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An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project

Ahmed Al-Jirjees, "Into the Yellowbelt"

Master's thesis
2020

Ahmed's thesis project is a response to Toronto's so-called "Yellowbelt" — a term used by planners and urbanists to describe parts of the city where zoning restrictions make it difficult to build anything other than single-family detached housing. The Yellowbelt covers slightly less than half of Toronto's landmass. It's considered a major obstacle to building the types of high-density housing structures that might help lower the city's extraordinarily high cost of living.

After studying the Yellowbelt on a city-wide scale, Ahmed decided to focus his research on one particular neighbourhood in central Etobicoke, one of Toronto's inner suburbs. "I categorized the different edge conditions of residential detached neighbourhoods, paying attention to high-density corridors, transit hubs, employment areas, avenues, and adjacency to parks," he says. "This part of Etobicoke had all of that in it."

Ahmed wanted to find ways of changing land use in the neighbourhood, with an eye towards adding density and blurring the boundaries between residential areas and employment lands. Rather than tackle the neighbourhood as a whole, he decided to focus his efforts on three "zones" — smaller areas within the neighbourhood where the existing conditions seemed to invite some form of design intervention.

His first "zone" was an area where detached housing was located adjacent to a small-scale employment area. "These employment uses aren't ones that can't be incorporated with the community," he says. "A lot of them are daycares, small fashion houses, designers, and community centres. These are uses that can easily be integrated with the residential areas."

An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project

Existing conditions in Ahmed's first zone.

Ahmed noted that both building types — the homes and the commercial businesses — were situated on large lots, with plenty of empty space. As a way of gently adding density to those lots, he designed a series of new multi-storey buildings that could be built within the existing lot boundaries. The new structures would have more floor area than the originals, and would contain a mix of commercial and residential uses.

Although residential and commercial uses would be blended, certain concessions would be made to the historical character of the different parts of the neighbourhood. For instance, formerly commercial lots would retain large parking surfaces, to support businesses that might need access points for cars or trucks. Ahmed also envisioned combining adjacent lots to enable the construction of wider buildings, with semi-public courtyards.

An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project
An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project

Top: Ahmed's first zone, post-intervention. Bottom: Ahmed's lot strategies.

Ahmed's second zone was an area where detached homes were located near major traffic arteries. Here, the existing lots tended to be less spacious. Because he had less area to work with, Ahmed designed a more modest densification strategy based on the idea of backyard infill. New multi-storey residential structures would be built in the backyards of existing homes, and some existing homes would be retrofitted into multi-family dwellings. Ahmed's master plan leaves buffer space between lots to enable the construction of laneways, which would create new circulation and, he hoped, bring life and activity to the main streets.

In some cases, adjacent lots could be combined to create space for mid-rise buildings with a mix of residential units and live-work units.

An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project
An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project

Top: Ahmed's second zone, post-intervention. Bottom: A section view of the same.

Ahmed's third zone was a part of the neighbourhood where single-family detached housing was bumping up against large-scale commercial and industrial uses. "This employment area has huge opportunities just because of the vast area of land that it sits on," he says. "You can start to imagine the immense density that could be built there."

He designed a plan for turning those commercial lots into large mixed-use developments, where light industrial uses would share space with small, apartment-like residential units.

An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project
An image from Ahmad Jirjees's project

Top: Ahmed's third zone, post-intervention. Bottom: An exploded view of a representative block.

Creating these new developments along the edges of the neighbourhood's industrial lands, would, he theorized, be a smart long-term strategic move. "Starting from the edge would make the most sense," he says. "This is how we start tackling these areas and implementing change. And that could lead to more change."

Advisor: Mark Sterling

Top image: An axonometric view of Ahmed's site.