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.

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.

Citadel Theatre play review – August: Osage County

When I got the invitation to go to the play August: Osage County at Edmonton’s Citadel theatre, my thoughts were mixed.

I’ve attended plays in the past and really have never been that big of a fan of them. I thought about it and realized I’d never been to a professional play in a place like Edmonton, so I decided to go.

I must say, I do not regret that decision one bit. August: Osage County was hilarious and definitely lived up to its billing of dark humour. I don’t normally closely examine and expound on my entertainment choices, so if you’re expecting a profusion of flowery prose on this play, you’ve come to the wrong place.

What I will say, from an average-guy point of view, is that the play is well worth seeing. It is the story of a family that comes together in Oklahoma after the patriarch of the family disappears and is found dead.

It is full of dark humour, and if you never would have believed you’d find incest, molestation and mental breakdown funny, you obviously haven’t seen this play. The playwriters maneuvered through the potential minefields of simply being creepy and found the humour in the situations.

It wasn’t all funny, and there were many dramatic moments during the play as characters came to grips with the realities of life.

Apparently the play was much longer than they normally are, with two intermissions. The first third of the play was actually a bit slow, but set the stage for the final two acts. Those last two acts flew by as the family disputes really developed.

My favourite scene had to be the family dinner. It reminded me of a few family dinners I’ve attended in the past. I think attending the play would be worth it for that scene alone. There are too many great moments to list (or remember).

I read that the play is going to be turned into a movie. If it’s half as funny as the play, it’s going to be a great movie. I’ll definitely line up for that one.

About the Edmonton Citadel Theatre

It was also the first time going to the Citadel Theatre, and I was impressed by the venue. It’s undergoing desperately needed renovations but I felt like I’d stepped back into the 1980s with the amount of burgundy and brass.

The Shoctor Theatre itself has very comfortable seats with an amazing amount of leg-room. I was right at the back but was able to see the play well and the actors were easily heard.

You must remember, my experience seeing plays has typically involved sitting directly on gym floors, or plastic chairs, so having a seat with arms and leg room was sort of novel.

August: Osage County is worth seeing

For those who may not be so inclined to see a play, you really should consider a professional production. It’s a far different experience and definitely worthwhile. If you’re worried about people showing up in tuxedos, I didn’t see anyone that dressed up. Business casual works, and I even saw people in jeans.

If you haven’t seen a professionally produced play, you should catch August: Osage County as your first one. It’s worth it!

Pondering photography

Lately I’ve been getting back to writing more often and getting out and taking photos, both things I love to do.

Admittedly, it’s partially due to my participation in Empire Avenue, a kind of social media stock investing community/game. The more active you are, the higher your stock value will get.

There’s nothing wrong with having a little motivation. Sometimes we forget about things that are important to us and in recent years I’ve gotten away from writing and photography, at least on a personal basis. I still write professionally, but it’s not always the same. You certainly don’t have quite the same freedom.

I’ve been documenting some major family events recently, such as my uncle’s memorial service in Spokane, my daughter’s graduation in Williams Lake and my son’s grade 9 farewell from a Catholic junior high.

I’ve been putting as many photos as I can up on Flickr. As I say in my profile, my Flickr account isn’t so much a gallery of what I’d consider my best work, but more online storage of photos I have taken. I weed out the truly bad ones.

I know I’ve got lots of good photos in there, but I really don’t take the time to tinker with them in Photoshop as I see many people doing. My Flickr account certainly doesn’t function as a resume of my best work in hopes someone will randomly wander by and offer me a job as a professional photographer. I’m a little ways off from that.

I think my Flickr account is more of a documentary of my life and those around me, for better or worse. I also have been trying to get other family members to connect to my account if they’d like to download any of the full size photos so they can print them themselves. That’s been more of a chore, which is a shame because I think that Flickr functions pretty well as a hub for family and friends to share photos.

Colour accuracy

One of the issues I’ve always had with digital cameras is colour accuracy. It can be so tough to accurately capture the colours you’re seeing. I shot a set yesterday that I wasn’t too happy with, looking at the camera. I was pleasantly surprised when I loaded them onto my computer.

