Kiddies back in school, and a CUPE strike narrowly averted, got us thinking about how a large part of our job is researching schools for clients.

We calculate the distance from their homes (or soon to be homes) to the schools their kids will be attending. We think about what pick-up/drop-off looks like? Will it cause traffic chaos between 2:45-3:30pm?  Is it walkable for the older kids?

I wager that realtors know more about Toronto schools than pretty much anyone! 

One thing that struck me when looking at the Google satellite view of our neighbourhood schools were the big rectangles of grey concrete parking lots and large fields. 

The TDSB is the largest property owner in the city of Toronto, owning more than 600 hectares of land. That’s the size of 127 Skydomes (or Rogers Centres, if you’re one of those people). Or approximately the area from the DVP to Coxwell, Danforth to Queen St.  A HUGE area, and much of it is underused.

Just last week the University Health Network donated a $10 million dollar parcel of land to the City of Toronto to be used for affordable housing. 

Dr. Andrew Boozary, UHN’s executive director of health and social policy told the CBC,

  “We see a lot of homeless patients or precariously-housed patients with a lot of both medical and social needs that have been coming into our Toronto Western Hospital, and one of the things that we realized, again from our data and from working with our partners, is that we actually have the highest rate of homeless patients coming into our emergency department at the Toronto Western.”

We are in the midst of a housing crisis, with so few viable building sites in established neighbourhoods. Anywhere we can build more housing with access to services is a big win, and as we’ve highlighted in the past, housing isn’t always built where those services are.

The TDSB has previously sold off some land to developers:

Per CTV, “The highest-profile example is North Toronto Collegiate Institute. Where the NTCI grounds were sold for $52 million to fund a refurbishment of NTCI. The school now shares space with a pair of condominium towers.”

We think the TDSB should be selling off a lot more. With the caveat that a portion of units be earmarked for affordable housing, and more units family sized units. In an increasingly vertical city, we have to think like New York, or Tokyo, where mid and high rise buildings are interconnected with services.

How can we better use these TDSB lands?

But I think we could have done better than the NTCI deal. I have a completely different vision for the potential. Wouldn’t it be amazing if TDSB could partner or sell off their lands to not only have housing go up and get the existing building overhauled but to be able to create a completely integrated vertical community that actually serves everyone?

A community that not only uses the excess lands to generate funds to rehab the existing structure, there is an amazing opportunity to use these once public lands to create whole community hubs for everyone. Complete ecosystems of housing, schooling, community centres and environments of learning and play for people of all ages. Perhaps an idealistic vision but one that I feel is completely possible and a win win for everyone involved.

Building density in traditional low rise neighbourhoods will help schools with lower enrolment boost their numbers. It will help families with lower incomes access more desirable schools and build multi-purpose community centres. All of which will benefit students and all neighbourhood residents 365 days a year.  

Thankfully, the TDSB’s Toronto Land Corporation is chaired by former Mayor David Crombie, who, per the Globe, “has long advocated the use of schools as “community hubs.” and says: “We’ve got an outstanding opportunity, the idea is to make sure we give people a chance to plan [complete] communities.” 

We think this is a great leap forward in thinking for how we build both density, and community at once.

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