The view from our Canadian window

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts at 2:08 am by ducky

If you know us, you know we have raved about the view from our apartment.  It’s not the absolute best view in the world, but it is pretty stunning to a gal from the flat lands and buildings of Champaign, IL.


That picture (and an absolutely ginormous version) were taken and stitched together by Randy Stewart from Seattle.

Randy apparently walked into our apartment, said, “Oh my god!” or something such, and dashed into our bedroom to take pictures.   Our other dinner guest, from metropolitan Canada, was slightly perplexed/bemused by his reaction.  It is completely ordinary for people in cities in Canada to live in high-rise apartments.

Randy (and Jim and I) are from the US.  It is very uncommon for people to live in high-rises in the US.  If I think really hard, of all the thousands and thousands of people I have known, I can only think of six households who I know ever lived above the sixth floor, and one more who I think might have had a high-rise condo a few years ago.  (And three of those households were in the same building in Mountain View.)  That is it, period, total, everybody, and I had to think pretty hard to come up with that meagre ration.

Why are there so few high-rise residences in the US?  There are many factors.  I am by no means an expert, but these are a few:

  • The American Dream of owning your own house is cliche for a reason.  It is assumed that if you don’t own your own house, at least you aspire to owning your own house.  To not aspire to have your own house is sort of like not wanting to own a TV.
  • When renting, you generally get more square feet per dollar in a shared house than in an apartment, especially a shared apartment.  Even I, through all my moves, have only lived in four apartments in the US, and two of those were while I was a student.
  • In some places, the only high-rises around were “the projects” — government-built and -run publicly-subsidized housing.  Thus high-rises were decidedly un-sexy.
  • In California, where one-eighth of the US lives, cities can’t afford dense housing.
  • California has earthquakes, which makes people nervous about high-rises, even though high-rises constructed to modern codes are much safer in earthquakes than older houses on landfill or alluvial floodplains.
  • Traditionally, cheap gas has meant that it was feasible to live quite a ways from work.
  • In the US, not having a car can have a significant negative impact on the quality of your life, parking is difficult in cities, and very few US cities have good public transportation systems.  The poor transportation is due partly to density, but also part to the easy availability of guns.  Many people in the US are afraid of taking public transportation.

You should also note that Vancouver has worked very hard to develop its downtown.  The fact that it has a vibrant and vertical downtown was the result of very deliberate and careful urban planning, not an accident of fate.

UPDATE: I realized that several of the dorms at my US university were high-rises.  I’m not sure that counts.

1 Comment »

  1. Vince said,

    March 24, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    “It is completely ordinary for people in cities in Canada to live in high-rise apartments.”

    I think your view is slightly skewed by living in Vancouver. True, recently there has been a big movement towards high-rise residential buildings, but this is mostly in Vancouver and Toronto. I’m not sure about Montreal, but maybe there too. Perhaps Calgary. But in much of Canada, most people still live in low-rise buildings and have the same tendency of living in houses as they do in the US. At least growing up in Winnipeg (7th – 9th largest city in Canada depending on how you count), everybody I knew lived in a house and I rode an elevator only a few times a year when I went to my orthodontist.

    Even in Toronto though, I don’t know any families living in high-rises. They are mostly for students and young professionals. You don’t raise a family in a high-rise if you can help it.

    Hong Kong is a completely different story. Everyone lives in a ginormous high-rise and this has been the case for decades. It’s probably b/c of me visiting my family in HK frequently as a child that I am not surprised about living in a high-rise, otherwise I’d be like Randy.

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