National Post (Latest Edition)
INSIDE SCOOP ON GETTING OUTSIDE
FROM RINKS TO TRACKS, OUTDOOR CONDO AMENITIES ARE A BOON FOR THOSE WARY OF RETURNING TO INDOOR GYMS
From late June to early November, a socially distanced crowd has been regularly gathering out front of M5V condo tower, a block east of King and Spadina.
The building’s ground floor is home to Fit Factory, one of several Toronto gyms that has hosted outdoor bootcamps when the Ontario government ordered their facilities to close amid rising COVID-19 cases.
One of about two dozen participants on a crisp fall afternoon, M5V resident Devon Hurd said the hourlong instructor-led outings to nearby venues such as Canoe Landing Park and David Pecaut Square offer a refreshing alternative to jogging, cycling or working out alone in his one-bedroom suite.
“I’m just glad this is available right outside my building,” the thirtysomething physiotherapist said. “With the condo gym shut down, my workout options are pretty limited these days.”
Both in response to pandemic closures and the perpetual demand for fitness facilities, many GTA condo developers are seizing on that need and adding or expanding outdoor amenities designed to provide and support outdoor exercise.
One prime example is a project near the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre subway stop that includes the highrises Festival and Mobilio. In addition to sharing 45 acres of parks and 17 kilometres of trails, the neighbouring pre-construction projects by Menkes Developments and Quadreal Property Group will feature an open-air gym and a community centre with an outdoor stage.
“In today’s environment you wake up, roll over and start working,” says Jared menkes, the company’s executive vice-president of highrise residential. “Pre-pandemic, whether we walked, biked or just drove to work, at least we had a reason to get out of the house. Without that built-in reason, people feel more motivated to get active when outdoor options are close at hand.”
According to menkes, the company is keenly aware of the growing demand for green space, and the importance of community design in maintaining mental and physical health. “We’re really focusing on tranquillity and staying active as ways to recharge and shrug off stress.”
Achieving both of those feats is more valuable than ever as the pandemic grinds on. According to a July survey by Statistics Canada, respondents who reported that they were exercising outdoors were more likely to assess their own mental and physical health as very good or excellent than those who did not venture outside to get their heart rates up. That’s because outdoor exercise “is associated with improvements in mood, as well as reduced symptoms of anxiety, anger and depression,” researchers wrote in a followup report.
At the same time, a June poll by the Toronto-based Park People consultancy found that 70 per cent of respondents said their appreciation for parks and green spaces has increased during the pandemic, with 82 and 70 per cent saying that parks have become more important to their mental and physical health, respectively.
Increasingly, condo-dwellers won’t have to venture far to get active outside. As the founder of the benchmark Group, which manages scores of condo gyms and fitness programs across the GTA, mark Stables is working with several developers to assess the viability of fitness facilities such as parkour-style obstacle courses and running tracks.
“I’ve certainly seen a shift in how people are exercising,” he says. “Whether they’re skating, cycling or playing volleyball, people are looking for ways to replace the traditional gym environment.” during COVID, “many downtown condo-dwellers living in less than 600 square feet don’t have the space to do workouts at home. developers are wanting to address this, because it’s a problem.”
benchmark, for its part, has been offering virtual training sessions in various outdoor settings, including condo grounds. “but that’s going to drop off as the weather cools,” Stables says, adding that the Canadian climate presents the biggest obstacle to outdoor exercise facilities. “What if someone slips on an icy parkour bar? It’s an insurance issue as much as anything else.”
That said, an inherently icy winter activity is a key part of the amenity mix at the Lash Group’s five-tower me Living development at markham road and ellesmere Avenue in Scarborough. A skating rink in a tree-lined central courtyard is about to open to residents of me, the project’s first phase; it served as a picturesque pond in warmer weather. Two more buildings, Tricycle and me2, are now on sale. For year-round recreation, a new city-owned park at the south end of the site will include a water park, splash pad, outdoor gym, dog walk and playing field. “especially during the pandemic, we are looking at more outdoor amenities,” says Lash president and CEO Larry blankenstein. “The skating rink has worked out really well, and we expect it will get plenty of use this winter with so many families in the community.”
Outdoor amenities like these are becoming as diverse as they are numerous. The 159SW condo at Sherbourne and Wellesley, for instance, will feature a fifthfloor outdoor running track and fitness circuit, while midtown’s untitled Toronto project recently revised its initial Site Plan Application to include a new public park, an outdoor basketball court, bike lanes and 1,154 bicycle parking spaces.
Pre-construction projects such as 8188 yonge and the Hi-rise Group’s multi-tower complex at Kingston and brimley roads in Scarborough will also offer ample bike storage; the latter recently increased its bike-parking spaces from 314 to 439. The 2 Tecumseth project, meanwhile, is integrating bike and walking paths along its southern edge that will connect to Fort york, the bentway and downtown.
“So many of my friends who were never into cycling went out and bought bikes this summer,” says benchmark’s Stables, himself an avid cyclist. “I have to wonder what will happen when winter arrives.”
Weatherproof condo velodromes seem unlikely, but Stables has other ideas. With several Toronto spin studios offering outdoor group classes, and many condo gyms being steps away from outdoor spaces, “it just takes some effort and creativity for condo gyms to adapt,” he says.
People are looking for ways to replace the traditional gym environment.