Tower Renewal Blog

Learning lessons from Crescent Town


In the 1960’s, high-rise towers were thought to be the best solution to meet the growing need for rental units, while efficiently organizing new housing with services. The resulting apartment neighbourhoods help us recognize how quickly the city evolves, and how each generation tries in different ways to address the challenges of growth, social and community needs. Take Crescent Town near Dawes Road and the Danforth.

In 1900, this was the site of Walter Massey’s experimental farm which he called Dentonia Park. The innovative farm produced the first pasteurized milk in Canada. Providing a supply of safe milk to poor inner city children was a pressing social issue that Walter Massey recognized and wanted to address.

Sixty years later, the need for housing was the social issue of the day. The completion of Victoria Park Avenue across the Massey Creek Ravine in 1962 and the coming of the Bloor-Danforth subway line placed pressure on the site for intensification. In order to avoid piecemeal developments that might encroach onto the ravine space, the planning staff encouraged “a comprehensive development of the whole of such lands.” In 1968, Howard Investments proposed just such a development for the site.

Public space adjacent to library, shops, and low and mid-rise housing at base of high-rise tower, Crescent Town

The association with the Massey’s aided in the development of Crescent Town’s innovation, public programme and high quality. Strikingly at odds with the post-war homes and other developments that surround it, Crescent Town was an attempt to create a fully functional community, integrating private and public interests in a complex spatial arrangement.

The result is an anomaly among apartment clusters in Toronto, as well as one of the most remarkable examples of large scale housing in Canada. Consisting of high and low rise housing forms, half a dozen high-rise towers, a school, library, community facilities, shops, direct subway access, and open space, the project sits atop an immense parking garage. Located beside a ravine and a golf course, the development sits as a dense urban node in one structure in a predominantly natural setting.

Crescent Town with ravine bed, and public golf course in foreground

Crescent Town was a progressive and innovative response to suburban housing needs and regional planning. But some forty years since it was designed, the area again faces new issues. While it is home to the vibrant cultures of the New Canada, it has suffered from a lack of investment over a long period of time and a lack of service in keeping with the area’s demographic changes. As a result it has recently been identified as one of the Priority Neighbourhoods – and it will require thoughtful solutions to address these complex challenges. But change is the nature of cities. It is essential that they evolve continually to address the ever-changing needs of their citizens.

This article first appeared in Novæ Res Urbis (NRU). ERA is contributing articles to NRU on a weekly basis about the Toronto Tower Renewal project.