10 reasons to move to an older Edmonton neighbourhood

Edmonton condo
If you don’t want the hassle of a lawn to take care of and want to be close to everything, then maybe a condo in downtown Edmonton is the way to go.

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

An alternative for Edmonton lottery homes

full house edmonton lottery home
It would be nice to win something like this, but the houses are just way too big for two people.

For years lottery homes have been a common way for certain charitable organizations to raise a large amount of funds.

My wife and I enjoy checking out these lottery homes, seeing the different designs, construction techniques, materials and debating what we like/dislike about a particular home. We often buy tickets on them.

In the past couple of years, as our children are grown, we’ve still checked out these homes, but have realized that they really aren’t suited for us at all. The homes are usually huge, occasionally ostentatious and just not suitable for two people. Our conversations about these homes now typically center around selling the home obviously unsuited to our needs, and what we would actually build.

We’ve talked more and more about getting out of the city into a tiny home; something more manageable, less costly and more suitable to our goals now. Living in a condo is not particularly appealing either.

Having a look at the lottery homes for Edmonton in 2014, we have a choice of five organizations offering them: Full House, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Caritas Foundation, Cash and Cars, and STARS. Don’t get me wrong, all of these organizations have produced great homes that we would love to own, but they’re just not right for us.

My wife commented to an employee setting up displays at one of the Full House lottery homes that instead of building three giant homes, they should instead build a subdivision of tiny homes. Full House’s current offering of three Edmonton lottery homes offers a prize value of $5,064,073 ($1.5 million, $1.98 million, $1.5 million).

I wonder how popular the draw would be if they gave away 33 tiny homes on small lots with each averaging around $150,000? I think the land cost would be the majority of the value! A small home under 500 square feet does not take much time to build and it doesn’t cost that much!

The City of Edmonton seems to be quite interested in increasing the density of building and environmental friendliness, so why not something like this? I am willing to bet that this concept would actually sell pretty well. The houses and lots are small, manageable, less costly, environmentally friendly and there would be 11 times as many winners. Really, with micro-sized lots you should be able to build even more homes than that.

Perhaps one day we’ll see the city promoting this sort of development. Considering the sorts of property development I see in Edmonton now though, I’m not sure developers will be leading the charge either. Perhaps if we win one of these homes we’ll sell it and be the lead investors in a tiny home community!

Housing costs in Canada have become ridiculous (which I won’t delve into), with the average home price in Canada around $389,000. I know, the big cities really skew the average, but even if you put it at just over $300,000, home ownership really is out of reach of many Canadians, especially younger ones, who don’t really seem to be that interested in them anyway.

Housing affordability is a serious issue in Canada today, and tiny home developments might be one way to make housing more affordable (and, heaven forbid, even incorporate many off-grid elements). Will it ever happen? Hard to say. It’s not as if there’s a clamour for this sort of development, although if you look at websites like Tiny House Swoon, Tumbleweed or the Tiny House Blog, you’ll see there’s a growing movement towards simplicity, downsizing, flexibility and lower cost housing.

I’d be curious to know if you’d be interested in living in a tiny home in Edmonton.

Chris Hedges in Edmonton

One could be forgiven for listening to Chris Hedges in Edmonton last night and coming away with an ill feeling for the future of the world; even worse is that it’s not about to get better any time soon.

If you’re not familiar with Chris Hedges, he’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writer, living in the US. He’s been a foreign correspondent for a number of major media organizations, including the New York Times. He’s also an activist and major pain in the ass to corrupt, power hungry politicians and businesspeople, particularly through his association with the Occupy movement.

But the purpose of this is not to write his bio. You can find all that online. Hedges has great experience as a reporter and he’s seen corruption and war around the world.

I hadn’t been familiar with Hedges until I became aware of him as a result of the Occupy movement. I haven’t read his books and I’m not sure if I’ve ever read any of the articles he’d written as a reporter.

chris-hedges-edmontonWhat I have done is to watch a variety of interviews with him. I have been impressed both by what he has to say and also how he says it. He certainly seems to be unflappable, and he’s remarkably consistent in his interviews. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything he says, but I’ve found it interesting how we’ve got fairly similar views on what is happening with government and business around the world. I will say that he has certainly done a lot more research than I have though!

In his speech in Edmonton he covers a variety of items such as Barack Obama and the erosion of civil rights, his lawsuit against Obama and the NDAA and he also does a reading from his latest book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He covers a lot of ground in the video I took of his speech, and it is worth watching the entire video.

While I was quite impressed with his speech, I was less impressed by the questions afterwards. It seemed that there were people there who thought it was time to do a public service announcement or to expound on their point of view. No, it’s time to ask a question. I get that sometimes questions need a bit of context, but I wish people would get to the point.

Nobody cares about your point of view, whether we might agree with it or not. People were there to listen to the speaker and get his point of view. They didn’t impress anyone and many in the audience were upset with the speakers, as you may hear on the video. Unfortunately those audience statements were little better than the inane comments you find so often on YouTube.

