Tower Neighbourhood Renewal

Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: An Analysis of High-Rise Apartment Tower Neighbourhoods Developed in the Post-War Boom (1945-1984)

by E.R.A. Architects, planningAlliance, and the Cities Centre, University of Toronto

For the Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Infrastructure, Government of Ontario. November 2010

In 2010 a major study of rental apartment buildings over eight storeys constructed between 1945 and 1984 was released by the Government of Ontario.

One-third of of all renters in the Toronto region (defined as the “greater golden horseshoe”) and 48 per cent of the City of Toronto’s renters, live in these tower neighbourhoods.  Renters, an average, have half the income of homeowners. Many of the tower neighbourhoods have high rates of poverty.

With many Apartment Towers now fifty years old, this housing stock requires significant reinvestment. Many of the Toronto area researchers associated with the Neighbourhood Change initiative helped establish the Tower Renewal Network to advocate for a comprehensive approach to community renewal in the tower neighbourhoods.

Tower Neighbourhood Renewal, as a complete bottom-up community development process, can bring together refurbishment of individual buildings with a program for environmental, social and economic renewal of entire neighbourhoods. In so doing, it can help create complete, prosperous, equitable and sustainable communities.

Research on tower neighbourhoods is one important focus of the Neighbourhood Change initiative.


The following is an except from the executive summary of the report.


The Greater Golden Horseshoe’s (GGH’s) pattern of urbanization is unique in North America. A major contributing factor to this urban form is the significant development of high-rise modern apartment housing that occurred in the postwar period, roughly between 1945 and 1984, though concentrated between 1960 and 1980. There are nearly 2,000 post-war Apartment Towers located throughout the region as a result of post-war planning policies that encouraged the “tower-in-the-park” housing model and higher density apartment clusters in new suburban communities.

Though unique in North America, the region’s decentralized clusters of modern towers share similarities with post-war housing developments found the world over, with particular concentrations in Europe, the former Soviet Union, and parts of Asia. In many of these locations, the revitalization of aging tower clusters and their neighbourhoods has been recognized as a key strategy for achieving contemporary urban planning goals of low-carbon, prosperous, and equitable communities. With the European Union showing particular leadership in this field, post-war Apartment Tower Neighbourhoods have emerged as model low carbon communities and centres of social and economic development, through targeted green refurbishment and integrated processes of neighbourhood renewal.

Throughout this report, this process will be defined as Tower Neighbourhood Renewal, and residential buildings that are eight storeys and above, constructed between 1945 and 1984, will be referred to as Apartment Towers.

Findings Related to Current State of Apartment Towers

  • Apartment Towers are a major component of the GGH’s housing stock. There are 1,925 Apartment Towers in the GGH. Collectively these towers are home to approximately one million people.
  • Apartment Towers represent one-third of the GGH’s rental housing stock, and 48 per cent of the City of Toronto’s rental stock.
  • Apartment Towers are among the highest energy users of all housing types inthe region, requiring as much as 25 per cent more energy per square metrecompared to a single detached house. Similarly, they typically have low wastediversion rates of less than 12 per cent.
  • Apartment Towers are very closely linked to areas of social need. Seventy-seven per cent of all Apartment Towers in the GGH are found in Census DisseminationAreas considered to have high or very high social need, while only 12 percent of towers are found in areas considered to have low or very low social need.
  • Apartment Towers in the GGH are generally found in clusters. In the GGH, 89 per cent of all Apartment Towers are found in clusters of two or more, and 62 per cent are found in large clusters of five or more. The largest of these Apartment Tower clusters contain more than 10,000 households.
  • Apartment Towers are generally situated on large land parcels of 1 hectare or more. This is a legacy of open space ratios that were encouraged to achieve the “tower-in–the-park” configuration, with 80 to 90 per cent of the site area left asopen space. The total land resource in the GGH on which Apartment Towers are situated is 2,198 hectares. More than half of apartment properties are directly adjacent to another apartment property, creating clusters of adjoined open space.
  • Residents of Apartment Towers tend to rely more on transit, walking and cycling to get around than other residents of the region. Sixty-two per cent of Apartment Towers are within areas with higher than average public transit use for their respective municipalities. Fifty-eight per cent of Apartment Towers are in zones with higher than average rates of walking and cycling. Seventy per cent are located in zones with lower than average car ownership rates.