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Study to explore what families want in downtown living

Some 30,000 urban families who visit the Children’s Discovery Centre launching as a pilot project in mid-May near Liberty Village will have the opportunity to participate in the study.

Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star

As a housing market researcher as well as a mother who has raised her young daughter in a Toronto condo, Jeahny Shim is well aware of the growing needs of families living in downtown condos.

That’s why her company, Housing Lab Toronto, an independent housing research and consulting company, along with Heads Up, a consumer research firm, is launching a study of urban families in Toronto exploring how and where they want to live.

The study will be conducted in conjunction with the launch of the Children’s Discovery Centre, an educational and fun place for young children and their parents to learn, play and explore in nine themed areas. It will be a digital-free and touch screen-free zone guided by a team of early childhood development professionals.

Childrens Discovery Centre
The Children’s Discovery Centre will launch as a pilot project “pop-up” in mid-May in a 20,000-square-foot building at Garrison Point near Liberty Village. About 30,000 urban families are expected to visit the centre over five months, and those families will be asked to participate in the study.

Comment: Finally we starting to focus on families and talk about what they might want in condos. Forcing builders to create 3-bedroom condos that people don’t buy is not the right way. Talking to the target audience, that is the right way to do this.

Shim says the downtown lacks quality experiences and fun things for young children to do, particularly those younger than 6. Most children’s programming and activities at places such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario and Ontario Science Centre are geared to children older than 6.

Comment: I hear you. With an almost-8-year old and a 5-1/2-year-old who is very mature, we have trouble finding things they can both do. And our little guy gets bent when he finds out something is barred to him because of his age.

From 2006 to 2011, there was a 55% increase in the number of newborn to 4-year-olds living south of Queen Street, and in the next five to 10 years, more than 10,000 couples without kids currently living in condos in the same neighbourhood are likely to have more than 6,000 babies (according to 2011 data from Statistics Canada and 2006 census data). This will effectively triple the number of young families living downtown, says Shim, creating greater demand for more family-focused and family-friendly products, services, amenities and lifestyle experiences.

Comment: Like I keep saying, we need to start thinking about putting schools, libraries and rec centres and the like in the bottom of condos. These kids are going to need facilities from daycare to schools, pools and education. We are at the perfect time to really make a sea change in where we are going with condo construction and downtown life.

The urban family study will include a mixture of surveys and qualitative research (such as focus groups), says Shim, asking parents about where they want to live now and where they aspire to live, as well as their needs. The study’s findings will be shared with the city planning department to help it shape planning policies.

“Its the first time anyone has studied urban families in a rigorous way, not in an anecdotal way,” says Shim.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Drawing the line on cultural development in Toronto

As city bends rules to accommodate growth, arts groups have been able to benefit.

Murray Whyte – Toronto Star

In the frenzied world of Toronto property development, there’s only one place left to go: up.

City planning has put a premium on increased density for years and its not hard to see why. With freeways like the Gardiner Expressway clogged like the arteries of a particularly devoted poutine enthusiast, sprawl is the last thing we can continue to accommodate.

So when the Daniels Corporation announced its plan last week to build 900 condos in two towers on the gravesite of the Guvernment nightclub on Queens Quay, no one could be surprised. As eager as the city’s been to increase density in the core, its been nearly as eager to breathe life into the windswept no-mans-land of Toronto’s waterfront.

Not to be lost in this bundle of checklist priorities, though, is the projects name: City of the Arts. When it comes to urban revitalization, Toronto has bought fully into the zeitgeisty notion that culture, however you choose to describe it, is the tide that lifts all boats.

Comment: Yes. At least adding to the condo construction. In any way that incorporates the larger city into any new development. These buildings need not be warehouses for renters, we can make them part of the actual fabric of the city.

Daniels rolled out an impressive package that not only ticks every box but ties them up with a shiny bow. Artscape, decorated with the many laurels of its various urban reclamation projects, will move its headquarters in, bumping elbows in the projects “Creative Industries Hub” with groups like Manifesto, a well-known non-profit that runs a hip-hop festival, and the Remix Project, which offers marginalized youth an education and entrée to the economic nirvana of the “creative industries.” And up above, in 900-plus condominium suites, residents eager to soak up the culture by osmosis.

City of the Arts isn’t the result of the city’s many development tools to force altruism from builders looking to profit from things like increased building heights. But you could fairly say, philosophically, that it is their product.

TIFF Bell Lightbox
Daniels has been down this road before. In 2010, the company built the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the gargantuan Festival Tower above it. When it applied for a height that exceeded the official plan by more than quadruple, it ran into Section 37.

In exchange for building a state-of-the-art home for the Toronto International Film Festival, the city backed off its height restriction of 30 metres, allowing the Festival Tower to climb to more than 143 metres, or nearly five times what the bylaw allowed. (Initially, Daniels had asked for even more.)

But the developer saw quickly that its mandated gesture to local culture was hardly a concession. Instead, it was worth its weight in marketing gold, as buyers eagerly snapped up units in a building that serves as ground zero for global celebrity culture every September.

