News / Toronto

How Toronto's CityPlace built a community in the sky

Once derided as a "ghetto," CityPlace has succeeded in becoming a vibrant and diverse community.

Eric, 3, and his sister Elena, 6, paint alongside other neighbourhood children during after-school programming at the Fort York branch of the Toronto Public Library.

Liz Beddall/Metro

Eric, 3, and his sister Elena, 6, paint alongside other neighbourhood children during after-school programming at the Fort York branch of the Toronto Public Library.

Building a 49-storey tower is one thing. Building a community around it is another.

When the first CityPlace towers opened in 2003, critics were quick to denounce the fledgling condo neighbourhood. Some even declared it a “ghetto,” and predicted it would become a bastion for disaffected singles, shuffling between their one-bedroom units in the sky and the financial district.

Thirteen years later, CityPlace has defied expectations and is becoming a model for other so-called vertical communities. Dog-walkers wave to each other in Canoe Landing Park, stores ply their wares at the base of the massive towers and parents greet each other as they wait for the school bus to drop off their children.

“I feel like I live in a community,” says Susan Quach, who lives in CityPlace with her husband and two-year-old daughter. “There’s lots of activities, we see the same faces around and people know us.”

It wasn’t always that way. Lai-King Hum, president of the CityPlace Residents Association, acknowledges that in the early years, the area felt isolated. But over time, parks were built, restaurants opened, local events were planned and a sense of community took root.

“I don’t know if it’s more European or Hong Kong, or just really urban,” she said. “It’s about living in small spaces, but making use of public spaces like parks and cafes as a kind of extension of your living room.”

And rather than attract singles, CityPlace has become home to young families. 

Nowhere is the presence of young children in CityPlace more apparent than at the new Fort York library, which was “inundated with babies the moment we opened,” said Ted Belke, head of the branch.

The library will soon be joined by two schools and a new community centre.

Early critics of CityPlace were right about one thing: The area certainly attracted young people, just not ones that conformed to naysayer’s expectations.

“Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you don’t care about where you live,” Hum said. 

CityPlace by the numbers

Located on the old railway lands, between Fort York and Spadina Avenue, CityPlace consists of 22 buildings across 18 hectares. Once the final phase is completed, it will be home to 7,500 units.

The median age in CityPlace is 32.

At least 13,500 people live in CityPlace. Between 2006 and 2011, the area’s population grew by 54 per cent, making it the fastest densifying neighbourhood in Toronto.

The Punete de Luz bridge, which connects CityPlace to downtown, is 125 metres long and weighs 270 metric tonnes.

The average unit in CityPlace is just over 700 square feet. 

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