We’re not talking about movies from old vacations or holidays. We’re talking about SQUARE footage. It’s a timely topic and an ongoing debate that I (like to) have with people. My argument and perspective is a simple one. Young families with children can live in urban, downtown condos in our city… successfully and happily. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that parenting overall, can be better in a vertical, dense environment. The major problem however, seems to be that there’s not enough of it.
In fact, it’s reported in Toronto that 80% of buildings that are five storeys or greater, are designed for singles and couples without children. Less than 10% recently built have three or more bedrooms. However, Toronto is taking steps to change that.
Two weeks ago Toronto City Council voted to adopt the guidelines established by the Growing Up study and Toronto City Planning Division that resulted from a study on how housing with over 20 units can “better accommodate the needs of households with children.” It will be a critical document used to review new and proposed multi res buildings in Toronto. I’m in agreement with the city that “many Toronto residents want to live downtown or in dense nearby areas as their families grow. Already, almost 40 percent of the city’s households include three or more people.” Untappedcities.com posted an article stating that “No longer does the suburban home with a garage constitute as “living the dream.” Living in a small space in the heart of downtown close to transit, grocery stores and theaters is the dangling carrot for the “eco-boomer” [born between 1972 and 1992] generation.”
But there are still, of course, opposing views, statistics, surveys and polls tossed my way… and diversity of thought allows for healthy debate. The main twitter argument I encountered was that people only choose condos because they can’t afford single family in downtown Toronto. One survey indicated that without a budget, typically 80% of people want a ground-oriented unit.
So confusion ensued. Could part of the polarizing opinions be that people haven’t experienced “family” in a highrise? As we know from City of Toronto, (and my own personal experience) there’s not a lot of choice out there when it comes to larger size suites. But there’s another part of the equation. We’re a bit spoiled in my opinion.. and we’re also a product of what we know and live. We’re used to size and space, and our reality, contrary to other parts of the world, equates family friendly with a backyard and basement. But is it right? Is it necessary? And how much space do we really need?
This study done in LA which focused on the traffic patterns of residents in single family homes, showed that in addition to the trend of larger homes (more sprawl) and less occupants, we actually typically only use and need 15% of what we have (I’ll sadly admit that’s the same story as my closet… I know I’m not alone), and the usage is where you’d expect to find it – “with almost all traffic centered in the dining, kitchen and family rooms; the latter room’s activity focused around the TV and computer.”
Condos and apartments have a nice way of trimming the “extraneous architecture” that we don’t necessarily utilize. And the truth is, we’re fairly accustomed to it. Our “new normal” after all, as described in mcmansionhell.com, is that “most of us don’t have the luxury of having remote parts of our house where we can stow away the things we thought would enrich our lives.”
Despite vertical living by default, allowing for a “leaner ” lifestyle, the reality is that it’s not for everyone and I believe in the freedom to choose how and where you live. With that in mind however, we need to be cognizant of the impact of those decisions, both environmentally and socially.
As for the latter, it ties in nicely to the social impact that vertical living had on my own family when we temporarily moved into a condo at Yonge and Eglinton a couple of years ago (and the foundation of this blog) to see just how family friendly our own condos and communities were. My a-ha moment was that living in an urban condo, made me a better parent. I realized I had been practicing what I’d refer to as “lazy” parenting. Where kids were tossed into the backyard, escaped into their own rooms or hid behind devices (as I did the same). The change to an environment with less space, led to more “mindful” and attentive parenting. There was more genuine “togetherness.” There was more exploration of our extended community. There was more time outside. There was more connection with members of both our fellow condo dwellers as well as the neighborhood at large. The relevant discoveries were the following:
Our community literally was our backyard.
Our common areas (and public art) were our playroom.
A window view of a skyline was a great canvas.
And window washing became entertainment, not effort.
I truly get excited when I think of extending the opportunity for other Torontonian families to live in an urban highrise environment and am grateful to all those in Toronto’s City Planning Division that are making it more within our reach. After all, everything is interconnected, and it’s only by designing & building the types of buildings that we want, that we’re able to (co-)create the type of city we all aspire to live in. One that includes all ages. We don’t want to end up like San Fran, what used to be a favourite city of mine. We need to make the right steps to keep us a future-proof, resilient and vibrant place to live.
And as a side note… don’t get me started on being pregnant and having an infant and toddler in a condo. Friends that have lived it tell me “child-proofing” has never been easier 🙂 No stairs or babygates.
For a full set of the draft guidelines – click here.