Condo Living for Cyclists: A Quick Guide

condo cycling

If you’ve counted the number of bike shops on your block lately, it will not be a great surprise that Toronto has an active—and political, and sometimes messy—cycling culture.  Add our easily navigable street grid to the cost of cars, parking, and monthly transit downtown and in the inner suburbs, and it’s clear why your bike is an increasingly popular way to get to work in the morning.

So if you’re thinking of making the move to a condo—or the move to full-time cycling—here’s a quick guide on how to navigate the perks and challenges of condo living when you commute by bike.

Look for a discount on your rent

As well as saving on commuting costs, cycling can save you more than a little on rent.  Since parking spaces in most Toronto condominiums add from $100 to $300 monthly to the condo fees (and, trickling down, to the amount you’ll pay in rent), looking at units without dedicated parking can save you that much right off the top.

If you’re in love with a unit that does have a parking space, see if your landlord is willing to rent the space separately or sublet that spot.  There are legions of people commuting every day—especially if you’re renting downtown—who would love the idea of a dedicated parking space close to their office, and the reduction in rent your landlord gives you might well turn into a net win for them if they’re able and willing to sublet that parking space to a commuter.

Parking spots aside, commuting by bike lets you check out units which are just a little farther out from TTC stops and closer to the network of side streets that host Toronto’s dedicated bike lanes.  Those extra few blocks will be a breeze on a bicycle, and units a few blocks up a side street or away from the subway line tend to be that much more affordable than ones right next to the subway.

Find out the rules in advance

While the rules in older condos around bikes and storage are in flux, many condos have rules against storing your bike on the balcony, for good reasons: Bikes on balconies mean road dirt tracked through elevators and halls, and your own unit’s floors, and that means more cleaning for both you and your property management company.

Find out, when you view a unit, how it deals with bikes and cyclists.  If you can store your bike on the balcony, keep it clean and you’re ready to go.  What’s more, many newer condos are designing with bikes in mind and offering amenities like special bicycle lockers, bike parking inside or at the back of the building, hobby rooms which let you do your spring tuneup inside, and even in-house bike share programs for building residents.  Some older buildings have converted some of their parking space into bike storage by hanging bike racks in their parking garages.

So if you can snag a unit in a building with cycling amenities, there’s even less to worry about—and more space for you in your unit while your bike sleeps securely behind a locked door.  However, if not, have a plan before you rent as to how to handle your overnight storage, and where you’ll keep your bike through the winter if you’re not an all-weather cyclist.

Get inventive with your storage options

Once you’ve sorted what the boundaries are, there are ways to easily work within them. While many condo buildings have rules against bikes on balconies, they don’t hand out demerits for keeping your wheels inside the unit proper.

If your landlord’s all right with you mounting a small wall shelf and you’re willing to plaster the holes at the end of your lease (ask first!), there are wall-mounted racks available from Mountain Equipment Co-op or other downtown stores for under $20—ones that support the bike by its frame while you’re in, and look like a normal wall shelf while you’re out.  They’re a great way to keep within the rules, keep the floors tidy, and not use up any of your precious floor space.

If not, check out units that come with lockers: They’re a great place to park your bike securely, and usually connect to a parking area for easy roll-out in the morning.

Find a bike shop or two along your daily route

Yes, they’re everywhere, but having a few bike shops you like and trust between work and home can mean the difference between getting a flat fixed almost instantly and having to wait—and ditch your bike at home—until the weekend, when you can get to your local.

Wear a helmet

C’mon, always.

Happy biking!

Get Outside: Mel Lastman Square

Mel Lastman Square

To way too many Torontonians, Mel Lastman Square doesn’t mean much more than our former mayor and his current furniture commercials.  But since it opened more than twenty-five years ago, it’s been a hub for the arts, cultural fairs, reading, lounging, and laid-back—usually free!—community activities.

So for the second installment of our Get Outside series, let’s discover Mel Lastman Square.

A little background

The public square and courtyard of the old city of North York’s civic centre, Mel Lastman Square is a huge, quiet gathering place for families, lunching city and TDSB staff from the huge offices next door by day, and a bright, robust cultural space by night and on the weekends.

With 20,000 square feet of both paved and green space, an pond that turns into an outdoor skating rink for winter, an amphitheatre, and outdoor table tennis spaces, it’s no surprise that the square’s in such high demand for large-scale festivals.  It’s got the space to hold multiple events at once without anyone feeling crowded, and can spill into the huge North York Central Branch of the Toronto Public Library to cool off or host talks and sessions.

So what can I do there?

