This is certainly what I was programmed to believe when I had my oldest son, Nathaniel, almost 10 years ago. My husband Anthony and I were living in a condo at Church and Wellington Sts., in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and almost immediately we felt pressured to start thinking about a house in a more “family-friendly” area.
During the first year of Nathaniel’s life in the condo, I put hundreds of miles on his baby stroller, walking through art galleries at the Distillery District, to the U of T campus to admire the fall leaves, up Yonge St. to check out all the Christmas decorations, and down to the lake to watch the Porter flights taking off and landing.
We were regulars at Union Station watching the VIA trains, took swimming lessons at the community pool and cooled off in the splash pad at the local park with our neighbours. Almost daily we hit the St. Lawrence Market to wave to the lobsters in the tank and pick up supplies for dinner.
Despite all of this richness, a part of me still felt like I was depriving my son by living in a downtown condo. “Kids need a backyard!” I kept telling myself.
When Nathaniel was 2 and I was pregnant with our second son, Benjamin, we sold our condo and moved out of the downtown core. We wanted to be closer to my husband’s family in the city’s west end — and find a house. We told ourselves: “We need to be grownups and settle down. It’s the best thing for the kids.”
But every time we looked at a house we would get cold feet, reminding ourselves that Anthony wasn’t handy and that I sleep with one eye open whenever he travels for work. We came up with a compromise: We would rent a larger condo with more green space and then work up the nerve to finally buy a house in two years. We shook on it.
That was seven years ago and we still haven’t left. Over the years as we continued with our long-term lease at the Palace Pier condo community, located on Lake Ontario and the Humber River, we fell more in love with the lifestyle and all the benefits it has brought to our family.
Our building offers many larger units which are very attractive to parents raising their kids. There are two- and three-bedroom suites, ranging from 1,550 square feet up to more than 3,000 square feet. Our condo has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a den and a solarium. Its generous size allows us to host parties for all the condo kids as well as holiday dinners for our families. A similar-sized unit in the Pier recently broke the building’s record when it sold for $1.56M.
When our lease comes up next year, we will finally commit for good to condo living and buy a unit in the building that has become our home. We are officially a loud-and-proud condo family.
In fact, we feel extremely fortunate to be able to give our sons this kind of childhood. They’re surrounded by friends — 50 kids in the building, and counting. Over the years the condo parents have come together to organize swimming lessons, tennis lessons and a weekly chess club. There are cooking lessons in the condo’s restaurant and the children gather to make greeting cards to bring to patients at nursing homes and hospitals.
They watch big sporting events on a giant screen in the party room. On cold or rainy days they flock to the squash court to play basketball, floor hockey and soccer together. There are impromptu ping-pong tournaments. Hours are spent outside in the building’s backyard playing soccer, baseball and hide-and-seek while nearby parents use the communal barbecues. Just recently, our building renovated the games room and added shuffleboard, foosball and a big-screen TV for movies, sports and gaming.
All of this more than makes up for my kids not having their own backyard.
As Toronto’s overheated real estate prices keep families out of the house-buying market, many are looking to condos as an alternative. Toronto builders recognize this trend and have begun offering more three-bedroom units. Special amenities for children are even starting to pop up in buildings like The Eglinton, by Menkes Developments, which offers a kids’ playroom and jungle-gym. Tridel’s Islington Terrace development includes both indoor and outdoor spaces designed for children.
Parents thinking about raising their kids in a condo can look to major international cities, like New York and Hong Kong, where highrise living has always been the norm. There is arguably more quality family time when parents aren’t busy mowing the lawn, shovelling the drive or spending hours a day commuting to a house they can afford in the suburbs.
And there are more families living this way than you may think. According to the 2011 Census, 66 per cent of households with children lived in condos or apartments in downtown Toronto and 32 per cent throughout the whole of the city. Nationally, one in eight households lives in condos or apartments.
Those numbers are expected to jump when new Census numbers come out in October. The City of Toronto recently launched the strategic initiative, “Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities” to address this new reality.
It’s my first book, and the first in an early-reader, chapter-book series for kids aged 6-9 — or for parents to read to their younger children — with colour illustrations by Chilean artist Ana Patankar. It follows brothers Noah and Michael, and their escapades with all the other Condo Kids in the building.
Despite the fact highrise living is a growing reality for many Toronto families — and the most common lifestyle in major international cities like NYC or Hong Kong — I couldn’t find any children’s books with this setting.
Highrise and condo kids, like my own boys, deserve to have their lifestyle reflected in children’s literature, which traditionally features main characters who live in houses with fences and yards, running down the block to play with their neighbours.
The Condo Kids isn’t only for children growing up in highrises. Just like the TV show Friends resonated with an audience beyond apartment-dwellers, this book aims to reach all children who share the bonds of friendship, and adventures, with their neighbours.
The first storyline finds the Condo Kids keeping a major secret after Noah, desperate for a pet, sneaks a Barbary sheep named Bob home from the zoo. The kids soon learn that keeping a secret pet is risky — between Noah’s suspicious mom and the scary superintendent on their trail, they’re just one mistake away from being discovered.
The 65-page book is available on Amazon and at www.condokids.ca ($12.99 U.S.). My sons and the real condo kids in our building are proud Earth Rangers, so 10 per cent of all proceeds from book sales go to this worthwhile kids’ conservation organization.
Parts 2 and 3 in the storybook series are underway.
With a journalism degree from Ryerson University and my career spent as a reporter, online writer/editor, TV producer and now freelance writer for the Star, I always wanted to write books. Who knew it would begin with kids’ books?