The History of Real Estate in the Greater Toronto Area

June 22, 2023
House Price Wizard
The History of Real Estate in the Greater Toronto Area The House Price Wizard

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is one of the most desirable places to live in the world. It is home to a diverse population, a thriving economy, and a variety of cultural attractions. The GTA is also a major center for business and finance.

The real estate market in the GTA is one of the most active in North America. Prices have been rising steadily for years, and there is no sign of a slowdown. This has led to a phenomenon known as "urban sprawl."

Urban sprawl is the expansion of human populations away from central urban areas into low-density, monofunctional and usually car-dependent communities. It is a pattern of growth characterized by low population density and the expansion of low-density, single-use residential, commercial and industrial development.

The History of a Car-Dependent Toronto

How Toronto House Prices Skyrocketed - The House Price Wizard
The History of a Car-Dependent Toronto

The rise of the automobile in Toronto, Canada, is a fascinating narrative of innovation, urban development, and changing societal norms. The story is intertwined with the growth of the city itself and is deeply embedded in the fabric of Toronto's modern identity.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Toronto, like many other cities, was primarily a walking city, with public transportation augmented by horse-drawn streetcars. However, the advent of the automobile sparked a profound transformation that would gradually reshape the city's landscape and societal dynamics.

The first car to roll onto Toronto's streets is believed to have arrived around the turn of the 20th century, with early adopters being primarily wealthy individuals who saw these machines as novel status symbols. Automobiles in this era were considered luxury items due to their high cost, relative to wages, and the limited availability of models.

The first significant boom of automobiles in Toronto occurred in the 1920s, following the end of the First World War. This era witnessed a surge in car ownership, largely due to the decreasing cost of vehicles and a rising middle class. Local assembly plants from major auto manufacturers like Ford and General Motors set up shop in Ontario, which bolstered the economy and made cars more accessible to the masses.

The rise of the automobile triggered substantial infrastructural changes within the city. Roads were widened and paved to accommodate the increased traffic, and new traffic laws and signs were introduced. Suburbs began to sprout on the outskirts of Toronto, designed around the concept of commuting by car.

Post World War II, Toronto experienced another significant leap in automobile usage. This was the era of the "car culture," where owning a car was synonymous with personal freedom and success. The construction of expressways, like the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, marked this period, fostering the spread of Toronto's metropolitan area.

However, the explosive growth of automobiles also presented challenges, including traffic congestion, air pollution, and the decline of public transit use. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, these challenges led to a reevaluation of Toronto's relationship with the automobile. The city started to explore sustainable transportation options, promoting public transit, cycling, and pedestrian-friendly urban design.

The History of Toronto's Growing Suburbs

Toronto's Growing Suburbs - The House Price Wizard
The History of Toronto's Growing Suburbs

The growth of suburbs in Toronto, Canada, offers an intriguing snapshot of the city's urban development, influenced heavily by societal shifts, economic changes, and technological advancements, particularly the rise of the automobile.

The development of Toronto's suburbs began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the expansion of streetcar lines that allowed people to live further from the city's core while still maintaining access to their jobs and the city's amenities. These early suburbs, or "streetcar suburbs," included areas like The Beaches and High Park, characterized by single-family homes and a grid-like street layout.

The real acceleration of suburban growth in Toronto, however, occurred in the post-World War II era. The end of the war saw a boom in the economy and population, fueled by returning soldiers, increased immigration, and a general economic optimism. This period also coincided with the rise of the automobile, which profoundly influenced suburban development.

One of the most notable suburban developments during this time was Don Mills, built in the 1950s. It was designed as a self-contained community with a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. It was also during this period that the province of Ontario created Metropolitan Toronto, a regional government that allowed for coordinated planning and service delivery across the city and its growing suburbs.

Suburbs continued to spread outward in the latter half of the 20th century. This expansion was facilitated by significant infrastructure projects, like the construction of Highway 401 and other expressways, which provided faster and more direct routes between the city's core and its outlying areas.

However, the rapid suburban growth also led to challenges. While the suburbs offered larger living spaces and perceived better quality of life, they also resulted in urban sprawl, increased car dependency, and a decline in the use of public transit. Moreover, the outward expansion led to concerns about environmental sustainability and social equity.

In the early 21st century, the city has been working to address these challenges through various strategies, including intensification, transit-oriented development, and the promotion of mixed-use neighborhoods. This has resulted in a shift in the suburban landscape, with areas like North York and Scarborough evolving from traditional suburbs to more urbanized centers.

In essence, the history of the growth of suburbs in Toronto is a story of a city's adaptation to changing social and economic conditions, and the quest for balance between urban growth and sustainability. It is a story that continues to evolve as Toronto navigates its future development.

The Decline of Toronto's Downtown Core

The Decline of Toronto's Downtown Core - The House Price Wizard
The Decline of Toronto's Downtown Core

The story of the decline of the inner city in Toronto, Canada, like in many other North American cities, is a complex narrative influenced by social, economic, and urban planning factors. This process, often termed "urban decay," occurred predominantly in the mid to late 20th century, but it's essential to note that the narrative has seen significant shifts in recent years.

