Alberta’s rapid growth and school space shortages in new neighbourhoods got me thinking again about how Edmonton has grown, and when we moved here.
We chose to move to an older Edmonton neighbourhood (built in the late 60s) for a number of reasons. I think that anyone moving to Edmonton should really consider whether they really want to move to the city’s outer suburbs.
What are some of the benefits of living in Edmonton and not on the outskirts? Well, these are some of the things that helped us choose where we bought a house (northeast Edmonton), and why Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods are a great choice for families (or anyone, really):
- Public transit (one bus ride to the LRT) – Edmonton’s LRT is growing, gradually. It will be decades, if ever, before the outer areas of Edmonton are well-served by LRT. We’re one bus ride to an LRT station, which connects to the University of Alberta, soon to NAIT and runs close to Grant MacEwan University. It makes it easy for kids to go to post-secondary (it happens sooner than you think), jobs, downtown, etc. Rexall Place and Commonwealth Stadium are also on the expanding LRT line, just in case you want to see a concert, an Oilers game or the Eskimos.
- Schools – There are so many schools of all types around us it really is ridiculous. You have your choice of Catholic or public – elementary, junior and senior high. Want your kids in French immersion? Got that. Ukrainian? Yes. All sorts of choices and all within walking distance. Try getting that in Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods. Good luck! It’s also unlikely you’ll need to bus your kids to school, but if they want a specialized school, they’re likely to be able to reach it quickly by public transit. And there’s space in those schools.
- House quality – Sure, those new houses are nice, but they’re generally not as well built as a lot of older houses. Houses built in the 60s and early 70s seem to be the best-built. There are always exceptions, and if the house wasn’t maintained, all bets are off. We didn’t want to be dealing with the New Home Warranty Program, and a solid housing inspection showed our house was sound. The one down side of buying an older house is that it may need renos to update it, and you may not get that ensuite you’ve always wanted.
- Big yards – Hands down, older neighbourhoods win. Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods have postage stamp lots where you can almost reach out the window and touch your neighbour’s house. I like having a garden and maybe even being able to toss a baseball around in the back yard. Won’t happen in the new areas. Big yards also mean you can have large, two car garages. Large lots also mean the likelihood of having a raging fire take out a dozen houses covered in vinyl siding probably won’t happen in the older neighbourhoods (but it’s happened in the new ones).
- House prices – We found that the prices were generally better in the older neighbourhoods, but you should factor in reno costs, if necessary. I think we were ahead of the game in getting a much larger lot too.
- Wide streets – What a luxury! In many older neighbourhoods you can actually park on both sides of the street AND have two lanes of traffic. Remember this in the winter when you’re trying to negotiate foot deep ruts and not run into cars parked inches away. This ties into my next two points about parking and snow clearing.
- Parking – Wider streets give you more parking opportunities, which is one reason I love older neighbourhoods, although some of the oldest ones in Edmonton don’t have the best parking. Also, with your larger lot, you probably don’t have to worry about street parking anyway (remember that two car garage?). Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods are absolute nightmares for parking. And in winter, it gets even worse.
- Snow clearing – One area where all neighbourhoods are more or less equal in Edmonton is in snow clearing, sort of. The City of Edmonton is incapable of doing a quality, efficient job of clearing the streets in the winter. It’s a problem that’s gone on for years and I’ve blogged about Edmonton snow clearing many times since moving here. It’s an embarrassment that a winter city like ours hasn’t a clue about how to do a proper job. It doesn’t help that the city keeps growing like an amoeba on steroids, stretching our already thin snow-clearing budget over an even larger area. One advantage older neighbourhoods have is that there is a place to put all that snow, and it has less impact on winter parking than in new neighbourhoods.
- Straighter streets, easy exits – A lot of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods were built on the grid. It makes it easy to find addresses and to get around. Sure, it may not be that interesting, but it works well. My neighbourhood isn’t a grid, but the streets have long, sweeping curves, unlike the new neighbourhoods where the streets are twisted like your small intestine. And how do you get out of them? The planners of these neighbourhoods must have stock in GPS companies.
- Better amenities – The closer you are to the core of the city, the better the services get. This one really can vary, depending on the neighbourhood. I find that the newer neighbourhoods tend to be housing ghettos. You have to drive quite a ways to get to a grocery store, mall, etc. Older neighbourhoods just have everything a lot closer: schools, hospitals, shopping, etc. You’re also more likely to have police, ambulance and fire stations closer to you, in the event you require those services.
If you’re moving to Edmonton and planning on buying a house, I would urge you to seriously consider moving to one of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods. There are a lot of advantages that I don’t think people really consider, especially when they don’t know the city well. I know we made the right decision for us at the time, and it still works.
I would be interested in hearing other opinions on the topic too. Let me know in the comments what you think.