Of Parks, Podiums and Penumbras: How Density Changes Development

Cities that increase density by building skywards can inadvertently end up with impersonal streetscapes defined by monotonous walls of glass and concrete. Toronto has avoided the issue of dark, canyon-like streetscapes by mandating that buildings offer a human-scale street presence. Most large buildings are composed of a “podium” base, with towers receding from the street in steps as they grow upwards, allowing sunlight to filter through. But one developer, Brad Lamb, is tired of the monotonous wedding-cake aesthetic caused by codes that encourage “podiumism.”

He sees parks as a way to increase density without sacrificing beauty and creativity. This is a somewhat of a twist on the usual tension between density and open space, in which cities have to force developers to include parks as an offset to residential and commercial projects (in a future article, we’ll discuss Seattle’s Green Factor codes, which require new developments in dense areas to provide publicly accessible and visible landscaping).

In Toronto, Lamb wants to build a slender 47-story residential tower and replace the podium space of other towers with a tiny park (the entire lot is only 62 by 200 feet). The building is between two historic buildings and the park would feature a lawn, benches, and a fountain.

His plans, though, face some opposition from city planners. This is certainly not the first time that open space and density have struggled to coexist.