Canada // Toronto //

Selling air


In one of the city’s stranger ordinances, Toronto’s buildings were once decreed to have a “notional maximum altitude”. Owners of historic properties were not allowed to extend their buildings upwards, but they were permitted to sell the empty space between their roofs and the notional maximum to builders of new structures. Consequently, developers literally bought empty space and added it on to the maximum height they were already allowed for their buildings, thus creating the skyscrapers that the original ordinance seemed to forbid.

The arrangement enhanced neither the old nor the new, and was quickly followed up by an even stranger agreement. By the late 1980s, preservationists had convinced the city that no more of the city’s old buildings should be demolished. Yet developers still wanted to build new downtown buildings, and several deals emerged where a new complex would incorporate or literally engulf the old – the most notable example being the Victorian Commercial Bank building of 1845 which is now incorporated within the Brookfield Place mall at the corner of Yonge and Front streets.

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