Do Condos Kill Communities?

If you’re a city dweller and you’re looking to rent or own some property, condominiums seem like a great idea.  They’re often located in the downtown core (also known as “where it’s at”), they can have awesome amenities and they can be a great first step onto that property ladder. In many cities, condos just seem like a regular part of the landscape – a form of housing like any other – but a certain community crusader has got me thinking.

Scribbled across the hoarding boards that wrap around a condo construction site in my city, Toronto, is the following message: “Condos kill communities.”

And the graffiti doesn’t stop there. The scribbler takes issue with yuppies (young urban professionals) too.

This graffiti is an example of the broader ongoing debate in my city about the effect that architecture can have on the integrity of a community. To put this condo/yuppie hate into context for you, this new development is in an area in the midst of gentrification and is in a city that has been experiencing an aggressive condo boom since the mid 1990’s.

I find it fascinating that there can be such distress over a type of lodging. Sure, sometimes people scoff at mansion owners or bemoan the noisy perils of semi-detached housing, but I’ve never come across a movement like, “Down with basement apartments!” or “Burn the bungalows!” I was interested to see what else Torontonians were saying about condos, so I made a visit to the modern town hall: the Internet comment sections.

For starters, the debate is most strongly centered on the massive 20+ storey condos rather than the smaller buildings. Many argue that condos are wonderful as they offer “resort-style living” and a “maintenance-free lifestyle.” Condos, they say, are a reality of city living and, moreover, contribute a great deal to the growth and well being of the city. They increase density, diminish the “problem” of urban sprawl and encourage a pedestrian environment thanks to their central locations. Condos help to define a city as “world class” and some even say that condos encourage a minimalist lifestyle – an acceptance of living comfortably with less space and less things.

But like the majority of online comment sections, haters dominated the discussion. Criticisms of condos are intense: they’re ugly, uninspired and built with cheap materials. They are “concrete chicken coops,” “shoe boxes in the sky” and “slots for people to live in.” Yet, the biggest criticism relates back to what is scribbled on the aforementioned hoarding boards, and that’s that everything about condos from their design, to their price, to their location attracts people who are disinterested in engaging with their community. Condos are said to be built for the three types of people who are living a transient lifestyle and are effectively “on their way out” – first time property owners (heading for bigger property ownership), renters (heading for their next convenient lodging situation), and retirees (heading for their next round of golf).

Do condos kill communities? There is obviously no single answer to this question as the definition of community is entirely subjective. Is a community defined by its parks, shops or neighbors borrowing cups of sugar? Is it schools, a strong transit system, or a series about a group of college kids hanging out with Chevy Chase?

Condos or no condos, it’s clear to me that one of the pillars of an engaged community is alive and well – spirited debate. You can see it plain as day, scribbled on the condo hoarding boards.

So what do you think, do condos kill communities? Which comes first, the community or the condo?

All photos were taken by the author