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Urban Living

Why Condo Buildings Should (Safely) Open Their Outdoor Amenities This Summer

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Last summer, countless outdoor swimming pools and breezy common areas at most, if not all, Toronto condo buildings sat empty all season. Simultaneously, in surrounding streets, the city’s parks, patios, and public squares remained packed with people until the colder weather (and another lockdown) rolled around.

Like many slippery slopes surrounding pandemic decision-making, this was a bit of a head-scratcher for me — especially on those balmy summer days when beaches and parks were so rammed with groups of sun-seekers that they resembled music festivals (remember those?).

As the temperature rises and the pent up stir craziness takes over again, we should take a different approach this year and safely (key word here) open up outdoor condo amenities.

In recent decades, Toronto has only increased in density, one glassy new condo tower at a time. While backyards — and, sometimes, even balconies — are removed from the equation when it comes to downtown condo living, most of these newer condo buildings boast rooftop terraces, sun decks, putting greens, or swimming pools. No matter how small their unit, condo dwellers didn’t have to travel too far for a fresh air fix in pre-pandemic times.

READ: What Does the Future of Amenities Look Like in a Post-COVID World?

Now, at a time when they are more needed and appreciated than ever, some outdoor condo spaces could see a similar fate as last summer. But, especially once Ontario’s stay-at-home order lifts and patios and public pools begin to welcome city residents again, we should actually make use of these mood-altering outdoor amenities.

Photo: Fashion House Condos

Sure, opening outdoor amenities renders paying pricy condo fees an easier pill to swallow for homeowners; but — more importantly — it will improve the mental and physical health of residents and keep other Toronto residents safe in the process.

Frankly, it could be the safest choice all around.

Last summer, it didn’t take long for public swimming pools to open once restrictions began to ease in late June. Public pools throughout the city — from Riverdale Park, to Sunnyside Park — were able to welcome hundreds of visitors a day thanks to capacity restrictions, socially distanced lineups, contact tracing, and extended hours.

Yet a similar situation (obviously, on a much smaller scale) didn’t play out in many condos with respect to pools and other outdoor amenities. And when these beloved outdoor amenities are off limits, restless condo dwellers have no choice but to seek reprieve from their small spaces through outdoor time at already packed parks and beaches. This year — after another six months of hard lockdown life — the collective stir craziness and craving for fresh air has never been stronger (I know I’m not alone in this sentiment).

While experts agree that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is significantly reduced outdoors, last summer, it got so packed that there wasn’t a square foot of park or beach real estate left in sight on a sunny weekend. And that doesn’t do anyone any favours in this climate.

Trinity Bellwoods
epdevilla/Twitter

If outdoor spaces were allowed to safely open in condo buildings — complete with capacity restrictions, appointment times, and sign-in protocols for contact tracing– it would drive fewer people to downtown parks and public spaces. It would also improve residents’ anxiety by offering safe, regulated, and convenient access to much-needed outdoor space.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with our various board of director clients on this topic,” said Rob Klopot, CEO of The Forest Hill Group, a luxury condo development consulting firm. “Public health is obviously at the forefront of the conversations and considerations. Let’s assume that public health gives the green light to open up slowly; we’re still going to see a strict adherence to social distancing in some form. Some condo buildings may very well keep them closed.”

So, what’s the deal with some condos keeping their amenities locked while others remain open? Ask your condo’s board of directors — they’re the ones making the call.

“In condos when there’s a rule or policy, I think that some people view that as an overarching view or policy in place by the City,” says Klopot. “The reality is that the board has the power to implement rules specific to the condo, and we saw that play out last summer when it came to the treatment of outdoor amenities in buildings across the province.”

Last summer saw some of his clients’ building amenities safely open, while others remained closed. “It’s based on the clients’ decision on how to put rules in place at this time,” says Klopot. “Usually, the younger, most densely populated buildings are encouraging the safe opening of outdoor amenities, while the condos with older, aging populations wanted to keep them closed out of an abundance of caution.”

As the warmer weather creeps in, so does the seemingly divisive amenity conversation.

“Across the board, we do hear requests from people asking to open rooftops — even now with the stay-at-home order,” Says Klopot. “Hopefully the next stage of this at least lets us entertain the possibility of opening safely.”

Yes. Here’s (very much) to hoping.  

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