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Renewing Old Apartment Buildings Together

Old apartment buildings waste a lot of resources and Imagine My City aims to fix that with their ALERT (Affordable & Low-income Environmental Renewal in Toronto) project. Ramtin Attar from the Environment and Ergonomics Research group is leading the charge along with support from others at Autodesk and around the city.

ALERT Imagine My City

What is Imagine My City?

Imagine My City is a not-for-profit organization focused on community-based collaboration in issues related to our built environment. The city is a creative laboratory where we all have a crucial role in shaping our collective environment.

The Challenge

The Toronto region has almost 2,000 residential towers that are 30 to 70 years old and house one million citizens. The equivalent of one coal-fired power plant is needed to heat and deliver energy to these buildings. The investments we make will define life in our communities for decades.

What is ALERT?

Project ALERT is a toolkit to support continuous life-cycle environmental improvement in Toronto’s residential high-rises by connecting tenants, landlords, building owners and utilities representatives. This will result in positive impact across a variety of areas including:

  • Economic – A participating building owner pursuing deep retrofits will see his or her energy bills drop by 62% -- an annual savings of almost $300,000. The region’s 1,925 buildings could unlock over half a billion dollars in savings per year. Imagine all the productive uses this money could go towards, simply by being smarter about how we use energy.
  • Environmental – Every building that participates would absorb the carbon of a forest twice the size of Toronto’s Centre Islands. 
  • Social – Tenants would experience better indoor air quality, especially those who suffer from asthma. And regionally, we would be protecting the long-term viability of our affordable housing stock.


 A recent ALERT workshop focused on tenant engagement for two reasons:

  1. Engaging tenants in energy conservation is an important part of the strategy
  2. Expenditures around tenant initiatives need to be justified; what are the benefits associated with the costs?

Participants of the workshop like Ravi Subramanian who manages 19 buildings and Anne Gloger from East Scarborough Storefront discussed challenges that the tenants face including poverty and a lack of coordinated effort (not attending tenant meetings and reporting building problems individually) and how they are currently working to overcome this by building a greater sense of community.

Other possibilities were evaluated to further enhance tenant engagement with the top two from this list getting the highest priority:

  • Share savings with tenant
  • Ensure program sustainability
  • Measure and benchmark
  • Involve kids
  • Provide tenant education
  • Create pilot projects to assess approaches
  • Create partnerships with other local organizations
  • Establish shared resident/management goals
  • Celebrate success and attract media
  • Share methods through a community of practice
  • Develop a business case
  • Create a funding model to support tenant engagement

If you have ideas to share, Imagine My City is happy to have your input. If you want to learn more about the workshop you can read the full notes.



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