Transformed Skyline

By: Mariam Matti

Visit Toronto’s Liberty Village today and you’ll find a neighbourhood awash in development, in terms of high-rises, luxury loft spaces and loads of amenities. Restaurants and bars are scattered around, emulating the social life of the Spadina, College and Ossington neighbourhoods. Vintage buildings have been turned into yoga studios; with gyms and cafés creating a sense of community for residents.

What was an industrial area a decade ago has been transformed into a hip hub for young urbanites.

In the 1990s, Liberty Village was home to the John Inglis and Sons factory, a manufacturer of machine guns and later, appliances, and the Central Prison for Men, and Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, which was the first prison in Canada built exclusively for female offenders.

Fast forward to 2004. The neighbourhood experiences phenomenal growth with new condos and loft spaces.

And it hasn’t stopped. Seven new towers are set for completion by 2015 in the Village.

Neighbourhoods have undergone a speedy gentrification, leaving residents questioning whether or not the condos that are up are durable (flashback to summer 2011 when all that glass was falling from buildings), and if these modern towers represent a neighbourhood the way a heritage landmark would.
The old buildings in the Village are mostly repurposed, and, depending on how you look at it, this could be a good or bad thing.

It’s good for business. The revamped neighbourhoods are attracting new buyers looking to make a low interest purchase.

Twenty-eight-year-old Anand Iyer is looking to move to the west end of Toronto, and finds that he’s attracted to living in the Village. “Most of the property you can buy is fairly new and the prices aren’t as expensive as the downtown core but it’s still close enough,” he says. Iyer is open to living in either a townhouse or one bedroom condo.

And that seems to be the trend for Liberty Villagers.

The condos that are being built are small units, one bedroom with a den, ideal for a twenty-something crowd. There are more people walking their dogs than moms with strollers.

Given the absence of schools and daycare centres, and the surplus of the opposite, it’s really no surprise that this is not the neighbourhood for families. Remax real estate agent Lindsey Wallace says that Liberty Village condos are a stepping-stone for 25-year-olds. “It’s usually a one-bedroom-plus-den that young couples move in to and by the end of their time there, I usually see a crib in the den,” she says.

Wallace has been working in Liberty Village for four years and says that the neighbourhood has more of a community feeling than if you were to purchase a condo on Spadina Ave. “It has the amenities that you need, banks, gym, restaurants, and cool night clubs,” enthuses Wallace.

Buying a condo has its advantages. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a house. Real estate agent Christine Cowern says that even renting a condo is far more convenient because it’s low maintenance, “One doesn’t have to do much up-keep.” And then there’s also the safety aspect. There is usually always a concierge in a condo.

But some see the potential of the neighbourhood as having been lost with all the high-rises.

Christopher Hume, urban affairs columnist at the Toronto Star believes the neighbourhood has been a disappointment when it had so much potential.

The lack of green space, “what on earth were they thinking?” Hume queries regarding the strip mall, the disconnect from the south side (blame that on the train tracks), and buildings that went up cheap and fast.

Hume wonders why developers didn’t make it a pedestrian scale neighbourhood, where residents wouldn’t rely so heavily on cars and there would be activity, much like Kensington Market.

Talk of Toronto’s condo boom has many wondering if companies are over-building. No other city in North America is building as many condos, with 32 currently under construction. More than 150,000 people are moving to the city every year and everyone wants to move downtown, according to Cowern. Condo towers are going up because they are in demand; it’s a lifestyle many urbanites cannot turn down.

Hume says that the city of Toronto needs to set higher standards when it comes to the planning. He feels as though if time and money were put into the development of the neighbourhood, then it wouldn’t have just ended up being copious amount of parking lot and World War II-era factory buildings sitting next to modern condo towers.

And still they come.

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