If you grew up in north Toronto, Vaughan, or the artist formerly known as North York, you already know that Mel Lastman Square has had an amazing live music game for decades.  Bands from the small-and-local level all the way up to Matthew Good, Finger Eleven, the Rheostatics, and most of the last twenty years of big-name CanCon music have played Mel Lastman Square, pretty much for free.

Sunday Serenades series spotlights swing, big band, and jazz bands, with more than enough space for you to dance under the stars.  With everyone from retirees to the local branch of Toronto’s swing and Lindy Hop scene on the dance floor, they’re a great excuse to dress up, slap on some femme fatale lipstick, and grab your favourite partner even if they’re broke this week.

Friday nights in the summer are reserved for the Cultura Festival, which is going to cycle outdoor film screenings, R&B artists, fire-jugglers, dance companies, interactive exhibits from the ROM, hula-hooping, and more through the space every week.

On top of that, the square recently hosted one of the city’s official Canada Day celebrations, with circus acts, free face painting, salsa and jazz bands, and fireworks—and they put on a similar large spread for New Year’s.

Get a little culture

The old North York is one of the more diverse neighbourhoods in the City of Toronto, and Mel Lastman Square’s programming does a great job at offering up space for the area’s larger cultural groups to meet, mingle, and celebrate.

The square’s calendar features Persian Family Day, the Latin Arts Festival, the Iranian Summer Festival, the Kurdish Festival, and the Korean Harvest Festival all coming up just this summer alone, and gives you a great chance to get to know your neighbours, share delicious treats, and get involved with cultural organizations and arts groups across the northern swath of Toronto.

Get yourself moving

While Mel Lastman’s fitness game is more aligned to events like September’s Health and Culture Expo and hosting the RBC Run for the Kids, it’s right next door to the Douglas Snow Aquatic Centre, a large indoor pool and fitness space which offers both registered and drop-in fitness classes.  Douglas Snow’s full schedule includes free swim and organized classes through the city, yoga, cardio, tai chi, and dance.

Or get a bite to eat

While it’s surrounded by restaurants and shops as part of the Yonge-Sheppard corridor, Mel Lastman Square’s branched out into the eats game hard.  Its Thursday farmer’s markets have been a mainstay since 1994—officially before farmer’s markets were cool—and span past the usual fresh fruits and veggies to cheese, meat, artisan bread, honey, herbs, preserves, and handmade soap.  For the day of, you can get fresh smoothies, cabbage rolls, pierogies, pies, and more ready-to-eat.

So, how do I get there?

The great thing about Mel Lastman Square is that it’s super accessible: Located at 5100 Yonge Street, right above North York Centre Station, it’s easy to get to—or home from—whether you’re coming from downtown, the old city of North York, or Vaughan, Markham, and Richmond Hill via the Viva Bus and York Region Transit terminal one stop north at Finch.

There’s also ample parking in various paid lots around the square, including a Green P on Beecroft Road, meter parking on the side streets in the neighbourhood, and underground parking at the civic centre itself.

With an abundance of free fun and its laid-back air during the weekdays, Mel Lastman Square is definitely a place to mingle with your neighbours, make friends, try new snacks and experiences, and be a part of the common space that is your neighbourhood.  Check out their event line at 416-395-7582 for the latest schedule updates, and get outside!

The Toronto Condo-Dweller’s Guide to the 2015 Pan Am Games

Pan Am Games Toronto

The first international sports do in years is coming to Toronto this July 10th: the 2015 Parapan and Pan Am Games.  With over 250,000 tourists and 8,000 athletes converging on the city, tourism is most definitely going to be a thing this summer—and if you’re enjoying condo life, that might mean some adjustments as the visitors pour in.

Right in time for the starting whistle (or gun, or ball to drop), here’s a rough guide to adjusting your routine to take in—and not get taken out by—this summer’s Pan Am Games.

Are you near a Games venue?

The Pan Am Games venues aren’t concentrated, but are scattered all over the GTHA, from track events at York University to soccer at Exhibition to events at Sugar Beach.  With venues in Hamilton, Oshawa, Haliburton, and York Region, the crowds are going to be spread throughout the city, but knowing if there’s a games venue or athletes’ village near you is key to knowing how the Games will affect your daily routine (and if you’ll get a chance to watch them from your balcony!).

Find out if any of your neighbours are skipping town—and how

If you live near a Games venue, you might be in for a quiet July—or possibly a very noisy one.  If your neighbours are packing up and taking the tourism boost as the impetus for a nice, quiet vacation, find out if they’ve listed their unit on AirBnb.  While Games-oriented rentals haven’t picked up the steam that most short-term landlords were hoping, it’s a good idea to find out well in advance if and when new temporary neighbours will arrive, and make sure a change in noise or behaviour next door doesn’t come as a surprise.