I’m not going to blame the organizers for the disrupted Q & A. If I were to host an event such as this I might consider calling on the audience before the event started to submit questions, and then choose the intelligent ones. Or, if I were the one holding the mike I would tell them to get to the point or take the mike away.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about the video.

(I posted photos of Chris Hedges in Edmonton on Flickr.)

Nuclear power issues are not about science

It was just a matter of time before this kind of information came out about the problems with the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

One has to wonder what else we’re going to find out about the design and preparations at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

I’m rather tired of people talking about the science behind nuclear power and about how safe it is. First of all, theoretically, anything can be made safe. Science is irrelevant.

The relevant factors are engineering and business. This will determine the ultimate safety of any system. It’s a natural inclination for any business to minimize costs. Engineering any system can be an expensive process, and with something like nuclear power, cutting corners can be costly, as we’ve seen.

There have been serious questions about the safety of the GE Mark I reactors, such that three GE nuclear scientists resigned in process. It’s not about science because, theoretically, nuclear power is safe and can be contained.

In GE’s case, it’s about business and engineering. Oh, statistics play a role here too. They probably have a statistician on staff who gave them the odds against the critical events the GE 3 warned against.

Business decisions by GE probably dictated that they weren’t going to toss the Mark I design and start over. Why waste that investment?

The engineering, obviously, was an issue. Other reactor designs are likely much better than GE’s Mark I. The GE 3 obviously were so concerned about it that they went public with their concerns and resigned from GE.

It’s not a science issue at all. As happens in so many cases, there are other issues at play in man-made disasters, but people mistakenly or intentionally obfuscate those issues with the weak appeal to authority argument (science).

I understand the science behind the reactor, containment, cooling, etc. I trust the science. We’ve studied it for 60 years. So what? I also understand people and that’s the problem I have. I don’t trust the people behind these power plants. If they weren’t heavily regulated, we’d have far more problems than we do now, given the propensity of business to spend as little as absolutely required on virtually anything.

Heavy regulation of these types of operations is no guarantee of safety either, but it’s a start. Regulations have required nuclear plants to have multiple redundant systems to ensure that if problems or accidents happen, we don’t see catastrophic failures such as those at each of the Fukushima reactors.

Evidently Japan’s regulation of these plants was inadequate, especially given the level of earthquake and tsunami activity in that part of the world.

I am not against nuclear power. If the plants and waste are managed properly, they can be a safe, albeit expensive, way to generate large amounts of electricity. In our hubris, humans often don’t see the big picture and don’t change until it’s too late. Nuclear power is not something we want 20/20 hindsight on. We need to ensure that we get it right before we go ahead with these plants. I don’t think there is such a thing as over-engineering when it comes to them.

As the world is increasingly looking for clean and reliable sources of energy, nuclear has become an increasingly attractive option. The disaster at Fukushima, if nothing else, should serve as a warning against hubris, and show us the importance of a thorough approach to safety. More nuclear power plants will be built, so let’s make sure we construct them properly. Maybe Mike Holmes should supervise nuclear power plant designs.

Catalyst Theatre’s premiere of Hunchback at Citadel Theatre Edmonton

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Catalyst Theatre’s world premiere of Hunchback on Thursday at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Hunchback is an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this play, as I’m not normally a fan of musical anything. I was quite pleased with the production. I have to admit, I’ve never read the novel, and I’ve never even watched the Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, for what it’s worth.

It’s an adaptation, so I’m sure they must have taken some artistic license with it (I’m always fond of that), and the result was spectacular. I was particularly impressed with the minimalist set, which was formed by multiple sets of simply styled arches, which successfully evoked the gothic image of Notre Dame Cathedral.

One can’t help but be struck by the lighting of the play. The reflective arches are enhanced by the dramatic lighting of the minimalist set. I think my favourite part of the set was when they brought down the stylized, backlit bells of Notre Dame. It was a beautiful scene with Frodo and Esmeralda and I would love to have a picture of it.

The costumes were interesting. They were evocative of a sort of gothic/techno nightmare, and I got a sense of the Nightmare Before Christmas in some of the overall designs. The occasional narrator of the play had an urban guerrilla/SWAT team member look. He even did a bit of rapping.

The one thing that I thought would bother me about the play, the singing, was actually very good. I have an aversion to “show tunes” so before I attended the play I thought I might want to rip my ears off at times, but that was not the case. The songs were performed well and sounded great. I have no idea if they were original or not. I’m simply happy my ears remain attached to my head.

As it was my mother’s birthday last week, I invited her along to see the play with me, and she was quite impressed with the Citadel Theatre, and Catalyst Theatre’s performance of Hunchback. She has more of a classical education than I do, and when she attended high school in Quebec, I understand she used to attend quite a few plays.

