Urban planning experts offer tips on how to shop for your next neighbourhood
Is it a neighbourhood with a lake so you don’t need a vacation cottage?
Or an upgraded, older neighbourhood with lots of housing choices?
Perhaps a community with a main street so “you don’t have to jump in your car to get a quart of milk?”
When urban commentators weigh in on what homebuyers, first-time or otherwise, should be looking for when they chose a place to live the emphasis is on community amenities – or as Greg Morrow puts it, looking “outside the four walls” of the home, to the DNA of the neighbourhood.
And for Morrow, the first holder of the Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change at the University of Calgary, that means three basic principles of good urban design: choice, diversity and completeness.
It’s not just having a variety of choice in housing types, but also the shops, local amenities, tree-lined roads that promote interaction and the ability to walk to get that quart of milk, he said.
White said the biggest question a homebuyer should ask about a neighbourhood is: “Do I want to live here for 10 years?”
For Morrow – who has a PhD in urban planning and development, a masters in city planning, a bachelor of architecture and was principal of a real estate development company in Los Angeles – it also means neighbourhoods where, no matter your stage of life, you can remain in your chosen community.
Longtime Calgary urban columnist and blogger Richard White also suggests homebuyers look for amenity-rich neighbourhoods – and that doesn’t mean walkability has to be the main criteria.
“It means lots of people walking, cycling but it’s also drivability… to the school, grocery store or rec centre,” he said. “If a kid is in hockey, there is too much equipment for walking. Walkability is nice to have, but it won’t work every day.”
White said the biggest question a homebuyer should ask about a neighbourhood is: “Do I want to live here for 10 years?” If the answer is no, the buyer will lose money because the home will not appreciate in value in less than that time, especially after an economic downturn.
“Base the purchase on your lifestyle now and the one you aspire to,” he said.
Morrow said areas that have good urban design have distinctive character and diversity, with a choice of housing options (from single family, to apartments, townhomes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes) and a range of prices.
In Calgary for a significant part of its history, almost 100 per cent of growth was in new communities, where homes were almost exclusively single family, noted Morrow.
Many neighbourhoods built in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were, “just about building the biggest house you can.” Those communities, he said, may have good access to park space, but “that’s about it.”
So what Calgary neighbourhoods do White and Morrow like?
Morrow, who also sits on the City of Calgary’s Planning Commission, said a lot of the pre-1950’s communities – such as Hillhurst, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Mission, Cliff Bungalow – have the three principles he cites for good urban design: main streets, retail services, access to pathways, and a choice of housing variety.
He gives his own neighbourhood of Parkhill/Stanley Park — built in the 1950s/60s —as an example of one that is on the cusp of meeting this criteria. Homeowners in the neighbourhoods can walk to nearby neighbourhoods with amenities such as main streets.
Morrow also noted Currie Barracks will be a complete urban community when it brings on shops and retail and jobs in its last phase of the redevelopment of the former Canadian Forces Base land in the city’s southwest.
In fact, he hopes the next generation of new communities can learn from the Currie Barracks redevelopment because it will satisfy all good urban design components.
White said inner-city communities often get most of the attention because they have diversity of housing options with a plenty of character and tree-canopied street. But he also noted they can also come with high prices.
He said buyers should look at communities such as Montgomery (access to the river, the University of Calgary, Shouldice Park and along cycle paths to downtown), Bowness, (its own main street of retail and restaurants and surrounding parks) and even Forest Lawn (now drawing musicians and artists who can no longer afford homes in other inner-city neighbourhoods like Inglewood).
He also cites communities such as Lake Bonavista and Lake Midnapore that have not only beautiful tree-lined streets but also man-made lake access that means residents save “money and time” others spend on cottages.