Toronto’s new condo guidelines are designed to create kid-friendly communities
Toronto Star
By Tess Kalinowski  Real Estate Reporter
20 October 2017

Emily Runions and her daughter Sadie moved to their new condo which has more space and more family friendly features. "My old condo didn't have a bathtub," says Emily.   (Cole Burston for The Toronto Star)

When Emily Runions moved out of her one-bedroom-plus-den in August to a two-bedroom condo, it solved a bunch of problems — not the least of which was giving daughter Sadie enough space to make slime and other crafts with her friends after school.

In their old Liberty Village apartment, Sadie, had a cool loft bed that took advantage of the high ceilings. But her room, the apartment’s den, didn’t have a door.

“That was fine, but when you have three 9-year-olds in 635 sq. ft., it can get a little crazy, especially if they want to have sleepovers,” said Runions, who now lives in the Fort York area.

Besides, as Sadie gets older, a bedroom door becomes increasingly important.

“My old condo didn’t have a bathtub. When we moved in there, Sadie was 2 turning 3. To bathe a 2-year-old in the shower — it was a challenge,” said Runions.

It turns out that many families who do have a bathtub end up using it to park their strollers because condos aren’t designed for that fundamental piece of kid equipment, which often doubles as the grocery cart.

Thirty per cent of households with children in Toronto live in mid- or highrise buildings. Downtown it’s 66 per cent. In fact, the number of families with children and teens living in highrise buildings grew by 10,000 or 15 per cent between 2006 and 2011. Yet the average size of a re-sale condo has dropped 20 per cent —1,087 sq. ft. to about 885 sq. ft. between 1996 and 2014.

Now the city has come up with a new set of guidelines to encourage development that will make Toronto’s vertical neighbourhoods more family friendly — something planners say enhances those areas for all ages.

In May, council approved “Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities,” which addresses the indoor and outdoor challenges of highrise living, setting out specs for every aspect of condos — from room sizes to walkability — that allow kids to move independently in their neighbourhoods.

Developers, who have traditionally focused on smaller units, are also recognizing that condos are the new family home.

“Vertical communities are probably the only thing that’s left in Toronto in terms of new development,” said Jim Ritchie, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Tridel.

“There definitely is a market for larger homes,” he said “The price of single-family housing in the 416 — everywhere in the GTA now — is very expensive. A condo is, relatively speaking, an affordable option.”

Size matters and the city’s guidelines confirm that, said Ritchie.

“The number one choice for people that have young families in a condominium that has a lack of storage — they use the bathtub as the stroller storage,” he said.

Tridel is introducing the Growing Up guidelines in a market-priced building as part of its involvement with Toronto Community Housing Corporation in the revitalization of Alexandra Park.

But it is also incorporating more larger units in its Bianca development on Dupont St., west of Spadina Rd., where Ritchie says the most popular units range from 1,000- to 1,500 sq. ft. Of the 216 condos, 165 are two- and three-bedroom homes.

Its West Village Etobicoke development, still undergoing site plan approval from the city, would include units up to 1,100 sq. ft. with oversized entry closets that will accommodate strollers, full-sized appliances and capacious laundry areas.

The largest suites will be clustered on the second to sixth floors rather than the usual penthouses. A children’s zone will be located near the elevator for arts and crafts and there will be a jam room, media area, WiFi-enabled cafe space for teens.

Ritchie cites the popularity of coffee shops where students gather with their laptops and lattes, congregating and communicating but not necessarily with one another.

“We’re trying to create some spaces within these condominium neighbourhoods with elements that can allow that to happen,” he said.

“Millennials are attracted to these communities — these walkable, accessible communities. People can walk or take transit to work and have amenities close by. They don’t necessarily want to move out (of the city) like it used to be the trend,” said Ann-Marie Nasr, manager of strategic initiatives with city planning.

“The challenge is our (housing) stock isn’t as diverse as the population is and the stock needs to catch up,” she said.

“We may be getting a lot of two-bedroom (condos). The reality is it isn’t really family friendly in terms of the size and how they’re designed and the size of the two bedrooms. Same with the three-beds,” said Nasr.

Toronto mom Patricia Rousom lives in a 1,000 sq. ft. Distillery District one-bedroom-plus-den with her husband and two sons. Jude, 3, uses the den as a bedroom and play area. Finn, 4 months, still bunks with mom and dad.

Rousom wants her family to stay in the city as long as they can, enjoying the festivals and restaurants.

