By Kim Arnott
With the arrival of spring and the blooming of tulips, Canadians head outdoors to bask in the sunshine. From office workers in downtown high-rise towers, to suburban apartment dwellers, May awakens the desire to stroll, barbeque, play or simply eat lunch outside.
Managing outdoor spaces to balance the needs of tenant enjoyment, property value and appearance, in addition to safety and liability issues, can be a challenge for property managers, but a challenge that is certainly worth considering, says David Matarasso, director of property management for Bentall LP. Outdoor luncheon areas, benches and walking paths at commercial and office buildings are popular amenities that allow employees to enjoy quiet time outdoors and are lower risk from a property management perspective, he says.
More active amenities like basketball courts have appeal to some tenants, but also create maintenance and security issues. "There's always a trade off between providing amenities and limiting liabilities," he says.
To manage safety, liability and cleanliness issues at one of her properties, Kim Walker, president of the London Property Management Association in London, Ontario, says the playground is fenced in and locked after hours. She says having the amenity on site clearly helps attract family-oriented tenants. "It definitely is a draw, especially for younger kids," she says. Outdoor spaces for tenants and their families to congregate also helps foster a sense of community.
Property managers are in fact showing increasing interest in incorporating play areas into commercial and residential properties, says Ben Prins, a client services representative with Ontario-based Active Playground Equipment.
According to Prins, trends in play areas include integrating business-related logos and shapes into play areas at commercial properties; adding outdoor fitness equipment to play areas to create a complete family recreational environment; and developing naturalized play areas that feature climbing rocks, balancing logs and slides built into berms, rather than steel construction elements. The commercial sector is also seeing a focus on natural and environmentally friendly property improvements.
Cheryl Gray, senior vice president of national real estate sales in Toronto for Bentall LP, says her company has introduced bike racks, drought-resistant plantings, landscape irrigation water conservation measures, recycling containers, on-site composting and patio leisure areas into outdoor spaces around their properties. The property management company also coordinates participation in community events such as tree planting and garbage clean-up days to allow tenants to help enhance green spaces.
With an increasing number of corporations making a public commitment to social responsibility policies, Gray says property owners and tenants are increasingly aware of the value of acting in an environmentally responsible fashion. "It's becoming more and more important in everyone's decision-making."
In addition, environmental design can be an important factor in crime and graffiti prevention. By ensuring outdoor areas are well-lit, trimming trees to maintain good visibility lines and clearly delineating private and public areas, property managers can diminish incidents of crime and help create a safe environment. This will ensure outdoor spaces remain positive additions to a property, rather than problematic areas.
Along with keeping tenants happy, well-managed outdoor spaces also create curb appeal for buildings, says Arun Pathak, president of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association. "The first thing to do is to plant a lot of flowers and brighten things up that way," he says.