(Read part 1 here)
We reached the 50th floor of the 67-storey ICE condo tower at 14 York Street faster than expected—finding the right button on the giant control panel took almost longer than going up.
The doors opened to a narrow hallway. The thick cream carpet felt soft under my feet, unlike the stuffy patterned runner in most hotels. The colour scheme was the same as in the lobby—beige and white, two colours I don’t dare to wear because I’m guaranteed to spill coffee on myself before noon.
Maybe a “monthly white-carpet fee” was covering the upkeep.
While I was questioning the leap of faith the designers had taken, Feng had found the right door, apartment 5010.
For travellers, this is always the moment of truth—is the place going to match expectations?
We’re not that picky. We stayed in hostels on the Australian Gold Coast and in Central America, in a concrete jungle in Shenyang, in a university in Wuhan, in a few hotels from hell in Montreal and in Paris, in cabañas in Mexico and in Uruguay, in a beach bungalow in Thailand, in a trailer park in Australia and in all kinds of places around the world, sometimes amazing, occasionally awful. But damn, after reading the condo sales pitch, I wanted to live the dream too, if only for three days.
“ICE is a way of life; it is at once urban and close to nature, inspired by architecture that whispers timeless simplicity through clean elegant lines. ICE is tall, sleek and ultimately cool.”
I pushed the door open, curious to see what a prime piece of Toronto real estate looked like. Here was the “Bergen,” a 528 sq. ft. (49 m2) one-bedroom + den unit priced at around half a million dollars. Bathroom on the right with a tub, sink and toilet, the “den”—just an empty 7 x 7 ft. corner—on the left. Then there was the kitchen/living room and on the right, the bedroom, with a sliding door. There were floor-to-ceiling windows and the balcony ran from the bedroom to the living room.
Zero points for character—it felt like an IKEA showroom—but it was clean and functional, with the usual appliances found in any Canadian apartment or home built after 2000. There was enough space to move around in the kitchen/living room, however, the bedroom was very small—there was only about one metre left on each side of the queen-size bed.
I stepped out on the balcony both because I wanted a smoke and because the view is a big selling point. In the Toronto skyline, the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre, Union Station, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel and the PricewaterhouseCoopers office tower stood out.
This is when I learned condo lesson #1—50 storeys above ground, it’s windy. Like really windy. This isn’t the kind of balcony where you can enjoy dinner under the stars, unless you superglue your plate to the table and eat rocks. You can’t leave anything outside, the wind would suck it off. The view is impressive and enjoyable for a few minutes but the balcony is almost useless.
Condo lesson #2—glass isn’t the best thermal insulator from the elements. These floor-to-ceiling windows looked cool but it was chilly inside the unit, especially in the bedroom where the bed was very close to the window. We couldn’t figure out how to turn the heat on so we just put on a sweater and we had to use a blanket at night… in May.
We dropped off the bags and headed out. In the white hallway, I walked right past the white elevator doors. Camouflage—it’s a thing.
“Fine, I’m taking the stairs then.”
“Zhu-zhu… we’re on the 50th floor, are you crazy?”
“I’ll do it once, just for the experience. Hey, in Santiago, I was taking the stairs up and down to the 22nd floor every day just for the sake of it!”
Condo lesson #3—walking down 50 flights of stairs isn’t particularly exhausting but it’s pretty boring and I didn’t attempt to climb this time.
After doing stuff couples do when the kid isn’t around—dinner in Chinatown and watching Deadpool at the Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond Street, not the other stuff—we walked back to the condo.
This is when we realized we were thirsty and that it would be nice to buy snacks for breakfast as well. “Let’s stop by the convenience store,” Feng decided. But we were already in the Financial District where two cans of pop and a box of Mr. Christie’s Cookies can only be bought during stock market trading hours, not on a Saturday night at midnight. Damn.
“There’s gotta be a Quickie or a 7-Eleven close to the condo…” Feng muttered.
Indeed, it would have made sense. Surely, there was enough demand with thousands of condo owners who may need tampons, a litre of milk, a jar of tomato sauce or batteries after business hours.
Condo lesson #4—the tower was perfect for Blue Jays fans with the Skydome next door but it sucked for basic conveniences. We ended up buying a bottle of Coke at the 24/7 Subway restaurant a block further, the only place open.
“Why don’t they put vending machines somewhere in the lobby? Such a waste of space!”
“Probably not stylish enough…”
Condo lesson #5—despite the condo boom, downtown Toronto is a ghost town at night. Don’t underestimate the effect of suburbanization in North America. The urban core often has a bad rep, people complain there’s no parking and they have no incentive to go in the first place because you can find the same brands, stores and conveniences in the suburb. Most downtowns are a jumble of office towers and it will be years before the possible development of a vibrant community. There are a few livelier districts in Toronto but the Harbourfront isn’t one of them, despite the number of condo towers.
And this is probably my biggest disappointment with the “condo life.” On paper, the location is great and the place comfortable, but I feel you’re paying half a million to live a life that doesn’t exist. I enjoyed the apartment buildings in China because there was a sense of community—residents worked and shopped nearby, used public space, knew their neighbours. There was the same sense of “being at the beating heart of the city” in Santiago, where staying downtown was fun and convenient.
In a few decades, North American downtowns may be lively again. Meanwhile, it must feel lonely in these expensive condos…