Thursday, 29 June 2017

Designing Condos For Kids

Written by Posted On Monday, 12 June 2017 20:21

The idea that cities are no place to bring up children -- that somehow every kid should grow up on a farm or in a suburban home with a huge backyard -- has always been challenged by City of Toronto planners. More than 100 years ago, the city developed the Playground Movement to build inner-city playgrounds for children.

By 2011, 30 per cent of families with children lived in mid and highrise buildings.

But in recent years the explosion of condos hasn't been so friendly to children. From 2006 to 2015, more than 80 per cent of the new dwelling units in the city were in buildings higher than five storeys, but 50 to 70 per cent of them were bachelor or one-bedroom units. Many of the two- and three-bedroom units were considered too small for a family to live in.

A City of Toronto staff report, which will go before City Council in July, says, "This trend towards highrise accommodation of housing need will continue. Given that 39 per cent of households in the City of Toronto include three or more people, it is important to ensure our future housing stock accommodates a variety of household types at different life stages."

The city has developed a study, Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities that includes draft guidelines for developing highrise communities that are family friendly.

"In vertical communities, planning for children is predicated on the understanding that the public realm and community amenities become extensions of the home," says the study. "Families rely on routes that are safe and that facilitate children's independent mobility as they grow up. A public realm that meets the needs of children also accommodates the population as a whole. For example: designing comfortable, safe streets that support public life will not only encourage families to linger and socialize, but they will become an asset to all users. The presence of children in the public realm is an indicator of a healthy community."

The study guidelines cover neighbourhoods, buildings and individual highrise units.

"The guidelines reflect what we heard during the consultation process and recognize that in many cases families living in vertical communities rely on the city's parks and open space system as their outdoor living room," says the staff report. "They also provide consideration for integrating community services and facilities such as child care and schools into developments."

Developers should be encouraged to provide flexible and diverse retail space on the ground floor of buildings, along with "a sense of joy and playfulness by incorporating whimsy in public art, building design, streetscapes, street furniture and open space features."

The study recommends that each building provide a minimum of 25 per cent of large units in buildings that have 20 units or more (15 per cent two bedrooms and 10 per cent three bedrooms) and that these units be located in the lower portions of the building. Being on the lower floor reduces dependence on the elevator and provides easier access to the outdoors. It also could allow units to overlook outdoor playgrounds or public spaces to allow informal supervision, as well as "take advantage of deeper floor plates to provide wider common corridor space, enable layout flexibility and maximize unit size for laundry rooms, entrances and storage areas."

Some current condo buildings reportedly don't allow strollers to enter via the front lobby -- they must come in the building through a service entrance.

Buildings should also provide indoor and outdoor amenity spaces that are flexible and support a variety of activities and age groups, say the guidelines.

A few Toronto condo buildings have already introduced day care spaces in their buildings, as well as amenities such as games and crafts rooms, indoor and outdoor playgrounds and splash pools.

"While these projects do not meet the proposed Growing Up guidelines related to unit size and mix, they do illustrate an uptake in the demand and supply of family-suitable condominium buildings," says the staff report. "They also reflect the developer's willingness to market to families with children."

Buildings should "become future-proof and allow for alterations, such as adding or removing partitions," says the study. The guidelines call for flexible building designs that use columns rather than shear walls and provide a 3m to 5m "demisable" partition near the corridor if shear walls are unavoidable. "Alternative construction systems are encouraged as they can easily be repurposed, such as wood-frame construction up to six storeys," say the guidelines.

Hallways could be designed like indoor streets with natural light, encouraging people to stop and chat. Where possible, doorways to units should be staggered to maximize privacy and "indented within hallways to create more space, like a front porch."

The guidelines say the ideal two-bedroom unit is 969 square feet and the ideal three bedroom is 1,140 square feet.

"While overall unit sizes are recommended to ensure that a family's needs are met comfortably and efficiently, there is flexibility in how designers can arrange unit elements, resulting in a variety of unit sizes, depending on the layout and the efficiency of the connecting spaces such as corridors," says the study.

"Appropriately sized bedrooms can adapt to various configurations and can comfortably accommodate two people."

City staff recommend that the guidelines be considered when development proposals are evaluated and that feedback from a voluntary online survey of developers and architects will be evaluated. Modifications will be presented in 2018, with a goal of implementing the final guidelines for a two-year period starting in 2019.

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair is editor of REM: Canada's Real Estate Magazine, a business publication for real estate agents and brokers. He has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 30 years. You can contact Jim at jim@remonline.com.

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