Suburban communities must offer a strong quality of life in GTA

Toronto needs to build a new kind of suburb, says Richard Florida.

It’s all about preserving the “quality of place” which can make this region even more attractive for newcomers and investment.

This is about massive suburban retrofits,” said Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, speaking in Toronto to the Urban Land Institute symposium.

The advantaged choose to live in the city core and real estate pricing pushes other workers into the suburbs. That makes it imperative to build proper places for suburban living too. Florida suggested high speed rail and construction quality are priorities to ensure suburbs remain good, attractive places to live.

But even then, the cost of daily commuting to the city’s core itself helps to separate the advantaged from the disadvantaged, and keeps working people continually falling behind those who can afford to live in the core.

These are priorities Florida said need to be dealt with in what he calls “the new urban crisis.”

Presently we have too many activities jammed into too little space,” said Florida. “How do we overcome the divide with too many affluent, advantaged and start-ups pouring into downtown?”

With commuting comes the addiction to the car. We have to commit to high-speed rail. “People get around better in New York City on a 100-year-old subway system than they do here.” Infrastructure money must be spent strategically to connect suburbs to the city’s core.

The most important decision people make is where they choose to live, said Florida. “The social and economic container of our creative economy is our place,” he said, also calling for building construction to be just as sound and of good quality expected in in the city’s core.

Building the right core and supporting communities will help a city maintain it place as a place of quality, attracting supporting investment.

Florida said there are two billion-dollar venture capital centres – both are in downtown San Francisco.

Toronto attracts $350 million. Florida said the creative economy is urban, and we must be linked to the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

The communities that have quality of place win and attract talent and are open to outsiders. Those who are close minded fall further behind.

Florida threw out one final challenge. “We ignored the bottom of our society for a decade.  (Toronto) doesn’t look as bad as Detroit or L.A. but it’s bad. It’s always been about pushing up the bottom. We have to galvanize our commitment to service workers,” he said.