Sounds like Dundas West is the place to be right now. I have it on good authority from the Toronto Planning Department’s design division, and they would know, right?

Even Toronto isn’t immune to the ethnic village turned hipster hot-spot pattern of development we’ve been seeing all over the states, but at least it seems they’ve got their priorities set up to deal with the hot commodity that such neighborhoods can become.  Previously, it was Ossington Avenue that was the center of the hip, new, and unassumingly chic, but that title can only be held on for so long before the cool creeps along to the next stop further from the city center, from far west to far west west as one guide described.  Dundas Street West, right off of Ossington, is changing from Little Portugal to a nightlife strip with bars and restaurants popping up faster than the city can plan for. So fast that a moratorium is in effect in some specific spots to stop new restaurants from opening until the city can catch their breath and plan their next step.

In the meantime, the design department has designated certain avenues in the area as targets of ‘reurbanization’ to accommodate the growing residential and commercial demand. Matt Armstrong of the Urban Planning Department's design section, walked us through the city’s Avenues and Mid-Rise Building Study and the design regulations they created to meet their highest priorities, maintaining an active street life without severely disrupting the character of the existing neighborhood.

Image from City of Toronto, Department of Urban Design (

Image from City of Toronto, Department of Urban Design (

The existing neighborhood they’re referring to is, as far as I can tell, uniquely Torontonian. Freestanding row houses with little pointy roofs split directly down the middle. The design department calls for any new development on the avenue to gradually step down in the back to meet the surrounding residential streets lined with these older row houses. To limit height the allow for 11 stories total, with anything after the sixth story gradually stepping back to make a 45-degree angular plane.

Admittedly, the design regulations are not always met as developers may plead their case to the province for exemptions to the rules. The team is constantly forced to make compromises in their regulations, but it is still exciting to see the number of new projects that can fit their measures of success. Even larger condo towers in the area have made concessions to their design plans, providing privately owned but publicly accessible parks and maintaining the current neighborhood character with live/work art studios. They’ve also attempted to keep the current small business movement of the area alive by allowing only smaller retail spaces on the first floor of new avenue development  

The Planning department does not seem to shy away from creative solutions to their regulations, a lesson I think other cities should look to for inspiration. The City’s recent Urban Design Awards are full of exciting new development that keeps in step with maintaining Toronto’s dynamic streets and smaller neighborhoods.

For more information about the MId-Rise and Avenue Study and their other projects, make sure to visit the city of Toronto's Urban Design Department's website.