"Solitude," declared author Erica Jong, is "un-American." We seek the company of others.
That's easy in suburbia, where you see your neighbors while fetching the mail or mowing the lawn. But vertical living in the city can be another story.
At the Lakeshore East collection of high-rise condo buildings in Chicago, residents liken Vanessa Casciano to their cruise ship director. She organizes outings by request and regular activities such as the festival in the park that the development surrounds.
"If a group wants to go to a certain restaurant, I organize that," Casciano said. "If they want to take dance lessons, I find a dance studio."
The development's I Wish Club hosts classes on subjects the residents want to learn, from choosing wine to making sushi.
Single residents prefer club and restaurant outings, said Casciano. "Many of them don't have families here, so they want to meet other people their age," she said.
Young parents prefer children's play groups and holiday parties. Empty-nesters ask Casciano to arrange trips to Chicago's cultural events.
"The social activities give it a neighborhood atmosphere," said Priscilla Mims, who bought a condo last year at Aqua, the newest Lakeshore East building. "I moved here from an active neighborhood in Oak Park, so I like it."
The balconies in her building, she said, serve as urban front porches, where neighbors watch the city's fireworks shows in unison. The building's deck has a pool, running track and fire pit.
A retiree in her 50s, Mims looks forward to warm weather, when she can join her neighbors in the park for movie nights. Meanwhile, she has joined a book club and organized a voter-registration event.
"I live alone, so coming home to a building where people greet you by name is nice," said Mims. "It's those little things that make you feel part of a community."
The Q Room and fitness center clinched the deal for Jordan Lemick and his fiancee, Emily Rolling, when they bought a condo last year at 565 Quincy in Chicago.
"I know the other people who work out at 5:30, and she knows the ones who work out at 4 o'clock," said Lemick. Weekends, they join other 20-something residents in the Q Room to bowl, watch ballgames or play poker.
"It's not just the chance to socialize but also to network," said Lemick. "Someone knows about a job, and you hear about it. You need a lawyer, and there's one in the building."
"Most of our buyers are young and single," said Jacob Kaufman, executive vice president of Belgravia Group, developer of 565 Quincy. "The Q Room, which is like one, big rec room, gives them a chance to get together without spending money. It affects the tone of the whole building. When people get to know each other, everyone's friendly."
An outdoor swimming pool, sundeck and garden help draw buyers to Michigan Avenue Tower II in Chicago, said sales consultant Brenda Cochran.
"We have a lot of young professionals," she said. "Instead of entertaining at their places, they can sit by the pool." In the winter, they meet their neighbors at the building's free weekly yoga classes.
"Urban country club" is the goal at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, in Chicago, slated for October completion, said its developer, Bruce Schultz, principal of Prism Development Co. Unit owners in this 89-unit high-rise are wealthy, mostly 45- to 55-year-old empty-nesters, he said. "They can have our chef cook for their dinner party, or they can join their friends in our Landmark Club," said Schultz. The club also includes a billiards room, fitness facility and "screening room where you can join your neighbors to watch the Bears lose," Schultz said after the team's defeat.
In some high-rises, management oversees social activities and amenities. Others have social committees, like that at Optima Old Orchard Woods, in Skokie. There, residents plan regular holiday parties and singles' nights, plus special events such as an art show and a house walk.
It is no coincidence pet-friendly buildings tend to be among the more social ones, said the managers at Belle Plaines Commons, in Chicago. In addition to its Girlfriends Club, book club and Testosterone Tuesdays (movies targeted at male audiences), its residents include a group of regular dog walkers.
Communal activities, said the developers, not only boost condo sales but help people feel part of their vertical neighborhoods.
Derived from the Latin prefix "com," community means "together." Together, high-rise residents can comfort a sick neighbor, commence a committee meeting, combine cash for a take-out pizza or compete in a basketball game. Or, they can simply commingle.
Chicago high-rise condos heighten sense of community
For urban high-rise dwellers, social activities and gathering spaces go a long way in fostering a sense of community.
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