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.

Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?