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The Vertical Community

Lisa Van de Ven
The National Post
April 21, 2012

Toronto has a love affair with the condo, with 28,466 new-build units purchased in 2011. Thousands more are planned. Suite size, price, amenities and architecture are important, but more and more, a building’s neighbourhood is being considered the ultimate draw. The 11th part of a lengthy series examining the GTA’s new condo ’hoods.
 

About 40,000 residential units are planned along the waterfront from Dufferin to the Eastern Beaches.

“I haven’t gotten used to it at all.”

Speaking from his 31st storey condo suite at Queens Quay and Yonge, Pasha Nasirzadeh is referring to the commanding view. It’s the reason you’ll often find him out on his balcony, sometimes with his fiancée Andrea Kendaris, who’s moving in next month.

With a southwest vista and no obstructions from his sky-high vantage point, Dr. Nasirzadeh loves looking out over Lake Ontario. “When the weather’s good in the summer, Andrea and I pretty much have our dinners on the balcony,” he says.

Initially, it wasn’t the view that enticed Dr. Nasirzadeh to Toronto’s southern edge. When he started looking to buy a condo in 2009, all that the avid cook knew was he wanted something within walking distance of St. Lawrence Market. When he couldn’t find anything, he ended up on the waterfront. It turned out to be just right: A walk to the market and easy access to both public transit and the Gardiner Expressway (a convenience for the dentist, who commutes daily to his practice in Aurora).

He’d soon find out it was also an action-packed, diverse neighbourhood. Today, you’ll see him and Ms. Kendaris taking the ferry to the Toronto Islands for an afternoon, or visiting local hotspots such as the Harbour Sports Grille to watch a game, or the lobby bar at The Westin Harbour Castle for drinks.

“In the summer, there’s a lot of people on bikes and Rollerblades or jogging,” he says, and the couple often joins them on their bikes, enjoying summer on the shore. “It’s very lively.”

On a recent evening, locals walk their dogs, joggers go by and a young couple shares a kiss on the grass at Harbour Square Park. There’s the odd tourist (evident from their cameras) but it’s obvious this neighbourhood isn’t just for visitors. For Dr. Nasirzadeh and fellow residents, the waterfront is more than just a place to live; it’s a lifestyle choice. And thanks to the revitalization underway, residents are seeing their community changing, with a lot more neighbours getting ready to move in to enjoy the view.

Walking against the wind on an April evening, James Russell remembers dropping by the waterfront to write at the Second Cup at Queens Quay and York, even before he moved into the neighbourhood. Perhaps it was destiny that he’d fall in love with a woman who lived close by. He moved in with her in 2005 and has been there ever since; he’s now a member of the York Quay Neighbourhood Association. As a resident, he says, he sees a side of the waterfront not a lot of tourists (or even other Torontonians) are privy to. “In the winter it’s pretty quiet down here,” says the author of the young adult book Mermaids and Zombies. “And year round there’s a community of people — we like to think of ourselves as vertical communities. We really are a little city here.”

While there are amenities Mr. Russell wishes would make their way into the neighbourhood, such as a good breakfast spot, more playgrounds, libraries and daycare facilities, a lot of what the residents need is there, including a new Sobeys in the Queens Quay Terminal, the long-established Loblaws at Queens Quay and Jarvis, and even more facilities for the neighbourhoods east and west of that.

“People who live here have everything they need within a five-minute walk,” says Carol Jolly, executive director of the Waterfront Business Improvement Area. “They’ve got all their services, like doctors and dentists, groceries, liquor store.”

Right now, what they also have is construction in the form of the waterfront revitalization. A joint project by all three levels of government, the venture will lure more tourists to the lakeshore, and will benefit area residents.

While the waterfront of the past was designed for industry, today the master plan involves a mix of uses. An estimate of 40,000 residential units (the future homes of approximately 115,000 people) is planned along the waterfront from Dufferin to the Eastern Beaches over the next 30 to 35 years, give or take a few, says John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto. There will also be new employment, promising to bring more activity to the neighbourhood even in the tourist-light winter months: Oxford Properties has an office tower underway and George Brown College is building a new campus.

New recreational areas, meanwhile, will give the influx of people places to gather: Sugar Beach has been a favourite since it opened in 2010 and there are new parks planned throughout the area as well.

Queens Quay will also undergo a complete redesign, with construction slated to start this summer, and expected to last 18 to 20 months. Car traffic will be reduced from four lanes to two, with a dedicated Light Rail Transit line installed, as well as a pedestrian promenade. The Martin Goodman Trail will be extended alongside, and other beautification efforts, including new benches and trees, will be added. It will be a complete transformation for a street once listed as part of the “Hall of Shame” by the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based non-profit focused on creating stronger public spaces.

“We will turn it into one of the 10 most beautiful streets in the world,” Mr. Campbell says. “I’m forecasting it will become Toronto’s signature street.”

The changes will be more than welcome to Queens Quay resident Kelly Gorman, who’s on the Waterfront Toronto stakeholder advisory committee. “That’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a number of years now,” she says. “It will help a street that needs beautification.”

Ms. Gorman, a retired teacher, moved to Queens Quay from Scarborough in 2001. Now she volunteers at the Harbourfront Centre and walks everywhere: to Ontario Place or downtown to Roy Thomson Hall and some of her other favourite venues. “To me one of the great pleasures of living down here is not only the beauty of it but also that you don’t have to go very far to do lots of things,” she says.

Ask Ms. Gorman what else she likes about the neighbourhood, and, like Mr. Russell, she’ll name the strong sense of community. It’s a quality visitors to the area wouldn’t notice. “I was really sick for about a week last month. Do you know how many people knocked on my door to bring me supper?” she says. “To me, if you get involved and make friends, it’s amazing.”

Then, of course, there’s the view. Like Dr. Nasirzadeh, Ms. Gorman can’t get enough of it; for her, it’s a natural pick-me-up. “It’s so relaxing. It doesn’t matter how stressful your day is,” she says.

And what says home more than that?

 

Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 02:50PM by Registered CommenterElaine in , | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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