Living in the shadows

I was not anticipating amazing city views when I moved to my current condo located on the third floor of a downtown building. My focus was on getting a functional full size kitchen, real bedrooms (i.e. with external facing windows, doors that closed, and closet space), all within minimal walking distance to the office and subway. This corner unit checked all of those boxes and then some – what an upgrade!

My former apartment had a galley kitchen with zero counter space, an oven that could not fully open (due to the NARROW width of the galley), an icebox window that gazed into the hallway, and it was a year-round inferno from hell. Now I had a real kitchen AND air conditioning!

Fast forward to today. Not only do I no longer work downtown, but the biggest event to rock the world since WWII has decimated the global economy, is killing hundreds of thousands of people, and is impacting free movement in a way that accessible / affordable travel as we know it may never be the same. In fear and in response to the pandemic, governments have issued travel advisories and isolate-at-home orders for all non-essential personnel.

It is during times like these, when I’m stuck at home, with nowhere to go, and nothing to do, that I question my decision-making skills. Past-me, how did you ever consider moving to a property that receives no natural sunlight, being blocked on all sides by other construction?  My unit has both wrap-around and Juliette balconies, and floor to ceiling windows that stare directly into the neighboring condo buildings located literally less than 10 meters away.

You know, seasonal affective disorder might be a real thing. The lack of sunlight causes people to have low levels of energy and difficulty with concentration. It increases the tendency for people to oversleep, and contributes to higher irritability. Not only this, but a lack of sunshine also leads to a deficiency in vitamin D, which causes decreased calcium absorption in the body, raising the risk of certain types of cancers.

Yes. I am lamenting about a problem that’s not a priority in the Maslow hierarchy of need. But even so, shouldn’t developers and city planners be held to higher standards in ensuring the livability of residential buildings?

In fact, this issue was even highlighted on the local news when condo developments were proposed on Carlton Street, blocking the sunlight access to the Church Street School playground. Apparently, all it takes is a million dollar pay-off to compensate for the shadows that monstrous condo towers cast, stifling the already sardine-packed downtown core. Maybe we SHOULD be taking a page out of the NIMBY playbook in protest of SkyTower, Coastal GasLink Pipeline style. We need to space those condo buildings out more than 10 meters apart for some sunlight penetration down at the ground level!

On a more personal note, one of the real frustrations I have with living in a north-facing unit is the inability to grow plants. Partly, I consider this a “Canada” issue. We are located so far from the equator that it’s hard to consistently grow anything (except during the short summer season, in a suburban outdoor backyard). I’ve tested my green thumb, growing herbs by the window of my west-facing Eglinton Ave apartment. That spot had decent sun exposure for at least a few hours a day, but the basil still looked weak and pale.

I recently learned that the reason for this poor plant performance was a lack of light (a la YouTube). Under the watchful eye of a trusty grow lamp, plants could flourish even in the darkest of rooms. Now, I’ve always thought that grow lamps were for secret basement grow-ops, but then my friend told me that he had several of them in his kitchen. Apparently they made his mint grow like (a) weed!

Anyway, that was a tangent. I realized after re-reading my rant that a lot of my gardening angst was probably FOMO. A number of my co-workers have gardening as a side hobby, and I’ve been succumbing to a certain degree of groupthink. Thankfully though, I’m not a plant, nor under any pressure to photosynthesize.

All I’ve got to do is work on keeping the marbles that I do still have, while living in the shadows, in a time of darkness. It shouldn’t be that hard to stay two meters apart and avoid speaking moistly, right?


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