Recent studies show downtown B- and C-class office vacanies in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary are pushing 20-36%

Are Canadian downtowns going to end up like Detroit?

On July 18, 2013 Detroit went bankrupt. A hollowed-out downtown was the cause. 

If you’ve taken a stroll in the downtowns of Canada’s largest cities recently, they may seem quieter than usual, lacking energy and hustle. That’s because our cities have not rebounded from COVID.

We need more people living and working downtown… and fast.

The businesses that used to rent those office spaces pre-COVID are unlikely to come back anytime soon — or at least not at the same level as before. According to a Conference Board of Canada study, only four percent of CEOs are now prioritizing a return to office policy. Remote work, and its consequences for cities, are here to stay.

Earlier this month, the Globe and Mail reported that, in Toronto, there’s a whopping five million square feet of empty space, spread across 47 office towers. In an in-depth, data-laden analysis of the downtown Toronto commercial rental market, the authors point to Shopify as a prime example of the city’s challenge. Locked into a 15-year lease at brand-new office complex, The Well, Shopify has already rejected plans to move in. Seven-floors sit empty. That’s hundreds of workers who are no longer stepping out for coffee, lunch or happy hour at neighbouring restaurants and cafes; not doing their shopping with downtown retailers.

Reviving downtown cores with “more young people” solutions

“More people downtown!” should be our cities’ rallying cry. It’s ours at Toboggan Flats. . Flexible, affordable housing will help bring the curiosity, connection, openness and dynamism of young people back to our city centres. And if they can live downtown, they will work downtown, using their inventiveness and playful spirit to bring back the vitality and buzz that all great cities need. 

Creative solutions to help young people live and work downtown are out there. Now we need to make them a reality. 

Co-living downtown

Bravo Vancouver! Two city councillors are pushing to have empty office space converted into pod hotels, hoping to address a shortage of accommodation before the city hosts the 2026 FIFA World Cup. That’s co-living downtown for tourists. Great idea. Now we need co-living for people who want to live downtown, not just visit. 

☑ Private rooms and shared space. That’s  Toboggan Flats.

☑ Repurposing vacant office space. That’s Toboggan Flats.

☑ Increasing the number of people living more affordably and working downtown. Check. All Toboggan Flats. 

There are all kinds of examples of flexible zoning and allowable uses already out there: student housing, live/work studios and more. Co-living is not radical and doesn’t mean we need to start from scratch — we can make it happen and make it happen fast.