The Grass Is Greener

Readers voted in our annual Best Neighbourhoods 2018 survey, and gave Glenora the crown for the second year in a row.

Illustration Ian Phillips

1. Glenora

Last year, Glenora broke Strathcona’s hold on the No. 1 spot with a
narrow triumph in the voting. Glenora, which offers some of the city’s largest character homes but is within easy reach of downtown, held on to the No. 1 spot in 2018. But, this time around, it wasn’t close. Glenora took the vote by a wide margin.

2. Westmount

Close to the bustling 124th Street shopping scene? Check. An easy reach to downtown? Check. Lots of character homes? Check. And, with Glenora as a neighbour, it’s clear that the “first ring” of mature neighbourhoods just west of the core capture the hearts and minds of our readers.

3. Strathcona

With lots of shops and dense, walkable/bikeable neighbourhoods, Strathcona still has plenty of appeal. But Strathcona residents feel strongly about their neighbourhood’s “little big city” feel. In a 2017 survey conducted by the Strathcona Centre Community League, 73 per cent opposed increasing the Whyte Avenue building limit from four storeys in height. And 62 per cent opposed “tall towers” of 10 storeys or more along 99th Street.

4. Oliver

Oliver continues its dominance in the poll and, with neighbouring Glenora and Westmount finishing 1-2 in the rankings, it’s a big nod for the just-west-of-downtown neighbourhoods. But Oliver is far more dense than the other two: According to the 2016 census, two-thirds of the neighbourhood’s housing is located in apartment buildings of five storeys or higher

5. Highlands

The east end’s most desirable neighbourhood moves up a spot, from No. 6 to No. 5, this year. Tree-lined streets and a number of hip boutiques and eateries – from coffee shops to antique spots – make Highlands a truly self-contained neighbourhood.

And the rest…

6. Griesbach

7. Crestwood

8. Ritchie

9. Downtown

10. Laurier Heights

In our August issue, we look at why the suburbs are booming, despite the rise in infill developments and the push to revitalize the core of the city.

In the end, it’s all about affordability. Interest rates are creeping up, and the mortgage rules changed this year to include a “stress test” that keeps more potential buyers from stretching their budgets to buy in the core. And, like all core areas in major cities across Canada, land values are shooting up at a far faster rate than they are in the ‘burbs. That perfect storm of economic factors is helping fuel a suburban boom.

According to the Alberta Real Estate Association, the average selling price for an Edmonton home was $372,717. Now, compare that to the prices we see for real estate downtown or in the older core neighbourhoods, from Glenora to Westmount to Garneau.

A scan of MLS listings for “Glenora” uncovers that the most inexpensive “skinny” infill home was one the market for $630,000. A plot of land for home development was up for sale for $300,000 – before you put in a shovel in the ground. In Westmount, a plot of land was selling for $400,000 and you could get into single-family homes at a little more than $500,000 to start. (And, we have to stress, “to start.”)

These examples show just how much more people need to spend over the average Edmonton home price to get into these neighbourhoods. And, the lack of affordable homes in the core, established neighbourhoods leads more and more people to buy homes in the outer ring of the city.

And that’s “homes” not “condos” or “smaller townhomes.” Here is where it gets interesting. According to the City of Edmonton, housing starts for single-family homes were 8.4 per cent higher in the second quarter of 2018 than they were over the second quarter of 2017. But, multi-family unit starts were down 21.7 per cent over the same period, and apartment-building starts were down a whopping 44 per cent.

So, while the single-family home with the yard continues to gain in popularity, the multi-family dwelling does not.

According to the Edmonton Metropolitan Growth Plan, this is how the suburbs are expected to grow from 2014 population counts to predicted population counts for 2044:

  •             Beaumont is expected to grow from 15,800 to between 36,000-59,000.
  •             St. Albert is expected to grow from 63,300 to 90,000-118,000 people
  •             Strathcona County is expected to grow from 96,800 to 138,000-160,000 people
  •             Leduc is expected to grow from 28,600 to 50,000-60,000 people

Not only are our schools in the neighbourhoods that are near the Henday already bursting at the seams, the exodus to the satellite communities is expected to not only continue, but strengthen.

The numbers are plain to see. We’ve created an affordability gap that will only strengthen suburban development in the years to come.

What are the three top attractions offered by a new/suburban community?

The three top-ranked answers were:

1.         Price of home

2.         New home means low maintenance and no [necessary] renos to do

3.         Lots of young families in area.

What does this tell us? People will go out further from the core in order to buy the home they can afford. And, despite the prevalence of home shows and HGTV, a lot of us hate having to do renos. Families want to live close to other families. Parents want their kids to have other kids their age nearby.

What’s interesting is that “being close to work” was way down the list when it came to people’s reasons for buying homes. Only five per cent rated it as of top importance when it came to finding a community in which to live.

What are the three major drawbacks of living in a suburban community?

1.         Long commutes/traffic

2.         Away from central attractions

3.         Lack of character homes

This is where it gets interesting. Even though most respondents said they don’t really care if they live close to where they work, nearly 75 per cent rated the commute as the top drawback of living in the ‘burbs. So, what we can take from this is that people are willing to grin and bear the commute in order to get the homes that they want. They don’t like the commute times, but it’s not enough of a barrier to keep them from moving to the ‘burbs.


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