Raising a family in Toronto’s vertical communities is putting a whole new spin on human creativity.Perhaps the scores of online videos have amazed you, featuring inventive households with a baby or two to make their 400-plus-square-foot condo functional.
Trends by Necessity
While ingenious problem solving is fun to watch, let’s face it, “hacking” a home – or altering it to make it work for you – has become popular by necessity. Toronto condos that can include utilizing the bathroom so that it doubles as a nursery, or applying multi-functional furniture, such as turning your couch into a table, or an accent chair that morphs into a bed are ideal for the modern family, and space-saving furniture companies are now springing up to cater to these downsizing trends.
Have you seen an origami room in action? Moveable walls can be drawn down, pulled up and pushed aside to become two (or more) rooms, or a desk transform into an elegant eating area. Some condo builders are even creating terrace-to-table innovations. Wall space, traditionally savoured for decorative purposes, can potentially double one’s space for the mounting of bicycles, tools, and more. Rig a contraption you can pull away from the ceiling, and the space grows once again. A simple closet has the potential for additions of storage savers or hooks on the outside of closets to hang all kinds of things, and so on.
The accompanying trend, of course, is to rely on fewer things.
Our parents might have had a coat or suit for every conceivable occasion, and those with a shoe fetish might have invested enough in shoes, boots and sandals to fill a small store. But in micro-units, homeowners opt carefully for maybe one winter coat, chosen for its material purporting to tackle whatever winter throws at it, and families need to consider what’s essential for their children’s needs, let alone their own.
So, why are families choosing a micro-unit over a “proper home” with a yard? Well, the obvious reason is that home ownership for many potential buyers continues to be out of reach. Even with Toronto’s lowered rates, as of June home prices have leapt by almost 17 per cent. And for those who might be able to afford suburban living, they might caution that the long trek back and forth to work, complete with rush hour and ongoing construction, is hardly worth the agony. At the end of the day – literally − no time remains for any kind of R&R or quality bonding with the kids. The better option for them is to sacrifice space to be closer to work in the city, get home sooner and spend time with the family.
Two major counter-trends to remedy Toronto as a family-friendly city
1. A call for ample-sized two- and three-bedroom units to be grouped together on the lower floors, which comprise at least 25 per cent of all units (10 per cent for three bedrooms, measured at 1,076 and 1,140 square feet, and 15 per cent for two bedrooms, measuring 936 and 969 square feet).
2. Planning from the perspective of a child. In other words, infrastructure so that the public realm and community amenities become extensions of the home: welcoming, safe and child-friendly
The City of Toronto is attempting to improve on the concept of vertical communities, so that it caters not only to millennials, but also its seniors and, in particular, families with children. As it stands, the latest census data shows that 44 per cent of Torontonians live in an apartment setting. Between 2006 and 2016, over 143,000 new units were constructed in the City of Toronto, 80 per cent of which were in buildings greater than five storeys.
It’s been no secret that builders have preferred to construct small units because they can make more money. The demands of Toronto’s citizens, however, are changing this scenario with Toronto’s Growing Up initiative. The year-long study reveals that in 2011, 10,000 more families with children and youths lived in high-rise buildings than in 1996. If current trends continue, however, the long-term demand for family-suitable housing will exceed the anticipated supply.
The gap between demand and supply is intensified by a lack of larger units and the trend towards smaller units. The City and its development partners are now working collaboratively to provide viable housing choices for larger households.
The intent of these City-wide guidelines is to integrate family-friendly design into the planning of new multi-unit residential development. The success of new vertical communities and Toronto townhouses will be measured by their ability to meet the needs of a diverse households, including those with children.
The guidelines are organized into three parts:
The neighbourhood guidelines will focus on children’s experience in the city, promoting independent mobility, access to shadow-free parks, schools and community facilities, and civic engagement for the next generation.
These guidelines seek to support the social life of the building by increasing the number of larger units, encouraging the design of functional and flexible amenity space, supporting socializing in common spaces, and promoting flexible building design for changing unit layouts over time.
Unit guidelines seek to achieve functional spaces for families, such as layouts that provide sufficient room for families to gather and share meals, bedrooms that are comfortable for more than one child, and flexibility to allow for aging-in-place.
The Neighbourhood guidelines, especially, is not without its challenges. The recommendations are to integrate childcare facilities into new developments where needed, shadow-free parks and schools, all at the same site.
With respect to schools, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) notices, which inform future residents that their kids may not be able to attend a local school due to capacity issues, have become problematic in rapidly growing neighbourhoods.
The TDSB, however, will use the guidelines as a stepping stone in continuing to review and provide for opportunities to integrate new schools into specific development areas.
Zoocasa is a real estate brokerage based in Toronto.
Sheila O’Hearn is a freelance and creative writer, and has worn many hats throughout her career, from general staff reporter to magazine editor. She has a keen interest in business entrepreneurship and currently writes for several outlets. Visit her at LinkedIn for more info.
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