Plan your transit

If you drive into work every day, the city’s anticipating a large influx in traffic—one that they’re tackling with a combination of pitching flexible working arrangements and 235 kilometres of temporary HOV lanes on Highway 427, Highway 401, the Don Valley Parkway, the Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard, and Jane Street.  The rules for using the new HOV lanes are fairly strict: If you’re not an athlete, media, Games personnel, public transit, a cab, or an emergency vehicle, you’re out—unless you’re driving an electric car or have at least two people riding with you.

The temporary HOV lanes are going to run from June 29th to July 27th, and once the city segues in to the Parapan Am Games—between July 28th and August 18th—you’ll only need to bring one friend to use the HOV lanes.  The fines are pretty stiff for rulebreakers: three demerits and a $110 ticket.

If you’re a TTC rider, it’s going to be more crowded than usual: Games tickets will do double duty as transit passes, and the streetcars are likely to be full of sports fans.  However, both the TTC and GO Transit are ramping up their service calendars, adding additional stops, more frequent service, and temporary express routes to Exhibition Place and between Varsity Stadium and the Ryerson Athletic Centre.  In a sweet, sweet development for anyone who’s ever worked opening weekend shifts, Sunday subway service will start at an unprecedented 6 a.m.

For the occasional cyclists, Bike Share’s plans to expand for the Games have been put on ice.  Rental bikes might be hard to find for the summer: It could be time to invest in a fixie, or at least a temporary beater until it gets cold.

Of course, however you’re getting around, there’s an app for that: Metrolinx has released Triplinx to help transit users plan around delays, find out bus and train times, and navigate wherever they’re headed on time.  And for drivers, the Ministry of Transportation’s rolled out the 2015 Games Trip Planner, which feeds you real-time traffic information, directions, and the goods on parking.

Take a chance to explore the offbeat

With a quarter million tourists coming through Toronto’s streets, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the usual suspects, when it comes to Toronto attractions, are going to be packed.  CN Tower?  Not the summer to do it.  Toronto Island?  Probably not that either.

What could make this summer great, though, is taking that time and exploring some of the city’s more offbeat, quieter attractions.  Take in a documentary and some AC on a hot day at the Hot Docs Theatre; hike the Don Valley and check out the wildlife; take a dip at Cherry Beach, taste the Evergreen Brickworks weekly farmer’s market, or see a show at the Danforth Music Hall.  With the standard options off the table, this can be a summer to really get to know your neighbourhood and take advantage of all the quiet treasures you’ve persistently walked by.

Go with the flow

Or, if you’re a sports fan, pick up your own Pan Am tickets!  They’re available online and 24/7, and you can’t beat the commute—or the quality of athleticism on display.

And if you’re a music fan, there is (surprise!) a concert and arts series attached to the Games, with visual artists, dance, theatre, opera, and a huge lineup of both local and international bands including Stars, Death From Above 1979, Jann Arden, A Tribe Called Red, Basia Bulat—most of them doing free shows.  There is also a circus, no joke.  And you can’t argue with anything that brings you a circus.

In short?  Plan ahead, check in—and have fun!

Small Space Living for Beginners

small space living

Image of small space living

You love the look, you love the location—but you’re not sure about the size.

With micro condos—condos under 500 square feet—making up five percent of new Toronto condos for 2014 and minimalist living so trendy whole apartment blogs are devoted to it, renters who want a more affordable downtown lifestyle and empty nesters downsizing into condominiums are looking at living smaller.

Just like with any lifestyle change, there are tips and tricks to get the most out of small space living—and to decide if that beautifully located smaller unit is destined to be your next home.  If you’re considering a smaller space to grab that gorgeous location, here are some ways to make that choice a win-win situation.

Every wall is a resource

What’s that, up in the sky?  It’s your wall space, and when you’re living in a small space condominium, it’s one of your best resources.  Instead of just a flat expanse, your walls are an opportunity to create storage—and decorative character—without using up floor space, and embracing that opportunity is key to a cozy small space home.

Check out wall-mounted floating shelves, pegboards for keys or kitchen supplies, and hanging planters to expand your available storage and living space—all of them standards at stores like Ikea, who have been in the European mindset of compact and elegant living for decades.  With your mason jars of marmalade or favourite reads doing double duty as wall décor, you don’t just create a living space that’s organized and tidy, but also an amazing expression of what’s important to you.

