Almost one million people live in several thousand concrete tower blocks throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Many of these apartment buildings, built between the 1940s and 1980s, are inefficient and in deteriorating condition. Many are also surrounded by spaces that are underused and poorly maintained.

The Tower Renewal Partnership aims to revitalize these apartment towers and their surrounding neighbourhoods and convert them into healthier, more complete communities. The Tower Renewal model consists of three strategies: retrofitting the towers to improve tenant comfort and energy performance, investing in community amenities and infrastructure to promote local economic activity, and integrating high-quality infill to support mixed-use growth.

As part of a TAF concept development grant, Evergreen joined forces with a range of community partners to undertake a detailed investigation of the renewal potential on tower sites in the GTA. Project partners include the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal, the Maytree Foundation, and United Way Toronto & York Region. The initial goal of this grant was to develop business cases to test the financial viability of using infill developments to finance tower retrofits.

Through its research, the Tower Renewal team identified three primary types of tower sites based on ownership characteristics:

  1. Towers in Unified Clusters: These are groups of two or more towers with contiguous open space and one owner.
  1. Towers in Fragmented Clusters: These are groups of towers with contiguous open space and different owners.
  1. Single Towers Isolated: These are single towers located either outside of tower neighbourhoods or on small plots of land. About one quarter of the regional tower stock falls into this category.

The team found that single, isolated towers severely limited the capacity for extensive renewal strategies, since such strategies depend on the addition of mixed-use infill as a financing tool. With respect to fragmented clusters, division created through property boundaries was found to reduce the flexibility of the open space, presenting limitations on renewal strategies for these sites as well.

The team’s business case analysis revealed that towers in unified clusters located in growth centres demonstrate the greatest opportunity for mixed-use infill to fund comprehensive renewal. However, even in these situations financial tools are needed to supplement the revenues generated on the sites. To address this, the team is seeking to develop green financing tools to encourage long-term investment in deep retrofits that improve housing quality, tenant comfort, and energy performance.

At the same time, the team is also exploring non-financial tools to foster a more supportive environment for tower renewal. These include specialized land-use and growth strategies, consolidated service delivery models, and policies that support community benefits agreements setting forth specific benefits that could accrue to a local community through a tower renewal project, as defined through an inclusive community engagement process.