In Toronto’s ever-expanding city developments, a new player has emerged — ‘The Well.’ This large-scale mixed-use development that opened in November promises to be the city’s urban saviour. But are mixed-use developments like The Well really the knight in shining armour that Toronto needs, or are they just another shiny distraction? 

Spoiler alert: I’m leaning toward the former, and here’s why.

What is ‘The Well’?

The Well isn’t your standard Toronto brutalist building; it is an almost-eight-acre wonder of city living. It’s got everything but the kitchen sink — wait, it actually has that too. Residential spaces? Check. Commercial hubs? Absolutely. Retail therapy options? You bet. This development is like the Swiss Army knife of urban planning — and I believe Toronto desperately needs the versatility of developments like it.

Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods — and don’t get me wrong, I love it. But it seems that we also forget that we can have multiple building types exist simultaneously on one plot of land. Developments like The Well swoop in like superheroes of city planning by blending living, working, and leisure spaces into one harmonious ensemble. To me, the emergence of these developments is like city planners finally realizing that people don’t just live to work or work to live — they want to do both without needing a car to get from their apartment to the office.

Monotony is overrated

I expect that urbanologist Jane Jacobs would be doing a happy dance in her grave right now at seeing a development like this, because it’s the embodiment of her idea of a vibrant city: a melting pot of activities and communities, or as Jacobs would put it, “organic [and] spontaneous.” It’s not just about stacking up condos like Jenga blocks — it’s about creating a living, breathing organism where people can live, work, and play without needing a GPS.

Mixed-use developments are all about balance. Their residential units ensure that the development isn’t just a deserted office park after 6:00 pm. They’re places where people actually live and create a community that isn’t only alive during business hours. I believe it really is the urban dream: a place where you can grab your morning coffee, attend a meeting, buy groceries, and catch a movie all within the same city block.

Critics might scoff at The Well and argue that the development won’t be used by the working class, dismissing it as another playground for the elite — and fair enough, because Toronto isn’t exactly lacking in the luxury department. But here’s the thing: just because a development has a touch of glamour doesn’t mean it’s a useless addition to the cityscape.

Toronto is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, and we can’t ignore that. But mixed-use developments don’t just cater to the high rollers. In my view, their principle is about creating a diverse community that brings together different income brackets to foster a sense of shared space. 

I know that some people might roll their eyes at the mention of ‘cultural spaces’ in a luxury development, dismissing it as a euphemism for exclusive art galleries and overpriced boutiques. But let’s not be so quick to judge. Cities evolve, and so should their cultural hubs. 

In my view, these mixed-use developments provide an opportunity to redefine what cultural spaces mean in Toronto. Sure, they might include high-end art galleries, but they also have the potential to host grassroots initiatives, community-driven events, and a cultural scene that doesn’t require a black Amex card for entry. 

Mixed-unit developments often include communal spaces, such as parks, plazas, and community centers. These spaces provide opportunities for residents and community members to interact, share ideas, and organize potential community initiatives, such as California’s Santana Row’s community events and local pop-ups. Additionally, these developments often incorporate cultural and arts spaces, which can be used for community events, art exhibitions, and performances, encouraging a sense of cultural identity and community expression.

It’s a challenge to the developers — make these spaces inclusive, and you might just win over the skeptics. With its high-rises and business suites, Toronto often seems to forget it has a soul, but mixed-use developments may be here to remind us that the city isn’t just about profit, it’s about culture. 

Affordability, affordability, and affordability

Affordability is the word on everyone’s lips, and I get why. The city’s stuck in the slew of housing crises and skyrocketing rent. People’s frustrations are understandable because things are really, really bad right now. 

Another luxury building like The Well might seem like a nail in the coffin for affordable living, but here’s the twist: mixed-use developments can actually be part of the solution. A study in the Journal of American Planning Association suggests that mixed-use developments “increase density, promote active transportation, encourage economic development, and create lively, diverse neighbourhoods” — all of which are factors that can decrease housing inequality in the long-term.

In my view, mixed-use developments have the potential to create a self-sustaining ecosystem by combining residential, commercial, and retail spaces. Businesses bring jobs, residents bring customers, and we may have a micro-economy that I believe could, just maybe, alleviate some financial stress of the city. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s also not another champagne brunch for the rich only — it’s an attempt to diversify the urban landscape and make city living a bit more tenable for the rest of us.

In a city that’s constantly growing, The Well feels like the friend who shows up with a solution and a box of chocolates. I believe mixed-use developments like it have the potential to be the breath of fresh air Toronto needs, because development should not just be about putting a roof over heads but about creating a community where people don’t feel like they are just commuting between work and home. Instead, mixed-use developments are a nod to how cities are made up of people, not just buildings.

So, is The Well just another muddy puddle in Toronto’s development? Absolutely not. It’s an oasis — and Toronto, drink it in.

Emily Carlucci is a third-year student at Trinity College studying political science and English. She is the Urban Planning columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.