Build­ing for friend­ship

The Prince George Citizen - The Citizen - Real Estate Weekly - - Real Estate - Pe­dro Ar­rais Canwest News Ser­vice

The back­yard fence may be ab­sent, but to­day’s condo dwellers are de­vel­op­ing new ways to get to know their neigh­bours.

There was a time when the lat­est gos­sip was ex­changed over a com­mon fence. With the move to con­dos and busier lifestyles, many peo­ple hardly know who their neigh­bours are, let alone chat with them.

So­cial­iz­ing be­tween neigh­bours can have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on well-be­ing. To in­crease in­ter­ac­tion among res­i­dents, some de­vel­op­ers have de­signed com­mu­ni­ties in­stead of just homes.

“We have to go back to the way we were, to de­sign neigh­bour­hoods on a more hu­man scale,” says Doug Makaroff, de­vel­oper of Liv­ing For­est Com­mu­ni­ties, a com­mu­nity set within a

385-hectare man­aged for­est in the Cowichan Val­ley Re­gional District. “By mak­ing ser­vices only a five-minute walk away, there is less de­pen­dence on the car and an in­crease in face-to-face in­ter­ac­tion among res­i­dents.”

An­other strat­egy to in­crease in­ter­ac­tion is to lo­cate a home’s porch within four me­tres of the side­walk. This is the op­ti­mum dis­tance to ini­ti­ate con­ver­sa­tion from peo­ple pass­ing by on the street, Makaroff says. Un­for­tu­nately this strat­egy is only pos­si­ble in strata com­mu­ni­ties, as most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties re­quire set­backs of up to nine me­tres from a road.

Makaroff says a suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity needs to of­fer ser­vices in prox­im­ity to their homes. De­vel­op­ments should in­clude a mix of uses, such as com­mer­cial spa­ces with res­i­den­tial units. Hous­ing should also at­tract home­own­ers of dif­fer­ent ages and in­come lev­els. For se­niors, there should be a range of af­ford­able in­de­pen­dent-and as­sisted-liv­ing op­tions.

While the ideal de­vel­op­ment sce­nario will have a com­mu­nity hall or recre­ation cen­tre where res­i­dents can meet and in­ter­act, res­i­dents of new con­dos don’t have the lux­ury of a com­mon space. The new fo­cal point for some condo dwellers might be their neigh­bour­hood cof­fee shop.

“Times have changed. A cof­fee shop has be­come a so­cial point for some of the peo­ple who live in the neigh­bour­hood,” says Ryan Tay­lor, owner of Caffe Fan­tas­tico, which has shops in Quadra Vil­lage, Cook Street Vil­lage and Dock­side Green.

“It has be­come an easy spot for peo­ple to meet up and find out what’s go­ing on in the neigh­bour­hood.”

He has more than once ob­served peo­ple chat­ting in the cof­fee shop, then re­al­iz­ing they are neigh­bours in their condo build­ing.

He un­der­scores the con­cept of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion by shar­ing the fact he first met his wife when she came in for a cof­fee. To­day she is his part­ner in the busi­ness.

For their part, some de­vel­op­ers in­clude com­mon ar­eas in each project to foster everyday in­ter­ac­tions be­tween neigh­bours.

In­stead of a fit­ness cen­tre, de­vel­oper David Chard put in a rooftop pa­tio with a bar­be­cue and an out­door movie view­ing space in one de­vel­op­ment, and a ground­floor court­yard and movie room in an­other up­com­ing project.

“With con­dos get­ting smaller - some are only 450 to 550 square feet - peo­ple need an area to so­cial­ize and meet other peo­ple,” says Chard, who is de­vel­op­ing an­other condo at 834 John­son St.

“Our com­mon ar­eas of­fer res­i­dents who en­joy the ur­ban life­style the op­por­tu­nity to en­ter­tain and lounge around out­side their liv­ing spa­ces.”

One cou­ple took the con­cept a step fur­ther, book­ing the rooftop pa­tio of their condo build­ing to hold their wed­ding re­cep­tion last Au­gust, soon af­ter they moved into the build­ing.

While de­vel­op­ers try to pro­vide the threads to weave a com­mu­nity’s so­cial fab­ric, it is ul­ti­mately up to the res­i­dents them­selves to sew to­gether a patch­work of re­la­tion­ships.

Con­tin­ued and fre­quent in­ter­ac­tion be­tween res­i­dents is the ba­sis of a com­mu­nity, as Wendy Pryde will tell you.

“We have potlucks and a group of us, three or four cou­ples, reg­u­larly have din­ner in each other’s con­dos,” says Pryde, who lives in the Co­ra­zon in down­town Vic­to­ria. “We don’t have to drive, we don’t care about the weather. It’s great.”

When the weather is good, the group may walk to a nearby restau­rant in­stead.

In her condo build­ing, re­turn­able bot­tles are col­lected and the money put to­ward fund­ing two events a year - a bar­be­cue and a wine-and-cheese party. She cred­its the build­ing’s man­agers for their part in or­ga­niz­ing so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties for the res­i­dents.

All around us, the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the over-the-fence back­yard chat is flour­ish­ing.

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