But despite the many parks in the area, including Corktown Common and Sugar Beach, she is torn. The Distillery’s car-free cobbled character makes it traffic-free for toddlers and seniors, but she needs a car, and there are no parking spaces available in Rousom’s building.

The condo has a daycare attached, but its other amenities are confined to a party room, a little library and rooftop terrace with a lake view — soon to be obscured by another development — where Jude rides his trike sometimes.

As the child gear and toys multiply, the Rousoms’ condo storage unit has overflowed to Patricia’s parents’ home.

On rainy days, she would love a kids’ play space so they could get out of the apartment without bundling up.

“The bigger (Jude) gets, the more I crave the back yard, the basement, the garage,” she said.

“I have tons of friends who have moved to the suburbs. I’m jealous of the houses and yards, but I couldn’t do the ’burbs,” said Rousom, even as she concedes it’s almost inevitably where her family will land.

For families in cities like New York and Hong Kong, highrise living with easy transit access is the norm, said Jordan Dermer, co-founder of Capital Developments, who says his company wants to be a leader in family-style projects.

It is building the E2 condos in conjunction with Metropia, at Yonge and Eglinton. They are scheduled for occupancy in 2021, about the same time the Eglinton LRT is due to open, intersecting with the subway.

“We’re doing a kids’ play area to make it easier for families to accommodate children. We haven’t finalized the design but it looks like there will be a rock-climbing wall, a craft area and some other programming,” said Dermer.

About 75 per cent of the 440 E2 units (the application is for a 48-storey building) will be two bedrooms and 11 per cent will be three bedrooms. Most will have two bathrooms.

Outside, there will be podium level terraces and a privately owned, publicly accessible 5,000 sq. ft. park.

He applauds the city’s efforts to accommodate families, but Dermer said each project has to be tailored.

“The units can’t be too big because the cost of land today and the cost of construction would drive you out of the market. You have to find a balance,” he said.

His company wants to consider the city’s demographics and well-being as well as its profit, said Dermer.

“In some cases it could make sense to build a few less three-bedroom units, (but) it’s not always a financial consideration,” he said. “Investors do expect some scrutiny in this area, but where it makes sense we will affect these changes to our unit mix.”

Larger condos don’t sell out overnight, said Ritchie.

“When you are marketing homes that are bigger, that are not something the investor is looking for, you have a much more balanced marketplace and I think there’s an opportunity for everybody,” he said.

Compromises are inevitable for families living in condos, says Runions.

The outdoor pool at her new building was a treat when they moved in. “There’s a whole bunch of kids and they have their toys and they’re playing,” she said.

Runions admits she’s a little sad that Sadie is mostly an indoor kid, who doesn’t ride a bike. But for condo-dwelling families like hers, it’s about priorities.

“The one thing I think developers should really think about is creating built-in storage and just making spaces functional . . . even the closets,” she said. “They have these closets with stupid wire racks and shelving. It shouldn’t take another $10,000 to get a functional closet.”

The insider view on kid-friendly condos

When city planners were developing Toronto’s “Growing Up” guidelines to encourage kid-friendly development in new highrise communities, they went to nine families to get an insider view of how they used their condos.

They expected to hear about hacks highrise dwellers used to make their units work, said Ann-Marie Nasr, manager of strategic initiatives for the Toronto planning division.

Instead, the families talked about prioritizing some basic stuff: stroller storage, balconies that feel safe and are big enough to use, acoustics, bike parking, libraries and recreation centres in walking distance.

The recommendations propose minimum unit sizes, the distance from the front door of a building to the curb and incorporating whimsical touches that delight children. The Berczy Park dog fountain and the West Don Lands’ Water Guardians, a public art installation, entice all ages to those spaces.

Among the recommendations:

Buildings should have a minimum of 25-per-cent large units, including 15-per-cent two-bedroom and 10-per-cent three-bedroom. Those condos should be located lower to reduce elevator dependency, put them closer to amenities and the outdoors.

Two-bedroom units should be 969 sq. ft.; three-bedroom, 1,140 sq. ft.

Kitchens should be a minimum of about 97 sq. ft., with sightlines to the apartment. Dining areas should be sized according to the number of bedrooms in the apartment so the whole family can gather at meals, and the rooms should include outlets and storage for electronics.

Living rooms should have acoustic separations from the bedrooms.

Children’s amenity space should be proportionate to the number of larger apartments with outdoor common areas protected from wind and shadows. Indoor children’s spaces should be flexible with room for crafts, fitness, homework and music. Outdoor spaces should be accessible from private terraces on the same level.

Lobbies should include washrooms, stroller storage and be directly connected to common amenities.

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