Comment: And that is how you make a condo development part of the city.

This is how Section 37 works: a developer wants to build something bigger than the city’s official plan allows. The planning department says maybe, but what do we get in return? Through a negotiation involving the builder, planners, the local councillor and, ideally, local residents, an agreement emerges. In exchange for a fatter profit envelope, Section 37 can produce anything from public art to bike racks, daycare centres, playgrounds or parks.

But in the city’s fervour for cultural amenities, opportunities have emerged for bigger gains. In the West Queen West triangle, a development-frenzied zone jump-started by the opening of the Drake Hotel in 2004, an initial panic produced an ongoing neighbourhood preservation strategy.

The stretch of Queen West between Ossington and Dufferin has been the front line of Toronto’s gentrification war for at least a decade. In 2004, tensions ramped up quickly between developers and the hundreds of artist types living in the buildings they hoped to knock down and replace.

48 Abell Street Lofts
One of the first, the Triangle Lofts on Abell Street south of Queen, initially embodied the community’s worst fears. At an early meeting on the Section 37 benefit they might receive, recalls Michelle Gay, “I think they offered to repave some roads for us. We said we didn’t think so.”

Comment: Why they couldn’t have renovated and saved the old loft building I will never know.

Gay is one of several residents who ganged together amid the tumult to form Active 18, a residents group that took its seat at the table through the city’s community consultation process.

Negotiating through local councillor Ana Bailao, the group successfully transformed new blacktop into something more significant: the Triangle Lofts development was built with 70 permanent artist live-work spaces and a gallery now occupied by an art collective called Propeller.

Those 70 units were generated with the help of Artscape, which was then a smaller operator on the development landscape. It has since blossomed into a major force in the city’s redevelopment, and its emergence parallels the growth of an ethic that’s taken hold in both the public and private sector: that culture sells.

“The private sector is increasingly seeing how artists can be catalysts for change, growth and development,” says Tim Jones, Artscapes CEO. “That’s why so many developers are interested in working with us: we can help them build that narrative.”

For Active 18, Section 37 was less an opportunity for branding than it was about preserving what made the neighbourhood attractive in the first place.

“What we were fighting for were real community benefits,” Gay says. “Our thinking was simple: instead of another sculpture than nobody looks at more than once, lets build permanent infrastructure that keeps artists in the neighbourhood.”

Since then, Active 18 has been at the table for almost every Section 37 conversation — in their tiny pocket of the city, more than 20 in the past decade — which has played a part in such landmark projects as the re-purposing of the decrepit Carnegie Library on Queen Street as a state-of-the-art new home for the Theatre Centre.

Theatre Centre Queen Street West
But its the Toronto Media Arts Cluster that waves the Section 37 flag most vigorously here. Sometime this summer, with any luck (its still under construction) a consortium of venerable Toronto arts organizations like the Images Festival and InterAccess will move into a purpose-built facility in the base of a new condo tower just off Queen Street.

It will have offices, exhibition space, a theatre and — most importantly — the guarantee they won’t be gone if the rent goes up. Because thanks to Section 37, it won’t.

“That was our vision for the community: a permanent hub that was active and really added something,” Gay said. “There’s always pressure, pressure, pressure — public space is diminishing, affordable space for artists is diminishing. This is one way we were able to get something done.”

Comment: See, include people, create space to be used by the public. And make sure it isn’t pushed out and replaced by Starbucks in a few years. We can do this. We need to do this. More of this.

Even so, Section 37 is far from a panacea. Its critics over the years are many: planners who say it forces them into zoning concessions; developers who decry it as a shakedown and now Mayor John Tory, who ordered a full review of it in January.

In 2012, the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs published a report critical of its fast and loose approach. “That’s the problem: its always been far too vague,” says Aaron Moore, the reports author. Among other problems, lack of transparency was found to be a problem, he said, with the eventual benefit typically being negotiated mano à mano between the developer and the area councillor.

Its lack of specificity — “community benefit” can be almost anything, depending on your point of view — undermined its use as a credible tool to keep development in check.

Section 37 is voluntary, he said, not required by law. Non-compliance wont kill a project, but it could delay it so it effectively becomes pay-to-play. “If a developer balks at affordable housing (as a Section 37 provision), for example, there’s not a lot the city can do,” he says.

Comment: Make it public and let the people shame them into doing something for the good of the city.

He also warned of the bulldozer effect of the “creative cities” rhetoric and its tendency to romanticize one groups poverty over another, which Section 37 may have unwittingly exacerbated. “Its relatively easy to sell condominiums in a building where the affordable housing is artist live-work studios,” he says. “Its not so easy if there’s a soup kitchen.”

But Section 37’s looseness has also allowed it to evolve. “In our case, there was going to be development one way or another,” Gay says. “Its not easy to get people organized, but if you can articulate what a benefit to your community really looks like, (Section 37) can bring you something really meaningful.”