The colours of the flowers in my photos are very close to what I was seeing. That makes me really happy! If you look at my photostream in Flickr, you’ll see a lot of flowers. I’m a bit obsessed by them, but I prefer wildflowers and it’s better when they’re in their natural setting. I do have a few DVDs worth that I still have to upload too.

Sunsets and sunrises are another of my favourite photography subjects. It can be tough to get the colours just right there too. I don’t like to have to Photoshop them to get the colour correct. I prefer it to come out of the camera looking as it should.

I’ve been using my digital camera for four years now and I would say I’m reasonably accomplished, but I still have a lot to learn. I just bought a flash a few weeks back and that’s a whole other area I’ve got to learn.

I would like to try doing portraits with studio lighting eventually. I don’t want to be a pro, but I want to give it a try.

New camera equipment

As for equipment, one of my favourite kinds of photography is macro photography, so some type of macro lens is in my future. I would like a good quality wide-angle zoom, like a Canon 28-70mm f/2.8, but a Canon 24-105mm f/4 is another one I’m considering.

I have a 70-200mm f/4 already, and the 28-70 would be nice to cover the range. I thought a 24-105 might be nice for the overlap.

Eventually I’d like to get a full frame sensor body like a Canon 5D MkII. Then I’d be able to do some video also. Once I’ve done that, I’ll invest in a good wide angle lens.

I don’t plan on doing any of these things any time soon. Still undecided and I’ll invest in more lenses before I buy a new body.

Any suggestions on what lenses might be better or other lenses I hadn’t considered?

Different direction for media organizations?

With all the predictions of the death of the mainstream media, it’s amazing to think it’s still around. Blogging and Twitter, apparently, will replace mainstream media, or so some would have you believe.

I’ve been a member of the mainstream media and I’m now a blogger. I’m on Twitter. The lines between media and social media are occasionally blurred.

I don’t buy into the hype saying that blogging and Twitter will replace the mainstream media.

We still have radio, books, magazines, newspapers, television, etc. Nothing replaced them. New forms of media have simply changed them. They all still have their place in the media landscape.

Mainstream media is changing

In the summer of 2009 I heard an interview with David Black, CEO of B.C.-based Black Press; apparently it’s Canada’s largest newspaper chain with more than 150 newspapers. He’s still expanding his newspaper empire. Puzzling, considering how many are claiming the media is dying.

What does he know that the pundits don’t? He knows is that the media is not dying, but is changing. Technology has driven the change and the recession has accelerated it.

Small local papers will be around for a long time and some lessons can be taken from them. The biggest advantage they have is that they have a local focus and I believe this will be the primary advantage of successful newspapers in the future. Citizens want to know what is happening in their community and local media still is one of the best ways to do so.

Today the media landscape is littered with wire copy. It’s cheap and easy filler. It has its place and is important in finding out what is happening around the world. On a daily basis, local news tends to be most important to readers. So what’s the best way to get that local news?

The future of newspapers: new form of media organization

The first step would be to form a co-op and everyone in the company is going to earn the same amount. Everyone’s going to be equal, have the same vote and be an equal partner in the organization.

Co-ops aren’t exactly new, but it’s not a common model for media organizations. Journalists typically aren’t a particularly entrepreneurial lot. CHEK TV on Vancouver Island is a fairly recent example of an employee owned station. I believe it’s a corporation, but it’s a similar idea.

Maryland allows social or benefit corporations with California and Vermont possibly following their lead. It essentially allows a corporation to have social goals as one of their primary goals, and not just profits. It could possibly allow a corporation to survive a hostile takeover by a larger, richer media organization seeking to reduce competition. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this in Canada.

Second, the newspaper would be entirely online. Traditional newspaper and broadcast media are increasingly finding life online, but it’s different, and not as lucrative (yet). By not having a paper version, operational costs are kept much, much lower. One of Black Press’ key advantages is its ownership of presses. It’s expensive and creates many difficulties. While traditional newspapers will still be around, online publications will be the key to the media’s future.

