The Hidden Opportunities of Redeveloping Tower Neighbourhoods

Proposed park space at Finch and Sentinel Redevelopment

Blog // Dec. 4, 2023

By: Yvonne Battista, Principal, STUDIO tla

Thousands of tower neighbourhoods–which are characterized by high-rise buildings surrounded by large surface parking lots and sprawling lawns with sparsely planted trees–are aging and require renewal, making them an ideal fit for large-scale redevelopment. Active plans to redevelop these 60s and 70s-era, high-density, residential neighbourhoods are underway in cities across North America.
Densifying these neighbourhoods–also commonly referred to as ‘Tower in the Park’ developments–presents an opportunity to address the housing shortages that many North American cities are grappling with, but redeveloping these neighbourhoods presents an even greater opportunity that spans beyond simply building housing units.
Because many of these existing neighbourhoods lack on-site amenities and connectivity to their broader community typical of newer developments (e.g., transit, pedestrian and cycling trails, grocery stores), there is also a genuine possibility to improve the quality of life for people in these communities and build more sustainable environments.
The redevelopment of a rental tower neighbourhood currently underway in northwest Toronto exemplifies how this approach is being applied in a real-world setting that will benefit a rapidly changing community.
The existing Finch and Sentinel tower neighbourhood was originally built in the early 70s on a 21.7-acre property that features (4) rental towers set in a declining mature woodlot, adjacent to Black Creek and an existing Hydro corridor to the north. The Finch West Light Rail and adjacent transit station is nearing completion and offers connectivity to the greater metropolitan transit system.
The redevelopment of the neighbourhood includes adding (4) mixed-use residential apartment buildings–which will provide 1,740 new residential units–and a central recreation centre. As landscape architect, STUDIO tla is collaborating with a project team comprising of Kirkor Architects, Bousfields (Planning) and Beacon Environmental that are working in cooperation with The City of Toronto and the Toronto Conservation Authority to plan and design the redevelopment guided by two key themes:

  1. Strengthening sense of community
  2. Enhancing ecological integrity
These themes underpin the greater opportunity to transform the Finch and Sentinel neighbourhood as a more connected and sustainable place to live and work.
Strengthening a sense of community in this neighbourhood began with an assessment to understand the expressed needs of the people who will eventually use the redeveloped spaces. This involved community engagement through in-person public meetings and virtual consultations to inform residents and provide an opportunity for them to share their feedback on what they wanted from the future development in their community.
These consultations helped the project team understand the importance of focusing on an overall design that is flexible, multi-generational and fully accessible. This input informed conceptual designs of the neighbourhood’s new amenities that will add (2) playgrounds, a dog off-leash area, a fitness/work out area, exercise track, BBQ area, community gardens and children’s play areas. There will be over 5,200 sq. m. of private, outdoor recreational space for residents–which exceeds the minimum area established by the City by close to 1,800 sq. m–and a total public parkland dedication of more than 12,000 sq. m.
Other features include a Privately-Owned, Publicly Accessible Space (POPS) that will support new retail–including a large footprint retail space suitable for a grocery store–and an area for community gatherings and meetings; new accessible pedestrian pathways that will strategically connect the community; a new public road; and 1,900 long-term and short-term bike parking spaces.
Enhancing ecological integrity at the Finch and Sentinel neighbourhood is focused primarily on improving the declining health of trees, plants and wildlife. An extensive natural heritage rehabilitation plan will see the existing urban forest restored, invasive species removed and habitat enriched.
More than 450 trees will be planted on public and private land, as well as over 4,600 young whip trees that will be planted as part of the Ravine Stewardship Plan supporting ecological restoration. To support the vibrant growth of these trees, soil volume requirements for tree planting will be exceeded by over 140%, signalling the importance of ensuring the long-term health of the woodlot and the neighbourhood’s surrounding tree canopy. Over 18,000 native shrubs will be planted to help re-establish and strengthen the understory of the existing contiguous forest canopy.
Other initiatives include a wildlife preservation and habitat plan that will support natural places for bats, birds, mammals and snakes to live, and over 4,100 sq. m. of green roof area atop the residential towers to mitigate stormwater management.
This redevelopment approach at the Finch and Sentinel tower neighbourhood highlights how exterior spaces in similar communities across North America can be transformed from open, disconnected spaces into community assets that connect people to a greater, more fulfilling sense of place.