I was glad to be able to bring her there and we had a good time at the play. It was a packed house and she was quite impressed with the number of young people in attendance. I hadn’t noticed it when I attended August: Osage County, but she was right. I suppose that was another stereotype I held about theatre in that I expected a bit of a snooty, Richie Rich type of crowd. It certainly is not the case, and while everyone was generally well-dressed, I even noticed some jeans in the crowd.

I’ve only been in Edmonton a few years, but I’ve heard a number of times that Edmonton has a healthy and vibrant theatre community. If Catalyst Theatre’s production of Hunchback is any indication, Edmonton will continue to have a strong future with a supportive theatre community, creative producers and talented actors.

Pints & Politics: Debating name changes in Alberta

The other night I went out to Pints and Politics at Brewster’s Pub in Edmonton, a gathering of people interested in talking about politics.

It was pretty good. I had the opportunity to meet a few MLAs (Dave Taylor – Alberta Party, Kent Hehr – Liberal Party, and Jonathan Denis – Conservative Party) and chat with people from those parties as well. I was surprised I didn’t meet anyone from the Wild Rose Party, but I didn’t meet everyone there either.

What I so often discover from casual, in-person discussions about politics is that our differences usually aren’t that far apart.

I prefer these types of discussions to online political discussions. The trolls usually don’t come out to these events, preferring the perceived anonymity they possess behind their computer screens and pseudonyms.

What’s in a name?

I had fun prodding a few of the Alberta Liberals in the room. We got onto the topic of changing the name of the provincial Liberal party, which apparently has little connection to the federal party.

I still find it odd that the Alberta Liberal party is so stuck on keeping the name, when it’s so obvious that it’s the biggest impediment to their political success in this province right now (leaving aside the issues of ineffective leadership).

The provincial Conservatives love to bring up the 1980s National Energy Program, signed by Conservative premier Peter Lougheed. When the NEP is mentioned, there’s a collective knee-jerk around the province, and it’s never good for the Liberals, despite the fact the provincial Liberals probably had absolutely nothing to do with it. The truth has nothing to do with the issue.

The rationale I heard was that the Alberta Liberals are worried their stream of donations would dry up if they were to change their name. I countered that it would likely increase as they tapped new sources of donations.

I have to respect the Alberta Liberals for manning the helm of their swamped ship to the bitter end, but a touch of Machiavellian sensibility wouldn’t hurt. Would a name change mean a complete abandonment of their principles? Absolutely not. Why would it?

I heard something interesting too, that nobody has ever presented a motion at a party convention to change the party name. About time it happened, but it won’t be me doing it. So, what should the name be?

The Prairie Party

I thought this would make sense, because the Alberta Liberals, according to what I heard, are a truly provincial party with few ties federally. It’s the same in B.C., where the B.C. Liberals are really Conservatives and have few real ties to the federal party.

Albertans, and here I’m stereotyping a little, tend to be quite patriotic about their province, and a name like the Prairie Party could be appreciate by many in the province, particularly rural voters. I have never seen a province where its residents feel so strongly about their home.

My thought is that if you’re truly convinced your principles are worth fighting for and should be adopted here, why would something like a name change be so problematic? It is puzzling. In fact, it’s truly odd, considering so many political parties would be willing to force their mothers to work in a Chinese sweat shop if it meant they could get into power.

In some ways you have to respect that kind of conviction, but in other ways, it’s sort of dumb. Apparently Einstein was quoted as saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I also came up with a cute slogan that captures why the name change should happen: change the name and you change the game.

Looking at it practically, a good portion of the voters in the province have grey hair, like it or not. Voter turnout here is pathetically low, but you can count on seniors to get out and do their civic duty. They don’t tend to be swing voters either. They’re loyal and often conservative. They also remember the NEP, rightly or wrongly, so if the Liberals (with that name) expect to form government here, it’s likely not going to be until the baby boomers are dead and gone.

The Saskatchewan Party

I used these guys as a good example for the Alberta Liberals to follow. They formed in 1997 and 10 years later they were in power. There’s so much wrapped up in a name and such a name has broad, subconscious appeal to Saskatchewan residents, obviously.

This is why the Alberta Party has a positive future ahead of it, no matter what their policies, no matter what they do, no matter who the leader is. The party has the right name. It’s all about the brand. That’s not knocking the positive things the Alberta Party is up to, but having the right name gives them a leg up on their competition. Right out of the gate they have an advantage.

There’s been some public bickering about parties merging, but the Alberta Party would be crazy to do it, if it meant adopting the Liberal Party name. If anything, the Liberals should merge with the Alberta Party and adopt their name.

The one thing the Liberals could do to counter the Alberta Party brand is to come up with one which symbolizes Alberta, and that’s the Prairie Party. I’m not going to launch into some poetic description of how the name represents the province, it just does.

The real question is, how long are the Liberals going to sit on the sidelines of Alberta politics as other parties pass them by? My prediction is that the Alberta Party will form the official opposition not after this election, but the election after that (sorry Wild Rose Party). Perhaps when the Alberta Liberals are down to their last member in the Legislature, they’ll consider a name change, but by then it will be too late.