May 31, 2018 | buying
Four years ago, when I first arrived home from Ugly Mutts with my eight week old puppy Abbey, I discovered an off-leash dog area not too far from my house. It was small, covered in mulch and fenced-off so dogs can run wild in an enclosed space. It was fairly new. And the off-leash dog area shared the park with a playground for kids, an area for lawn bowling and ice skating in the winter. It was a small, but well-used park with big mature trees, where every inch was maximized for community use.
During my early days at the dog park, there was someone who lived across from the park who would come charging out of her house in a rage screaming at anyone who had a dog in the dog park. The anger was not contained. I could barely make out what she was saying. It really didn’t matter how quiet or well-behaved your dog may be. She experienced enough barking over a sustained period of time from the park that all dogs, in her mind, caused her grief.
Now, I don’t want to turn this into a dog people vs non-dog-people thing. There are people who own dogs who are inconsiderate jerks and vice versa. To be fair to those who lived close to the park, I spoke to a dog owner that utilized the dog park. She told me the constant sound of the gate closing at the dog park started to get on her nerves in the summer form time to time.
My point in bringing up this story? It’s not about whether dog parks are a good idea or a bad idea. It bigger than that.
I want to dispel a very commonly held belief that persists to this day with many folks who buy property in Toronto. So, let me begin my dispelling: Parks are not quiet places. They are not extensions of your back or front yard. They are not wilderness for you to hear birds and feel closer to nature. They are focal points for your community. In Toronto they are widely used by everyone, and full of people, kids and pets.
In Toronto, in fact, the use of parks by Torontonians has exploded over the past decade. It’s fantastic that the parks are well-used. It’s a sign that the community is strong and Torontonians love to explore their city. But it does change things for the locals near the park. For example: Every Spring when I drive along Parkside Ave on the way home with High Park is on the west side, there is a week when the cherry blossoms are blossoming and it takes me three times longer to get home than usual because of all the cars and people streaming into the park. The police have to be present to control the amount of traffic coming and going into the park. If you make the mistake of driving to the park during this time, it may take an hour to get out. Can I blame the cherry blossom loving Torontonians for experiencing this pretty marker of Spring? Of course not. We all deserve to enjoy the delights of Spring!
But why the increased interest? The cherry blossoms are certainly not new. With the massive increase in the number of condo units in this city, particularly smaller condo units without outdoor space, it is not surprising that many Torontonians will turn to parks for their fresh air and a place to socialize and meet with friends. I have spoken to dog-walkers in High Park who tell me that ten years ago there were three times less people than there are today. These are informal estimates, but everyone is in agreement that High Park, as big as it is, is a very well used park.
What does this have to do with real estate? Well, a lot if you’re buying. Because when people see a house next to park, they often think it will be quiet. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all parks are noisy and you shouldn’t buy near a park. Buying next to a park can be fantastic for the right people. If you are buying real estate, it may be wiser to buy near a park if you like being near a community hub with all its upsides (people laughing, children playing), to all its downsides ( leftover garbage and noise).
If you are close to a park, it may depend on what the park has to offer. Some parks, like High Park, are huge. You can live near parts of High Park where it may feel like you are living with a beautiful forest in your backyard. If you have a condo by a park, you have the advantage of having no developer building something new to block your light. Plus you have unobstructed views of a park’s treetops.
Just be warned that many Toronto parks are well-used. Withrow Park in the east end has summer-long soccer games from 10am to 7pm every weekend. They have hockey in the winter. They have a farmer’s market, Shakespeare plays, an off-leash dog area, a playground, a baseball diamond, big trees to sit under, and hills to toboggan down in the winter. It’s a community hub, which is great! It’s a pleasant place, but don’t expect a quiet place where you can fall asleep on the front porch in a your comfy chair while you hear the wind blowing through the park trees.
There are places where you can buy something backing on to woodlands. I have this listing in Mississauga that backs onto a patch of woodland that is rarely used. Here you can have a place where can have a quiet, natural space behind you with the sounds of the birds in the Spring as your only disruption. Just don’t expect this to be the norm.
So, if you want to property and it’s next to a park, here’s what I would do:
- PARK SCHEDULE vs YOUR SCHEDULE If you work in an office or away from home, during the day, does it matter if parents and their kids use the park during that time? You may have some screaming kids on the weekend disrupt your BBQ, but really it’s not too bad. Also, if you are considering a house along the Humber River Park, most of this stretch is just a bike path. It’s not a place where people stop. See how the park is used and see if it disrupts your schedule.
- NOISE TOLERANCE Most parks are going to be fairly quiet in the winter months and noisier in the warmer months. If you like to have your windows open and work in peace and quiet, then living near most parks is likely not a good idea. If, on the other hand, the quiet buzz of human interaction warms your heart, then most parks are good for you.
- IS YOUR PARK A PARK? Some green space is just protected land. You may luck out and just be near some genuine nature. No noisy humans, but other wildlife could be there. Another alternative: The land isn’t protected at all. Your little view of wilderness could be slated for development. This is rare in this day and age in Toronto, but it is possible.
In most of Toronto, city parks are community hubs, not a slice of nature. They do bring up values because the views of a park are often nice. Beautiful, mature trees and well-cared for playgrounds and sporting infrastructure will not be a disadvantage. Just don’t expect the peace and quiet of a remote cottage or a shack in the middle of the woods like an old pioneer. The one advantage with increased use of the parks, the City has been working harder to retrofit these parks to be more useful and just prettier for the neighhbourhood.