Downtowns that Work: Lessons from Toronto and Chicago

  • Pierre Filion University of Waterloo
  • Igal Charney University of Haifa
  • Rachel Weber University of Illinois at Chicago


Among downtowns of North American metropolitan regions, two have performed especially well in terms of the presence of employment, residential development and diversity of land uses over the last decades: those of Toronto and Chicago. This paper concentrates on the factors responsible for their success. It reviews the history of the two downtowns since World-War-II, giving special attention to the capacity ‘macro-decisions’ have of creating path dependencies. Identifi ed macro-decisions include strategic investments in downtown-focussed public transit and improvements to the diversity and amenities of the downtowns. Th ere are important differences in the approaches taken in the two downtowns. Th ese relate in part to organizational specifi cities. If in Toronto institutional structures and political coalitions play a major role in explaining the adoption of policies favourable to the downtown, in Chicago it is the priorities of powerful mayors that loom largest. The paper proposes a multicausal model, which shows how numerous decisions of diff erent nature, along with their interactions and consequences, have contributed to positive downtown outcomes in the two cities. The main lesson from the two cases is that downtown success cannot be improvised as it is the outcome of long chains of policies, which interact positively with market trends, favouring core areas.

Author Biographies

Pierre Filion, University of Waterloo
School of Planninig
Igal Charney, University of Haifa
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
Rachel Weber, University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Urban Planning and Policy