Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. regional economist Lai Sing Louie said many Calgary homeowners still want the freedom to come and go with a car at their disposal, and they’re willing to pay for it. Photo by Wil Andruschak/For CREB®Now

Long live the auto

The car-less lifestyle is trending, but Calgary’s housing market still driven by the automobile, say experts

Cars aren’t going anywhere soon, and neither is Calgary homebuyers’ desire for neighbourhoods – or condominiums for that matter – that support their automobile-driven lifestyles, say housing experts.

While much is being made about efforts to create a more pedestrian-friendly city that focuses on “vertical growth,” Calgarians still very much enjoy the freedom that comes with driving an automobile. And they
want their residence — whether it’s a condo, townhome or single-detached house — to support their yen for putting the pedal to the metal, said Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) regional economist Lai Sing Louie.

“Most people still want parking,” he said. “They want the freedom to come and go with a car at their disposal, and they’re willing to pay a lot of money to afford that.”

“Calgary is a winter city and Calgarians want and require vehicles for optimum mobility.”

A recent study from industry observer Altus Group supports that most buyers still want a parking spot. Data from its FIRM Survey for Canada’s six largest markets combined – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal – reveal only one in 10 condominiums built in the past six years does not have a vehicle.

The study’s results reflect market demand, said Guy Huntingford, co-CEO of the newly amalgamated Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Urban Development Institute (CHBA – UDI) Calgary Region Association.

“Calgary is a winter city and Calgarians want and require vehicles for optimum mobility,” he said.

Does that mean developers, builders and the City of Calgary itself are just paying lip service to the idea of pedestrian-friendly development? Not at all, said Paul Boskovich, vice-president of Alberta for Genstar, noting communities are also being designed with access to paths and public transit while increasing efficiency of land use.

But consumers, “also want to live in safe and accessible developments that allow for various essential services like transit, garbage/recycling pick up, along with emergency services,” he said. And designing communities properly integrated with these services requires building neighbourhoods that are still dominated by an automobile culture.

Genstar is behind Calgary neighbourhoods such as Walden in the city’s southeast, which Boskovitch said includes “traffic-calming” features that promote walking and biking.

Could people’s penchant for autos change one day and influence urban design on a grander scale? Possibly, said Boskovich.

“People who are now in their teens and early 20s are starting to think a little bit differently about how they want to live and get around in the city,” he said, noting they’re more likely to use rapid transit, bike or make use of car-sharing services such as Car2Go.

Louie, however, argues the attraction of going car-less will have less to do with lifestyle and more to do with logistics.

“The one other thing about something like car-less condos is, because they don’t have to make space for parking, they can be built a little cheaper,” he said, adding that means units are, in turn, more affordable for buyers.

“For people who don’t have children, it’s a little easier to do (live car-free), but it’s much more difficult if you have to run around picking up the kids.”

N3 by Knightsbridge Homes in East Village became Calgary’s first car-less condo when it was approved by city council last year. The 168-unit development does not include a parking stall, but does come with a free bicycle and $500 Car2Go credit.

Less than 20 units are still available for purchase, noted Knightsbridge, with construction on target for completion by March 2017.

Louie also said while a car-less lifestyle might appear to young buyers now – especially as they grapple with student debt and higher minimum down payments for homeownership, with little left over for vehicles – that tends
to change as they and their families grow.

“For people who don’t have children, it’s a little easier to do (live car-free), but it’s much more difficult if you have to run around picking up the kids,” he said.

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