garages to create more walkable environments:
One of the most popular ways to repurpose a parking garage is to turn it into a green space. This can be anything from a small park to a large public plaza. Green spaces are great for the environment and provide a much-needed respite from the concrete jungle.
One good example is the Pacific Plaza in Downtown Dallas, a former parking lot situated near Pacific Avenue and St. Paul Street. The Dallas Park and Recreation Department transformed the 3.7 acres to create a public plaza filled with trees, grass, and benches where people can relax and enjoy the outdoors.
In Toronto, there are currently government initiatives to create green roofs on commercial and residential buildings, and with people less likely to park their cars in the hot summer sun, why not give the public a chance to enjoy the space.
What does this mean for businesses already established in the area? Many businesses might be concerned that less parking means fewer customers, but it’s been shown time and time again that retail benefits from better bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Urban Logistics Hubs
E-commerce has been booming in recent years, and as a result, there has been an increase in the need for urban logistics hubs. These are facilities where orders are received, sorted, and shipped out to customers. A recent British study found that 1 Billion pounds in online orders required around 320,000 sqft of last-minute logistical space.
In London, e-commerce retail giant Amazon has leased 39 car parking spaces as last-mile logistics hubs. These hubs are used to store items delivered to customers by Amazon’s fleet of cargo cycles and pedestrian porters.
What opportunities does this bring small businesses? Instead of renting storage space for products that you plan to ship for e-commerce, you could have a little store run in an underground space, and deliveries can be picked up right from your door.
In 2021, Toronto foodbanks received 1.45 million visits, the highest number in the city’s recorded history. For the first year ever, new clients surpassed return users, and the number of users was 1.5 times higher than in 2010, following the 2008 recession.
The global food sovereignty movement was conceptualized in the late ‘90s, and has been taking root all over the world. While it’s manifesting in public spaces, on the side of buildings, and on personal land, the technological developments in controlled environment agriculture make it possible to feed communities out of retrofitted-shipping containers.
There are so many benefits to re-hyperlocalzing our supply chain. First, the product that doesn’t have to spend days in transportation tastes better and lasts longer for the consumer. And with the majority of the population globally moving to urban centres, there is a growing need for new farmers and more farms.
Toronto’s demand for fresh produce is up over last year, despite the rising costs of everything. There is also an increased demand for value-added products, like pre-cut fruit, ready-to-eat salads, and more. Furthermore, the pandemic increased the need for curb-side pickups. Instead of having consumers drive to a grocery store, packages could be delivered to space for pickup in the basements of the building, closing that last mile to the consumer.
Toronto’s Underground Communities
Repurposed parking lots won’t be the only underground space Torontonians operate in. If you have yet to explore the city’s PATH, it’s worth a wander. The underground trail runs from Union to Bloor, with 1,200 restaurants, shops and services that employ over 4,600 people and generate $1.7 Billion in sales annually. It is run in collaboration with 35 corporations, and each segment is controlled by the building it runs under.
The repurposing of these parking lots is only in the ideation stage, and bringing international start-ups who would otherwise be priced out of prime retail space will only expand the possibilities.
Moving your Business to Toronto
Thinking of taking your start-up international? Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC) is Toronto’s oldest business incubator and the only one that helps companies move anywhere in Ontario. Since our inception, we’ve helped over 9000 companies move to Ontario and scale. If you are leading a company with proof of concept and a strong management team, we can make the connections you need to accelerate your expansion into the North American market.
Excited about the opportunities you see here? Book a call to see if your business is ready.