The Condo Game

The CBC Doc Zone recently aired a documentary called “The Condo Game”. It looks at Toronto’s condo market, and if you’ve seen it you’ll know that it paints a pretty grim picture. This is why as a city builder and lover of this great city, I feel compelled to respond.

I’d like to talk about the positives that condos have brought to Toronto and also tell you a bit about some of the things we’re doing at TAS to address concerns in the marketplace, including those raised in the documentary. There’s no question that the rapid adoption of the condominium has had a dramatic affect on both our urban landscape and the way people live. But I don’t think that fear is the way to drive the conversation forward.

The intensification of our city—which has largely happened because of the condominium—has brought more and more people into the downtown and transformed Toronto into a vibrant 24-7 global city. People want to live here and the importance of this cannot be overstated. Today, talent first chooses the city in which it wants to live and then looks for work. Toronto needs to remain on the top of that list and thankfully we are doing well by this metric. Just recently, Toronto was ranked the most Youthful City in the World. (Berlin and New York followed.)

Intensification has also resulted in an improvement in our energy efficiency. A lot of people seem to associate sustainability with buying a hybrid/electric car and recycling. And that certainly helps. But let’s not forget that buildings make up a large portion of green house gas emissions 1. Where we live and work matters a great deal. And since it also impacts our transportation choices, it’s probably the single most important decision we can make with respect to environmental sustainability. When you live in less space and in a neighborhood that doesn’t require a car, you greatly reduce your carbon footprint.

Now, let’s consider some of the negatives outlined in the Condo Game, namely (1) building quality; (2) Toronto’s planning process; and (3) the investor factor.

Firstly, let’s be clear that condos—just like houses—are not all created equal. Here at TAS, I’m proud of the fact that we spend a lot of time working on design and understanding the long term implications of our decisions. We worry about maintenance in the future and we worry about energy performance. It’s for this reason that we typically shy away from buildings where the majority of the façade is clad in glass. If you take a look at our latest project, DUKE, you’ll notice that we opted for a 40/60 ratio of window to solid surfaces on the exterior of the building. What this does is improve energy performance, improve occupancy comfort (less cold surfaces), and makes it a lot easier to replace any windows if you need to in the future (the whole wall doesn’t have to be removed).


Secondly, when it comes to development approvals we have a fairly unique process. Instead of going into communities and telling them what we want to build, we try and go into communities and ask them what they want us to build. We want our projects to be “of the neighbourhood.” And we think we’ve achieved that with DUKE, as well as with our upcoming project at Kingston Road and Victoria Park Avenue. In fact, we’ve had nearby residents actually thank us for our efforts to “clean up the neighbourhood” and “improve where we live.” When we hear those types of responses, we know that we’re doing our job.

Lastly, I’d like to comment on the investor factor because it ties directly into how we handle our sales and marketing initiatives. When we launch a project, we first and foremost reach out to the local community and target end users. We believe they should have first pick before investors. After all, it’s their neighbourhood, not ours. Some of the buyers end up being homeowners and some, inevitably, end up becoming investors. Keeping everything local.

My intent for this post was not to defend every critique that was raised in The Condo Game documentary on behalf of the entire urban development sector. Instead I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the things we are working hard on and are proud of at TAS. If you’re interested in staying up to date on what we’re doing, I would encourage you to signup for our Shaping Beautiful Cities™ newsletter. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at mazyar@tasdesignbuild.com.

1. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: http://www.c2es.org/technology/overview/buildings