Third, it would be ad free and would be completely subscriber-based. Yes, the dreaded paywall. The idea is to have the newspaper be strictly focused on journalism and not on advertising. The logic is it would be a publication free of any perceived advertiser bias. Those who aren’t subscribers would be allowed some limited views of stories. Partial views of stories would also be allowed in Google News.

I think that people would be willing to subscribe to a quality newspaper free of any perceived bias from advertising. You might not cover the entire market, but could find a sufficient number of subscribers interested in quality journalism that could make the online newspaper a go.

Details: using Edmonton as an example

I’m based in Edmonton, and here’s how I can see it working. According to 2001 census figures, Edmonton has 265,000 households. Now, and including the surrounding area (Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Leduc, etc), let’s roughly estimate that at 400,000.

Let’s give journalists a healthy wage of $50,000 each. Using the Edmonton Journal as an example, there’s approximately 90 people in its newsroom and production (estimated).

With an all-online edition, 40 people for an online only, daily publication, to start would be reasonable.

The total payroll would be $2 million. Allowing an extra 50 per cent for overhead such as office space, libel insurance and other costs, you would be looking at an annual budget requirement of $3 million. Seems like a lot, but without ads, how do you do it?

Well, how much would a subscriber be willing to pay? Getting the Journal every day costs $256 per year. Not bad, but would someone be willing to pay $100 per year to get ad-free news delivered to their inbox, online, iPad and to their smart phone? I think they would. With GST that would be $8.75 per month for daily news, or 29 cents a day. (Seattle Post Intelligencer is all-online now and I’m curious how well they’re surviving.)

With a $3 million budget and $100 per subscriber needed you only need 30,000 subscribers. That’s only 7.5 per cent of the households in the Edmonton metro area.

As of March 31, the Edmonton Journal had a paid circulation of 125,589. Readership is estimated at 268,900 to 458,000. The assumption with readership is that there are multiple people reading the same paper.

So, what happens if there are 60,000 subscribers? This would mean revenue of $6 million per year. There are a couple possibilities here. It would be wise to create a reserve of working capital for the operation, but then what? The excess earnings could be distributed to those in the co-op as a dividend. It could be donated to charities.

More importantly the newspaper could expand its coverage and team. It could begin to invest more in investigative journalism. These days the trend is to cut newsrooms, not expand them. Investigative journalism has suffered at a time when North American citizens need it most.

Should there be ads?

It’s certainly possible to produce a quality newspaper, online or otherwise, without ads. I’m sure there’s a large chunk of the newspaper audience that hates the ads. I think it would be a big selling feature for a lot of people. If readers know they’re getting a quality product with honest reporting, that’s also a big selling feature. That’s not to say that just because you have ads you can’t trust the reporting.

People do read the ads in newspapers, no question. Some people pick up newspapers for the ads. Many small community papers seem to be little more than something to hold all the flyers that get delivered.

If an ad-free online newspaper were to be started, it would certainly leave room in the marketplace for competing newspapers to offer space for ads. What would the potential audience think? Good question. Before a venture like this got started, it would certainly be wise to do a great deal of market research to confirm that there would be demand for it. Or maybe an “if you build it, they will come” approach could be in order.

Beyond one city

This model can easily be expanded to more than one city. I can see something like this spreading across Canada and elsewhere. With a common look and content management system for the web, you could brand the network and pull in news from everywhere into that network. It could function as its own wire service.

Ad-free news from across the country, and maybe the world? I would definitely subscribe to that. Surplus funds from larger locations could be used to help new “bureaus” get started in other locations and bring them into the co-op. Once one location was successful, the goal would be to self-fund the entire organization.

If you were an unemployed journalist, would you rather sit at home on EI, or get back to work? If a group of journalists were suddenly laid off at a major paper and got a settlement package, why not pool those resources and start a publication like this? Take a risk! I think it would be more than fair to repay those who funded the organization with surplus funds the organization generated.

Would it work?

I believe that this is a realistic model for future newspapers and helps to solve the problem of shrinking the newsroom as a way of increasing profits. I think that employees would be even more committed to the success of the organization because they share in its successes. It works for companies like Lincoln Electric and Westjet.

I would like to hear your thoughts on whether you’d be interested in investing in something like this, would subscribe to it or why you think it may or may not work.