High-rise living, public space and COVID‑19 in the Greater Toronto Area

Lehrer, Ute | $96,227

Ontario York University 2021 SSHRC


High-rise buildings have long been a significant form in urban development. But this form of living comes with its own challenges and the COVID‑19 pandemic of the last two years has magnified some of the problems for life in close proximity. While a large body of work has emerged that seeks to understand the implications of verticality for urban living, very little has been said about the role of shared amenity spaces in high-rise buildings.

There is an urgent need to systematically analyze the lived experience of high-rise residents and explore interventions in urban planning and building management that can improve vertical living.

The aim of this research project is to examine high-rise living in the years before and during a period of crisis and how shared space has been used and altered in high-rise buildings. Throughout the pandemic, public space has been spotlighted as an important part of urban everyday life: (a) as a physical space where inhabitants have had to implement safe distance between one another; and (b) as an important social space where new ways of coming together have gradually taken shape.

Following Lefebvre’s (1991) theory on the social production of space, we are interested in how people have experienced shared space and amenities in residential high-rise towers, and how people have developed new places and processes for social interaction within high-rises in the constrained context of COVID-19.

Our work builds on previous research which investigated public space, residential high-rises and verticality. Studies have shown that housing and neighbourhood characteristics play a role in the transmission of disease, and shared spaces increase risk. But at the same time, these shared spaces are important in addressing the crisis — for community formation and organizing, mutual aid, and public health interventions. We are interested in the dynamics of public space within and around residential high-rises, and in how residents have navigated and produced such spaces before and throughout the pandemic.

Our three-year project takes a multi-method approach to the study of public space and high-rises in selected sites across the Greater Toronto Area. We focus on two types of multi-storey buildings: the condominium tower and the rental complex.

This research will advance our understanding of high-rise living through the following key objectives:

1) to investigate the hybrid physical and social aspects of shared spaces in high-rise living;

2) to use the demography of high-rise towers to analyze potential inequalities and inequities in access to public space and amenities in the buildings and beyond;

3) to collect and analyse data about residents’ experiences in the context of COVID‑19 in order to propose interventions in the planning, design and management of shared spaces in high-rise buildings;

4) to assess how different ownership and management structures of condominium and rental towers might affect shared spaces and amenities, and the ability to adapt to a public health crisis;

5) to make an original contribution to the debate on density through the lenses of public space and pandemic.

Students will be trained by the team researchers in a highly collaborative environment in various aspects of research work, closely linked to their own interest, conducting surveys, interviews, focus groups, site visits, as well as analyzing census data, planning documents and promotional material.

Knowledge mobilization will occur through academic channels, a publicly accessible website, community outreach events, reports, recommendations for planning policy and zoning, development review processes, as well as building management and governance.

Avec un financement du Gouvernement du Canada

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