Metro Morning

Toronto may not be developing to fit needs of young people, non-white demographic

The city of Toronto is developing at a fast pace but it isn't necessarily evolving to meet the needs of the growing young population.

Public input at city consultations includes mostly white homeowners, aged over 50

Toronto's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, says she is concerned about the risk of driving young people away from the city. (Jennifer Keesmaat/Twitter)

Toronto may be one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but it isn't necessarily developing in line with the needs of its fastest growing demographic — young people aged between 18-35. 

The city's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, says she is concerned about driving young people away from the city as a result of developing homes and neighbourhoods that don't conform to their changing lifestyles and that they can't afford. 

"It is a risk...it's a really important concern," she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday.

Lack of representation

"We learned in our consultations that young people who are having their first child in condos want to stay in condos but don't have the amenities they need to raise their families there," she said.

There is a lack of representation of different demographics on panels and consultations that the city holds, according to Keesmat. 

"We undertook some research recently... and discovered that the participants at our public meetings are primarily over 55, white homeowners," she said. "And of course, we know in the city, the fastest growing demographic is under 35, that almost 50 per cent of the population is non-white and 50 per cent of the population are renters."

'Old over young'

Earlier this week, a researcher argued that young people need to have more input when it comes to issues before city council and that politicians often choose "old over young."

Vasiliki Bednar, associate director of the cities program at the University of Toronto, told Metro Morning that millennials are frustrated because housing costs are high, they face a lot of job insecurity, and moving to suburbs isn't an option for everyone. 

"We are a world-class city. And it's not really historically new that houses in an urban centre are expensive," said Bednar. "But we no longer have the option ... of moving to the suburbs as a housing policy because suburbs housing prices are also really escalating."

Vasiliki Bednar, associate director for cities at the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute, says millennials are frustrated about the high cost of housing and precarious employment in Toronto. (CBC)

While that is worrying for Keesmaat, she says that there are creative ways for Generation Xers and millennials to break into the housing market. 

"I think the frustration is real. [But] buying a house and renting out two-thirds of it [or] renting out a portion of your condo to bring your costs down, historically that's actually been a good approach," she said. 

Addressing the problem 

One way that the city is trying to meet the needs of young people is by focusing on layouts of buildings and neighbourhoods.

"Our objective is to ensure that we're providing the housing types and the neighbourhood for a generation that responds and wants to live in a different way than the generation before," she said, referring to growing trend among young people to prefer condos over houses. 

The city has also created the Toronto Planning Review Panel, which includes randomly selected households and citizens, with the goal of bringing new voices, young and old, into the planning process. 

"The panel is fascinating because it represents the demographic of the city. The intention is to get a really balanced representation of the interest of the residents of the city," said Keesmaat. 

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