While driving a rented car on his way to get his two boys their first movie ever, Antonio Gomez-Palacio, the chair of the Toronto Society for Architects, discussed his work and vision for the future of home building in the Greater Toronto Area.
“My experience is much more around urban planning and a broader city-building perspective,” said Gomez-Palacio. “I’m immersed in the debate of residential as it pertains to the broad city vision.”
His work involves such things as growth management strategies and heritage preservation. One of the projects he is currently working on is looking at Mississauga and how it should grow in the next 100 years.
“I think the more important question to ask is what does the city look like and what should it look like into the future? There are two futures for residential. One based on the trend, the other on the imperative. A trend is a form of residential that is based on sprawl and single land use. That only includes residential, a very uniform type. Single-family detached over vast areas.”
Gomez-Palacio said that when you look at the city it is a recent phenomenon – widely established over the last 30 to 20 years.
“We started to see some of the social consequences of developing in this sort of way. Taking Mississauga as an example. A lot of the current growth pattern of residential was presented by the opportunities of the automobile. They are designed for people to drive everywhere. There is a trend that the mast majority gets built under a very similar format. The pendulum is coming back. The number of condos downtown outnumbered the number of single-family detached units.”
Gomez-Palacio says this trend started on the west coast that is a complete community. People could meet all the needs of their everyday life within walking distance. The shift is towards relying on walking rather than driving.
“You can start to see it’s going to transform the vast majority of neighbourhoods over the next couple of decades,” Gomez-Palacio says. “Some small detached houses. Apartment buildings. Everything that happens in a complete city all within walking distance rather than driving distance. There is a huge push over the past decade to get kids to walk to school. There is a huge problem that people don’t walk to buy a gallon of milk.”
He says the notion of mixed-use and mixed type of residential homes is also a critical notion.
“If you have the ability to work from home and if you have a coffee shop your ease of staying home is much easier. I have two little kids and I walk them to daycare every day no matter the weather. We live in a part of the city that allows us to do that. We can design a city that allows you to do that. What’s more important is that we need to design a city in that way. We can no longer afford the type of lifestyle and the type of sprawling cities that consumes such vast amounts of land and depends on cars in that sort of way.
“When you ask people what are their favourite cities in the world, they talk about compact cities. They can’t imagine building it for themselves.”
This includes a residential building that promotes a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. An environment that is more compact is healthier for us and healthier for the environment.
“I think generally the majority of the Greater Toronto area is pretty much built out and there isn’t a lot of green-fill lefts,” says Bindya Lad, a master’s student of architecture at the University of Toronto. “I see a lot of developers taking sites that can accommodate greater densities that are maybe underdeveloped.”
Lad also works for the Toronto Society of Architects. She has a previous background in urban planning and lives in Mississauga.
“So I know some things about development. I’m in my third year at university. By the end of 2008, I would have graduated. I’m hoping to get onto licensing and acquire more experience and knowledge in the field. What I’m really interested in is multi-family housing.”
What Lad is talking about is similar to the kind of “Who’s the Boss?” type of living, if you remember the former television program.
“With a lot of immigrants coming in they can’t afford any houses and they share the house with their relatives,” Lad says. “Then you have elderly families living with their sons and daughters. People who cannot afford a house and they live in many houses. In my point of view, it’s kind of a better way of living it promotes greater living in single-family homes. It’s better utilization of space. Multi-families can form a support for one another.”
Lad plans to do her master’s research on this topic.
The Toronto Society of Architects has 1,000 members. They include historians, environmentalists and anyone who is generally interested in architecture and urban planning.
As the chair of the society, Gomez-Palacio also does work in Halifax, Regina, and Moncton. As he was driving his rented car, his sons were looking for a documentary on squirrels. At the ages of 2 and 4, Gomez-Palacio said they do not even know what a documentary is. With a future in home building that is more sustainable as both Lad and Gomez-Palacio suggest, the boys will have the chance to watch real-life squirrels as they are walking from their homes to buy milk when they are older.