What does a good apartment building look like?

If you’re in the market for a condo apartment or just deciding whether a proposed condo will be good for the neighbourhood, here’s a look at the features a good apartment should have in the 2020s.

Weston and Mount Dennis are seeing a flurry of building proposals, most of which involve apartment towers. Weston is in the unenviable position of already having some great examples of what not to build. Hopefully we can learn from these examples and do better.

Apartment interiors:
A one-bedroom apartment should provide a minimum of 500 square feet of year-round living space, a two-bedroom apartment 750 square feet and a three-bedroom above 1200 square feet. A good open-plan layout with ample space and a fully-featured kitchen is the preferred design these days. Bedrooms used to be placed in their own section with a corridor. Nowadays, thanks to space constraints, corridors have gone and bedrooms are often scattered around the living room rather than in one area. Bedrooms should be designed to accommodate student study spaces.
There should be in-apartment storage space for things like a stroller or mobility scooter.
An in-unit washer and dryer is a major convenience.
Balconies can be a great feature of an apartment, allowing access to sunshine, fresh air and perhaps some vegetables in the summer.
Apartments should allow for flexibility so that they can adapt as a family’s needs change.

Noise and odour proofing:
Noise is a big issue in many buildings. Back in the last century I lived in an apartment building where my upstairs neighbour could often be heard using the bathroom – right down to the last squirt. Not great when you’re having dinner with friends. Hardwood / vinyl / laminate floors are preferred to carpeting these days – they’re better from a cleanliness and allergy standpoint. Carpets were once part of the soundproofing system for apartments and now that they’re passé, builders have to put more thought (and money) into keeping noises from escaping. This costs money. Sealing off apartments so that air is contained also helps with odour control. Unfortunately it’s hard to know how good a job builders have done until moving in.

Generous common / amenity space:
Amenity spaces help create a community inside a building by providing areas where people can meet and interact.

  • Lobbies that promote interaction
  • A play area for children
  • Day care facilities
  • Fitness centre / Yoga studio / Library / meeting room
  • Swimming pool / sauna
  • Storage
  • Ample parking for deliveries
  • Lockers where delivery people can leave packages for residents.
  • Large item storage lockers.
  • Secure / gated access
  • Pet friendly with accommodation for dog toilet needs to ease the burden on local parks.
  • Outdoor common space with wifi.
Click to enlarge. From https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-103920.pdf

Parking:
Secure, covered and adequate vehicle / bicycle parking is a big deal. Parking is expensive for developers as the only way to provide it to dig. The more parking the more digging. Developers like to skimp on parking claiming there is less demand for it.  Weston is a long way from being a car-free community. Unlike downtown Toronto, we can’t walk and cycle everywhere for our needs. We don’t even have any decent bike lanes inn Weston. There should be one parking space per apartment otherwise the parking problem just spills out into the neighbourhood. Parking spaces can always be adapted for other uses once transit becomes adequate and the neighbourhood provides a better variety of retail and cultural experiences. Charging stations for e-vehicles should be provided.

Security.
Security costs money and having someone monitor residents and visitors is expensive but necessary for peace of mind.

Energy efficiency:
The cost of energy is likely to rise in the future. Keeping costs down is important along with eliminating the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Electrically powered heat pumps are one of the best and most energy-efficient ways to heat and cool an apartment. More costly to install, they keep resident’s fuel expenses low and use less energy.  A 4-pipe heat pump system can respond quickly to daily and seasonal changes and will allow heating and cooling simultaneously in the various parts of the building (some buildings can have only air-conditioning or heating at any one time and the switch-over date is a contentious one).

Bottom line:
We can build bare-bones and quick profit dwellings that don’t adapt well to future needs or we can build communities where people can thrive.

It’s up to us and city planners to hold developers to account so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Toronto has written a set of draft urban design guidelines that considers the needs of children and families growing up in an apartment community. They are well worth a read.

5 thoughts on “What does a good apartment building look like?”

  1. There should absolutely not be a parking space for each unit. It just adds to the cost of each unit.
    You are just asking for more traffic.

    1. I invite you to try living in Weston without a car for a month. We’re not a walkable community yet. Developers can always charge extra for parking spaces.

  2. Roy’s correct.

    And, those folks who do not own a car or drive, they can rent their parking space – which is often done in the downtown areas, where yes indeed, you can often walk or hop on a subway line.

    Also, in the case examples that I know of those “parking space rentees” often don’t use the spaces on weekends – usually just for business schedule needs and the life they live is primarily in the 905.

    If parking space rates were reasonable & decent, those 905 types may do this kind of thing to insure a good parking space near the UP or GO stations, and then ride the rails the rest of the way into the city from Weston or Mount Dennis.

    It’s a “basic” amenity – that could bring some cash flow for this type of owner/tenant – with perhaps often an understanding that it’s a “Monday to Friday parking rental space” which would free up that space for a potential weekend car rentals, and/or visits from family & friends.

    It’s a nice basic amenity option to have when you live this close to MAJOR highways and there’s nothing comfortable to walk to, yet.

    1. Except that most landlords (of rental buildings) won’t allow you to let anyone else park in your spot for insurance reasons.

Comments are closed.