The Vertical Neighbourhood
The future of the Gardiner is not the only major planning issue that Torontonians should be questioning. The city core has changed drastically since the condominium boom. Many smaller buildings have been razed to make way for inhospitable residential towers. Condominium development particularly in the area south of King St., west of Yonge St. and East of Bathurst St. has been on a tear in the past six or seven years. High rise living is inevitable in a city that lacks affordable low rise and single family housing. However, from the perspective of long term planning and quality of the built environment, the problem is that condominiums being built in Toronto are visually bland and uninteresting save for a few exceptions.
Condominium developers will argue that their projects are indeed magnificent and the buildings make a major contribution to the city given that they provide badly needed affordable housing. The issue really has to do with the fact that these glass and grey clad towers end up being the face and character of the Toronto skyline particularly when approaching from the west end. The sight is not a dynamic vision but rather a sea of monotony.
It has been said that what makes Toronto a great city is its cultural diversity as well as its liveable
neighbourhoods. There are numerous charming Toronto neighbourhoods including the Beach, Leslieville, Bloor West Village, Roncesvalles, the Danforth and Little Italy. What if we expand on this concept, and condominiums actually became "vertical neighbourhoods" and sections of the towers had separate identities much like streets in a neighbourhood? There is no question this design strategy would add to the visual identity and character of high rise living complexes. It would also provide residents with more individuality in their living environment. To carry this notion further, why not add "sky" parkettes to inject more green space into the high density living experience? Developers would be encouraged to slightly reduce density and add amenities such as parkettes and features like
public sky libraries which would be accessible to neighbouring buildings.
Condominium living can often be an impersonal experience with little interaction among residents. The form of the "vertical neighbourhood" has the potential to encourage a sense of community to develop. The thoughtful design of both the exteriors and interiors will begin to prompt interaction within these spaces. Imagine interior corridors of flagstone instead of carpet and corridor walls of brick instead of drywall or wall paper.
There are those who believe that once the market softens developers will be forced to become more
innovative in the design of residential towers. It would be nice to see the leaders in the industry raise the bar in terms of the quality of buildings that are becoming the face of Toronto.