My one-year-old son is the youngest person to currently live on a floating home in Toronto. But his future is going to be the most shaped by the twin crises of climate and housing that the city is facing. As Toronto looks to revitalize its waterfront, now is the time to embrace new and creative ways of living that can help tackle these challenges. Visionary places like Amsterdam and the Maldives have already shown that incorporating floating infrastructure and communities into planning can be a small but smart part of the solution.
Toronto’s Floating Community
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that Toronto has its own floating village nestled in the Scarborough Bluffs. Twenty-four floating homes are permanently moored in Bluffer’s Park Marina. There are many more houseboats that share the space and contribute to a vibrant waterfront community. (To clear up any confusion, houseboats are designed to move. Floating homes are regular homes built on concrete barges that aren’t going anywhere without a big effort.) That’s where I intentionally chose to raise my son, so that he could grow up immersed in nature and with a clear understanding of our impact on it.
That is not to say that a floating future is currently in Toronto’s sights. Whereas other waterfront-rich places like Seattle, Sausalito, and British Columbia have embraced the concept much more wholeheartedly (there are more than 500 floating homes in southern B.C. alone), Toronto still sees them as an anomaly at best, and a nuisance at worst. In fact, the city capped the number of floating homes that could be built at 25. I’ll admit that doesn’t hurt our property values – floating homes don’t come up for sale too often and when they do, they’re in high demand. But it points towards outdated and unimaginative policies that are holding the city back.
Floating infrastructure emerging around the world
Floating infrastructure is popping up all over the world. New York City has a brand-new floating park on the Hudson River. Amsterdam’s Schoonschip neighbourhood is home to 46 sustainable homes on water. And, just last month, the Maldives announced the creation of the world’s first fully floating city, to be powered entirely by green energ. Each region has its own unique challenges to be sure. Toronto doesn’t necessarily face the same urgency from rising sea levels as low-lying coastal cities. But together, they point to the cities of the future, where alternative ways of living are embraced instead of stifled. Alternatives that can tackle so many problems at once, from affordable housing to climate change to population density.
Floating homes can be clean and green
Toronto’s floating homes were built as part of an Olympic bid in the early 1990’s. We are now playing catch up trying to incorporate renewable energy into structures that weren’t built for it. But today’s floating communities could be built with minimal impact on nature. Solar panels, green roofs, EV car charging stations, and technology to convert wastewater back into energy could be integrated into plans from day one. They cost less to buy than homes on land. And that doesn’t even touch on the mental health benefits of living immersed in nature and in a close-knit community, two things which so many Torontonians suffered without through the various Covid-19 lockdowns.
Floating communities won’t solve climate change or provide more affordable housing to all. But they can be a small part of the solution for the planet, the city and its people – at least more than 25 of them.