Since late October, the University of Toronto’s Architecture and Design Gallery, located in the basement of the Daniels Building at 1 Spadina Crescent, has housed its first exhibition since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Titled, Housing Multitudes: Reimagining the Landscapes of Suburbia, the exhibition is a study in urban planning and land use that ultimately attempts to offer a model for the strategic intensification of Toronto’s suburban communities. 

Expanding on the exhibition for the first time since its opening, a symposium event was held at the gallery on January 26, 2023, bringing together a panel of prominent professionals who could generally be described as urbanists, to discuss both the triumphs and shortcomings of the study. 

Looking north at the Daniels Building, where the event was held, image by Matias Bessai

The symposium was hosted by the exhibition’s curators, Richard Sommer, director of the Daniels Global Cities Institute and former Dean of the Daniels faculty, and Michael Piper, director of the Daniels Masters of Urban Design program. A total of 15 panelists were invited to participate in the discussion of the exhibition, who are listed with their associated titles in the image below.

Full list of panelists with titles, image courtesy of Kriss Communications

The format for the daytime event was a roundtable discussion, structured in two parts, each with a different focus. The first part engaged in a conversation of “The Bigger Picture”, prompting the panelists to think about how the citizenry of a given city could evaluate solutions for issues like a housing crisis based on a clearly defined standard. What would that standard be, and did the exhibit establish a foundation for an effective standard in the context of the GTA? 

To dig into these questions, the panel broke out into smaller groups, and returned to the table after 15 minutes of discussion to share their viewpoints. The conversation that followed was quick to get into the topic of Bill 23, which has essentially created a framework for private development at the citizen level. 

Panelists sit around the round table discussing the exhibit, image by Harry Choi

With the conversation flowing, engagement with the second topic came about naturally as the focus turned towards how the exhibit’s model for intensification of single family home sites might play out over the next few years. One of the primary concerns that emerged among the panel was access, as the ability to intensify one’s property requires owning a property in the first place. 

Another idea that was tossed around was the role that the expropriation of land could play in activating some of the more radical proposals of the exhibition, like building 3-storey apartments around the perimeter of entire suburban blocks. The conversation found that a more likely — and ethical — direction would be for private developers to purchase the land instead, but again, the issue of access remains close to the surface. 

Richard Sommer (Centre) speaks during the roundtable discussion, image by Harry Choi

When the discussion ended, it was clear that the event had been productive despite having engaged in some conversations that weren’t exactly related to the exhibition. With such an extensive panel, deviations are to be expected, especially when the topic is as complex as housing solutions in Toronto. 

Housing Multitudes continues to run at the Architecture and Design Gallery for the foreseeable future, and can be attended between the hours of 9 - 5 on weekdays. 

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