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Resident Katie Tobin and her toy poodle, Ranch, in her Liberty Village townhouse in Toronto, Ontario Thursday, December 13, 2012. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Resident Katie Tobin and her toy poodle, Ranch, in her Liberty Village townhouse in Toronto, Ontario Thursday, December 13, 2012. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Living alone: a testament to freedom or an erosion of society? Add to ...

A few months ago, Nicki Roswell had a knock on her door. A neighbour needed the back of her dress laced up and didn’t have anyone to do it for her. Ms. Roswell sympathized, since she lives alone herself, and fastened the woman’s clothing.The two are residents of Liberty Village, a fast-growing downtown Toronto neighbourhood where nearly 55 per cent of the population – 2,200 people, from ambitious twentysomethings to midlife professionals – resides solo.

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While they may live by themselves, demographically they are in good company: There are now, for the first time, more one-person households in Canada than those populated by couples who have children. (Only two-person households are more common.)

Census figures released last fall revealed that 27.6 per cent of Canadian homes have just one occupant, a vast shift from decades past.

Single dwellers accounted for only 7.4 per cent of homes in 1951 and 13.4 per cent in 1971.

Today, there are 3,673,305 single-occupancy households in the country, an increase that is mirrored in the United States and a few steps behind similar trends in Europe.

For her part, Ms. Roswell has enjoyed being “sequestered” in her bachelor townhouse since 2009, after her divorce. And the 39-year-old art director is not in any hurry to change it.

“You’re not anxious,” she says, “about ‘completing your life’ or ‘moving to the next phase,’ because this phase is not a place of discomfort.”

At least, not until it’s made that way by others, such as the family friend who asked her pointedly why women today believe their lives must be “perfect” before they have children, or the business associate who urged her to “go out and get some sperm, right away!”

“Seriously, I’m really getting tired of the sense that I’m running out of time for something and that my life has to be on the nation’s schedule,” Ms. Roswell says. “I tried following a formula, and my happily ever after didn’t work out so well, so I’m just going to do [what] I want to do.”

She pauses. “Am I selfishly single? I don’t know.”

Despite the judgment it still can attract, independent living has come a long way from the stereotypes of spinsters hoarding cats and feckless eternal bachelors.

The number of years that all kinds of people spend unmarried and childless is rising: In 1971, 42 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 were married with children; by 2001, it was only 18 per cent. Living alone is no longer seen as a transitional purgatory endured only after divorce or the death of a spouse, but as a symbol of modern economic independence.

Many of these solo fliers are young professionals who gravitate toward new condominium developments in areas such as Yaletown and Gastown in Vancouver or Calgary’s Eau Claire, Beltline and Mission, where 45 per cent of the population lived alone as of 2006.

One of the most conspicuous single-living enclaves in Toronto is Ms. Roswell’s Liberty Village, in the city’s west end, where glass condo towers are shooting up at a staggering pace on former industrial lands.

The pattern will only intensify as the neighbourhood develops: Single dwellers promise to make up approximately 70 per cent of those buying property from CanAlfa, a developer building nearly 1,600 units in the area.

The area’s meatier history – a munitions factory, a sizable prison – has been largely eradicated. The community hub is now the Metro grocery store, where gym bunnies from the adjacent Good Life have been known to flirt among the bulk bins. Nightly after work, a parade of girls walk French bulldogs and Chinese-crested powder puffs; men do the same with their Yorkies and shih tzus.

This is the briefcase-gym-bag-backpack set, productivity on overdrive: They use the treadmill at all hours, with young women showing off the results on Thursday nights as they teeter into cabs on porno heels.

Aside from a handful of strollers and Baby Bjorns, children aren’t a common sight in the neighbourhood, certainly not the way they are in adjacent Parkdale, where Tibetan and Roma immigrant families fill the streets before the school bell goes every morning.

In Liberty, one playground stood quiet over the course of two weeks: Little dogs kicked up the sand until one Saturday when three squealing children took the turf back.

Living communally in families was once almost obligatory, socially and economically, especially for women. However, the gender revolution of the 1960s and 1970s saw both sexes begin to delay forming families to pursue their careers.

The migration of the past couple of decades back into revitalized downtowns has made solo living particularly attractive: Cities offer a robust social calendar, and lately the rise of social media and its extended friend circles have made the prospect of a lonely, Thoreau-like existence seem even more outdated.

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