Toronto’s Condo Boom: Class Segregation by Elevation

Aug 6 • Affordable Housing, Articles, Skyscraper, TORONTO • 2423 Views • 21 Comments on Toronto’s Condo Boom: Class Segregation by Elevation

CityPlace in Toronto (© All rights reserved by Ian A. Mclennan)

CityPlace in Toronto (© All rights reserved by Ian A. Mclennan)

Ian Angus McLennan opines about the peculiar desire that some of us have to live in a city, yet still isolated from it.

By Ian Angus McLennan…


Toronto’s condo boom raises questions about how vertical growth effects the culture of a city.  It’s a rather simple principal that forces the centers of large cities to surge skyward.  As demand for centrally located real estate and rentals increases, prices increase and as prices increase, developers create more real estate and rental spaces by stacking them atop one another.  The skyscraper is born.  

Alongside this real estate reality is the common trope from literature, movies, and television of wealthy, successful people in top-floor penthouses, or important business men in high corner offices.  Think of Gatsby’s house towering over Nick’s small cottage.  Or if you’d prefer a more contemporary example, on Gossip Girl, Serena and her family live in an apartment building penthouse on New York’s upper east side, while the Humphrey’s Brooklyn loft is much closer to ground level.  The more important you are, the higher you live and work.
But these are stories.  To what extent are classes divided by elevation in Toronto today?  Well the financial heart of Toronto, where the high rollers are, went vertical a long time ago.  Yet many of the most appealing residential and commercial neighborhoods are no more than two stories high.  With the Condo boom, this dynamic may be changing.  The dozens of condo towers springing up around the city are far from affordable housing.  What happens when Toronto’s wealthy live and work at altitude?  Already transit and office towers are connected by the PATH so that business people have no reason to even see the street on their morning commute.  Those who don’t take transit can drive from their condo parking garage to their office parking garage.  Projecting this into the future, I envision a Blade-Runner-Like city with the wealthy isolated high above the poor and grimy streets below.  It sounds apocalyptic, but it begins with the desire for isolation, from the dirty, smelly, people who occupy the basement of the city.  Fear of homeless people, of hot or inclement weather, dislike for the smell of foreign food, or contempt for urban fashions: these are the seeds of isolation.  
Architects, city planners, and citizens need to have a serious conversation about how your perspective changes your impressions of the city.  Today Toronto has a vibrant and integrated street culture.  Young and old, rich and poor sit in crowded bars and cafes around the city.  I hope it stays that way.
My mind was spurred to this topic by a particular condo development, the top of which glistens like a melting icicle, and the bottom of which looks like the architecture on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s dry and dusty home planet.  It’s a brutal sort of umber stucco cube.  I’m sure the architect tried to create a thing of beauty but has given my a very different impression.

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21 Responses to Toronto’s Condo Boom: Class Segregation by Elevation

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  21. Build | Content says:

    I’m with you on this. In a sense, high rise living only works well for people who are financially secure and who live in buildings with people who are like them. Highrises have the potential to be very friendly to criminals, with stairwells and hallways as blind “streets” with nobody watching them. Jane Jacobs disliked high-rises, and that was her reasoning. They’re either socially segregated or dangerous.

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