For anyone with a finger on the pulse of Toronto’s red-hot real estate market, it should come as no surprise that no piece of property is safe from skyrocketing costs. Fevered bidding wars, aggressive buying tactics, it’s all in a day’s work for Torontonian house-hunters and their realtors. As it turns out, not even the dead are immune to the frenzy surrounding city realty.
On a recent episode of CBC’s The Current, Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with Nicole Hanson, an urban planner who has studied death in cities. According to Hanson “Death is now an equity issue for those in the GTA and Toronto. We are going to be out of space in 5 to 10 years,”
Across the globe, different cultures have different ways of dealing with similar issues. Historically, one way of negotiating the constant need for burial space was to offer plots on a lease basis. Generally a lease would be for 10-15 years, giving the body time to decay. By the end of the lease, families could choose to renew or allow for the remains to be disinterred and for the spot to be used by someone else. The concept of being buried in perpetuity is what’s creating this scramble for these coveted spaces.
“Death is now an equity issue for those in the GTA and Toronto. We are going to be out of space in 5 to 10 years,”
In China, space is at a premium and cemeteries are losing out. In some provinces of the country, traditional burial is prohibited, meaning that people have no choice but to be cremated. In other parts of China, coveted cemetery space has been snapped up by developers, meaning that families had to relocate their dead loved ones, often on short notice. Given the cultural significance of ancestors as well as the logistical and emotional stress associated with the moves, it’s evident that this option is less than ideal. In Jerusalem, cemeteries have to obey Jewish law all while negotiating limited space. One solution is to dig deep down into the earth, creating burial spaces up to 22 stories below the ground. Some of the more sinister-minded are capitalizing on the shortage by selling cemetery space on the black market. Marking up costs by tens of thousands of dollars, they take advantage of those desperate to ensure their loved ones have a resting place.
So what can we do? Well, the first step is to consider what you want for yourself. If you plan on being cremated and having your remains scattered, you’ve got nothing to worry about. However, if you’d like a traditional burial, time is of the essence. Eric Vandermeersch, the CEO of Basic Funerals, puts it simply: “Talk to your family. So many Canadians are scared to discuss what they want when they die or what’s best for the family. Once everyone has given you their input, make the call. If burial is important to you, decide on the location of your resting place and buy it as soon as you are able. It probably won’t be available when you die.”