In the mid-20th century, as Toronto experienced an economic boom and the population grew, there was a marked trend of urbanites moving out to the newly developed suburbs. This was facilitated by the rise of the automobile and the development of highway systems, which made commuting from the suburbs feasible. The allure of the suburbs lay in the promise of more space, perceived safety, and an idealized notion of family life.

As a result, the inner city, particularly the downtown core, experienced a decline. Businesses and wealthier residents moved out, and property values decreased. Some areas were marked by increasing poverty, and a number of buildings, particularly residential properties, fell into disrepair.

An important contributing factor to this decline was urban renewal policies of the mid-20th century. Large swathes of inner-city neighborhoods were often demolished to make way for public housing projects, highways, and commercial developments. These policies disproportionately affected low-income and immigrant communities and contributed to a sense of dislocation and social fragmentation within the inner city.

However, the narrative of inner-city decline in Toronto began to shift in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The city started experiencing a process of "gentrification," where middle and upper-class residents and businesses began to move back into the inner city. This was motivated in part by the desire to live closer to cultural amenities and workplaces, as well as changing perceptions about urban living.

The gentrification process led to increasing property values and a revitalization of many inner-city neighborhoods. However, it has also raised concerns about affordable housing and the displacement of lower-income residents.

In recent years, the City of Toronto has implemented policies aimed at revitalizing the inner city and addressing issues such as affordable housing, community services, and public spaces. Efforts have also been made to promote mixed-use development and improve public transit in the inner city.

How Toronto House Prices Skyrocketed

How Toronto House Prices Skyrocketed - The House Price Wizard
How Toronto House Prices Skyrocketed

In the early to mid-20th century, housing in Toronto was comparatively affordable, reflecting the city's size and economic stature at the time. However, the landscape began to change notably from the 1980s onwards.

This shift can be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost, Toronto's economy boomed from the 1980s onwards, transforming it into Canada's financial and business hub. This economic prosperity led to an influx of workers into the city, driving up demand for housing.

Second, Toronto experienced significant population growth through immigration. As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, Toronto has been a popular destination for immigrants, contributing to the increase in demand for housing. This demand was further intensified by the trend of urbanization, with more people choosing to live in cities.

Third, land-use regulations and zoning policies have also played a significant role in the increase in house prices. Strict regulations around development in certain areas of the city, particularly the downtown core and near transit lines, have limited the supply of new housing. This has created a supply-demand imbalance, contributing to the rise in prices.

Furthermore, low interest rates over the past few decades have made mortgages more affordable, allowing more people to enter the housing market and further driving up demand.

The early 21st century witnessed an even more accelerated increase in house prices. International investment in Toronto's real estate market, a strong economy, and a continued influx of people into the city have kept the demand high. Meanwhile, issues with housing supply persist, with the city struggling to build enough new homes to keep up with demand.

While the skyrocketing house prices have benefited homeowners who have seen the value of their property increase dramatically, it has also led to concerns about housing affordability. This has been a significant issue in Toronto, especially for first-time buyers and lower-income households.

In recent years, different levels of government have implemented measures to cool the housing market and improve affordability. These have included tightening mortgage lending rules, implementing taxes on foreign buyers, and introducing initiatives to increase the supply of affordable housing.

The Intertwined Narratives of Urban Development, Societal Shifts, and Economic Factors

The Intertwined Narratives of Urban Development, Societal Shifts, and Economic Factors - House Price Wizard
The Intertwined Narratives of Urban Development, Societal Shifts, and Economic Factors

In examining the historical trends of Toronto, one can clearly see the intertwined narratives of urban development, societal shifts, and economic factors. From the rise of automobile dependence to the burgeoning growth of suburbs, the decline of the inner city, and the escalation of house prices, these dynamics have been instrumental in shaping the Toronto we know today.

The advent of the automobile marked a turning point in Toronto's urban development, influencing not only the city's infrastructure but also its societal norms. Cars brought about newfound mobility, which greatly facilitated the growth of suburbs. People were drawn to the suburbs by the promise of more space, perceived safety, and a particular vision of family life that these areas offered.

However, this surge in suburban development and car usage led to a period of decline for Toronto's downtown core in the mid-20th century. As businesses and wealthier residents relocated to the suburbs, the inner city faced significant challenges, including economic downturn and urban decay.

At the same time, Toronto's booming economy and increasing population were driving forces behind the rapid escalation of house prices. The city's transformation into a major economic hub, along with the influx of immigrants, stringent land-use regulations, and low-interest rates, created an imbalance in housing supply and demand. This led to skyrocketing prices, making housing affordability a crucial concern.

Yet, these narratives are not endpoints. The story of Toronto continues to evolve, as the city grapples with its past and envisages its future. From the gentrification of the inner city to sustainable transportation initiatives, attempts to address housing affordability, and the continual urban development, Toronto's history continues to be written.