Use a zone defence

Especially if your new space is an open-concept unit, splitting up a small space condominium into defined “rooms” is a massive plus.  Just because there isn’t a wall standing between that kitchen and living room, it doesn’t mean you can’t create an internal sense of use and space—which is key to creating an organized, purposeful home instead of feeling like you’re living in a multipurpose room.

Cluster objects that belong to one particular use in one area—your clothes and towels near your bed, your DVD collection away from the kitchen—and keep activities in their designated space.  Face the back of your sofa away to create the line of your living room, and see how quickly those invisible walls come up and make your space feel larger and more versatile.

If you’d rather have a physical boundary, invest in a few rice paper screens to let you open, close, and alter the boundaries of your space.  They’re easily portable, moveable, classy—and make great window coverings for a glass-walled condo space.

Think modular

Thinking vertical doesn’t just apply to your walls in a small space living situation: When it comes to storage, go up, go stackable, and go modular to get the very most out of what you’ve got.

If you’ve ever wondered what those perennial baskets and brightly coloured bins at furniture stores are for, this is when they’ll make subdividing and organizing your space a snap.  Pick up a few baskets and an adjustable frame, and you can turn a cramped space below your bathroom sink into an organized, multi-drawer, flexible storage space for all the toiletries and cleaning supplies you need.  Add a few baskets or decorative boxes to a floating shelf and a wall-mounted mirror, and voila: You’ve got a dressing table and vanity.

Likewise, small adjustments such as a slightly higher bed frame, paired with some right-height storage bins, can let you store your entire off-season’s worth of clothes and coats out of sight and switch them as the fall or spring come in.  Alternately, many condo-sized furniture stores sell hutch units designed to fit over a toilet tank, so you can include automatic shelving in your bathroom for towels and toiletries.

Size your furniture to the space

One of the great secrets of enjoying small space living is to not let your furniture dwarf the space: keep your shelves and tables in proportion to the floor space you have, instead of letting them crowd the room.

It’s easier to downsize furniture than we think: While that bruiser of a home office desk might be solid, it’s a terrible trial to move, and a Victorian cylinder desk or old-style writing desk will handle most modern computers easily—and have the added advantage of not letting papers, half-finished projects, and mental debris pile up in your work area.

Get outside

Toronto, especially in winter, can be an isolating city.  Small space living inspires—and sometimes requires—you to get outside and use this city in a way that really shows off its best side: as your outdoor living room.

Find out where your local library is, and hang out in their cozy chairs with a new book or your laptop.  Instead of having friends over for lunch, take a Sunday picnic together to your local public park.  If you’re a freelancer, investigate your neighbourhood for one of Toronto’s ever-increasing co-working options, and take advantage of their cheap office space, new professional and social connections, and plentiful caffeine.  Skip the TV and see a live set at your local venue or a classic movie at one of Toronto’s indie theatres.  Go to a free talk or storytelling night.

The wonderful thing about living in a city like Toronto is the wealth of things to do, and the connections we can make.  Making our home in our community is one of the best parts of small space living, and it’s the most compelling argument for trading in that extra bathroom for an impetus to live every day in your neighbourhood.

Advantages to Choosing Condo-Sized Living

Condo Sized LIving

Toronto’s urban sprawl tells a story about how we used to live: detached house, full yard, and space as paramount.  But with micro condos—condos of 500 square feet or less—making up 11% of the new condos coming onstream in the GTA this year, the shift from car culture to transit-friendly, neighbourhood-centred, community culture is in full swing, as Toronto buyers and renters are embrace the advantages of a clean, compact lifestyle.

Here are four ways choosing condo-sized living can change your day-to-day routines—for the better.

 1) Say goodbye to high heating and utility bills.

Most condo corporations don’t meter out heating, water, and hydro costs on top of your monthly rent: They combine those costs, along with your share of any major capital repairs, into a fixed monthly charge called condo fees, which are set by the condo board.  The budgeting benefits are part of what’s attracted buyers and renters of all ages to condominium living.  The next big cold snap won’t wreck your budget once the heating bill comes in, and fluctuating hydro rates are absorbed and evened out over the year.

On top of that, your share of your building’s condo fees is allocated based on the square footage of your unit—anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar per square foot, depending on the age of the building, how many amenities it contains, and how many units are there to share the load.  So a smaller unit means a lighter load when it comes to condo fees—and your entire utilities and heating bill, letting condo owners keep their costs down and condo renters, more often than not, see their entire utilities bill included as part of their monthly rent.

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