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Upper Beach condo designed with the kids in mind

From storing the stroller to generous outdoor space, Upper Beach suites by Streetcar Developments cater to young urbanites with kids.

Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star

A new midrise condo in the Upper Beach neighbourhood is putting family living at the forefront.

The six-storey Southwood by Streetcar Developments, at Kingston Road and Southwood Drive, is one of the first condos in Toronto targeted specifically to families, and has been designed with their needs in mind. The 45-unit building opened February 22 and offers a variety of suites, from one to three bedrooms. The building will also appeal to buyers downsizing from houses.

“We are catering to two kinds of buyers — the empty nester who lives in the Beach or Upper Beach and doesn’t want a house anymore but wants to stay in the neighbourhood, and the other group is downtown young couples with babies or young children,” says Jeanhy Shim, president of research and consulting firm Housing Lab Toronto and a consultant on the Streetcar project.

Comment: And this is what we need more of. While mega-towers will continue downtown, we need some smaller and more interesting boutique-y buildings further out from the core. In established neighbourhoods, that contribute to neighbourhoods. Not all condos need to be small and cater to first-timers, investors and pied-a-terrers.

Southwood by Streetcar
“There are a lot of young, downtown buyers living in shoebox-sized units whose life circumstances have changed. They may have one small child or are thinking of having kids and thinking ahead to where their child will go to school.

“Its the first building I can think of that’s actively gone after the family downtown demographic,” says Shim, who has been raising her own young daughter in a condo and is about to embark on an in-depth study of downtown urban family housing needs.

At a recent roundtable discussion held at the Star, several major condo developers identified condo family living as an emerging trend and saw a need for larger units and more amenities to accommodate them. The developers see an increasing number of people staying in the downtown rather than moving to the suburbs after they have kids, as they don’t want to spend a lot of time commuting.

For the Southwood, Streetcar held focus groups to hear what features were most important to potential buyers, and when people preregistered, a salesperson called them within 48 hours and gained useful feedback from those phone conversations.

“We looked at what features of a (lowrise) home people love so much and translated that into a condo,” says Shim. “One thing people love about a house is the outdoor space, and we have balconies that are livable and usable, a minimum of 200 square feet, where people can entertain or kids can play.”

Shim says the young families and empty nesters wish lists were surprisingly similar: as well as generous outdoor space, they both wanted indoor spaces large enough for entertaining as well as decent storage. And though they don’t have kids at home, empty nesters want space to have their grandchildren visit.

Southwood balcony
“What both groups wanted is large entertaining spaces as they want to spend their time together,” says Shim. “We tried to create living and dining spaces that are functional, and kitchens with gas cooktops, as well as French-door fridges and full-size dishwashers in large suites, and islands you can sit at on stools. We tried to make really functional spaces, such as a living room wall where you can put furniture or a TV. We thought about how normal people live.”

Empty nesters love dining rooms, says Shim, so the larger suites include these with enough room for eight chairs. Master bedrooms can accommodate a king-sized bed and two end tables, and closets are walk-in. Ensuites are larger than typically found in condos, with water closets and his-and-her sinks. Secondary bedrooms are a minimum 10 by 12 feet, most with walk-in closets.

Shim says powder rooms aren’t a necessity for family condo dwellers, but storage is, and that space has been used to create space to store strollers, tricycles and vacuum cleaners.

“I think people will respond quite positively, as the layouts are quite distinct and unique. We really nitpicked at the plans,” she says.

One-bedroom suites start at 655 square feet (priced from the $300,000s) while three-bedroom units start from the $600,000s. There are also some large two-bedroom-plus-den suites of 1,200 to 1,300 square feet, and two-level penthouses with 1,500 to 1,600 square feet plus large rooftop terraces.

The neighbourhood is well-suited to family living with excellent daycares, schools, parks and amenities, and the Main St. GO station is within walking distance. The streetcar to downtown is at the doorstep.

Streetcar Developments specializes mainly in stylish midrise projects in east- or west-end downtown neighbourhoods within walking distance of shopping, transit, cultural amenities and parks. The company was founded in 2001 by former chartered accountant Les Mallins, who identified a development opportunity in the Beach and converted a former bowling alley into Academy Lane Lofts, a condo loft project.

“Streetcar initially catered to the young, urban demographic, but sees this (family-friendly projects) as a natural extension of their brand as their buyers have grown,” says Shim. “Its evolving along with its buyers. Just because you have a family doesn’t mean you cant still be cool and hip.”

The Southwood will feature the type of warm, modern style Streetcar is known for, with features such as nine-foot ceilings, quarter countertops, engineered hardwood or laminate floors, and barbecue hookups on balconies. “Green” features such as VOC-free paints, heat recovery ventilators (that provide a constant source of fresh air to suites) and low-flow faucets are standard.

The lobby, designed by Seven Haus, will be “very beautiful” says Shim, and the building will feature a multi-purpose room that can be rented out for parties or serve as a meeting space for mothers and children.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.