Why we love living downtown

Sharon and I decided to collaborate on this post. Enjoy!

Sharon:

When Mack and I first started looking into buying a condo in 2009, we knew what we wanted. It took a bit of time, however, to get my dad (who was also our real estate agent), on board.

For our specified price range, he told us we would be able to purchase a spacious, sparkly new condo on the edge of the city. State of the art fixtures, modern design, and that pull of the pristine is attractive to many for a variety of reasons. But not for us, given our current work situation, lifestyle and values.

Mack:

We made a list of our priorities, and chief among them was location. It was really important for us to live downtown, or at least as close as possible, given that we both work in the downtown area and a significant number of our extracurricular activities take place downtown. We wanted a high-rise condo with two bedrooms (so that one could be my office), plenty of natural light, and a decent sized kitchen. Walking distance to the City Market was also on our list, and being downtown we knew access to public transit would be good.

4th St Promenade

We ended up purchasing a condo last July in The Century, located at 10180 104 Street (right beside Icon 2). Our 12th floor space is on the southeast corner of the building, facing 104 Street. We got the two bedrooms, a great kitchen, tons of natural light, and every Saturday morning the market is on our doorstep.

Walking to work

Sharon:

I have to admit I was a bit gleeful when I typed in our answers to the “commute length” question on the National Household Survey earlier this year. For me: 12 minutes. For Mack: 8 minutes.

I work in Central McDougall, just north of downtown, while Mack works in the core. I recognize that we are both very fortunate to work close to one another (and don’t require vehicles for our jobs), so neither of us has to compromise with commute times. But we also actively chose to situate ourselves in a location where walking to work would be convenient and the natural choice.

I do have the occasional off-site meeting or event to attend, and find it no problem to hop on transit to reach my destination.

City Market Downtown - May 29
104 Street & Jasper Avenue on a rainy day last year

Mack:

When I started at Questionmark, our office was in the northwest by The Brick’s warehouse and I lived in the southeast. Every day I drove the Whitemud there and back. Some days it could take an hour each way. Next I moved to Oliver, close to the old Molson Brewery. That cut my commute down, but I was still driving and depending on weather or traffic it could still take quite a while. When we moved the Questionmark office downtown to the Empire Building on Jasper Avenue and 101 Street, I started taking the bus every day. It took about 15 minutes and I would generally check email and Twitter on the way. Now that we live on 104 Street, I can walk to work in less than ten minutes.

I have a lot of early meetings, so I often work from home until mid morning or lunch and then head into the office for the rest of the day. That’s an option now because of our location. I can’t tell you how transformative that progressively smaller commute has been for me. Not only am I healthier because I’m walking every day, but I have so much more time for other things.

Public transit

Mack:

We’re a one car household and we rarely drive more than one day a week – usually an afternoon on the weekend to shop for things we can’t get at the market or to visit family. The rest of the time we’re either walking or riding the bus or train. We’re less than a block away from the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT station, and with luck we’re just a few years away from being a block or two from a new stop on the Downtown LRT Connector.

4th St Promenade

Of course downtown also has the best bus service in the city, so if we need to go somewhere the LRT can’t yet take us, a major route is not far away (the 1, 2, 7, 8 and 100 are just a few of the major routes that are a block or less from our place).

Front yard farmers’ market

Sharon:

An objection we often hear about not shopping locally is the inconvenience of it – nowhere to park, limited hours, selection that rewards early birds. By choosing to live right on 104 Street – the home of the City Market – that isn’t a problem for us. And in the same way we value public transportation, supporting local farmers is another one of our priorities, so it helps when the barrier of distance is removed.

City Market Opening Day 2011

When we lived in Oliver, we made the 35 minute trek to the City Market most Saturdays. It was a pleasant walk, but was definitely something we had to plan for, and schedule into our weekend. Now, even when we have other commitments on Saturdays, it’s not difficult for one of us to run downstairs, grab the essentials, and go on with our day.

Built for pedestrians

Mack:

Though our street didn’t start life as a pedestrian-friendly roadway, it certainly is now. Every Saturday the street is closed for the market, and while there has been talk of closing it to vehicular traffic permanently, that probably won’t happen. Still, I often remark that 104 Street is the most walkable street in the city.

4th St Promenade

The sidewalks are wide enough that you’ll find benches along the street, and restaurants like Lit and Tzin feature patios. The sidewalks also are level with the road, which reduces the feeling that there are separate pedestrian and vehicle spaces. The single lane of street parking on either side provides a nice safety buffer as you walk. The lights are placed along the sidewalks for pedestrians rather than in the middle for vehicles. And the trees, while not as tall or old as the ones that formed a beautiful canopy on 122 Street where we used to live, add that special something to the streetscape.

The result? Day or night, vehicles drive cautiously down 104 Street and jaywalking is the norm. Pedestrians rule here.

Location, location, location

Sharon:

104th is arguably the most exciting street in Edmonton right now. With two wine bars, a liquor store, a diner, a fantastic cafe, and an artisan bakery, it’s definitely a food lover’s paradise. And with an organic food store on the horizon, who knows what else is in store in the future?

Our street also doubles as a venue for some of Edmonton’s coolest events – the annual Al Fresco Block Party is a great example, or dance performances that transformed the street into a stage.

K.O. Dance Project
K.O. Dance Project on 104th

Downtown is often associated with a "lack” of green space, but given our proximity to the river valley, we’ve never really had an issue with that. And better yet, we have Beaver Hills House Park, just down the block from us. With its mature trees and water feature, the park really feels like an oasis, despite its seedy history.

Beaver Hills House Park
Beaver Hills House Park

Amenities

Mack:

Coffee meetings are a regular part of most weeks for me. Very rarely do I need to meet outside the downtown core and when I do, I find the LRT or the bus works well enough to get me where I need to be. Most often though I can be found at Credo Coffee. The service is great, the vanilla latte is delicious, and it’s close to home – as in 100 steps or so. It’s my neighbourhood office!

Credo Coffee

I’m also a fan of the newest addition to our street, Bubble Buzz. When I need to get my hair cut, I stop in at blunt salon. If Sharon needs to pickup some bread on her way home, she visits Queen of Tarts. When we needed paint to create our red feature wall, we went to Carbon. Lunch or dinner in a pinch? Blue Plate Diner never disappoints. It’s amazing how much more time you have when you don’t have to spend as much of it travelling.

Sharon:

And though it isn’t quite the local food hub that it intended to be, there’s nothing handier than having Sobeys down the street from us. I can’t tell you the number of times it has saved us from having to drive down to a grocery store when we realized we were missing an ingredient for a recipe. It’s our corner store – something that has disappeared from so many of Edmonton’s neighbourhoods.

One year later

We had high expectations for our new place and neighbourhood when we moved in last July. Now a year later, it’s safe to say our expectations have been exceeded. We love living downtown!

Downtown
The view from our balcony

21 thoughts on “Why we love living downtown

  1. Thanks so much for this post! As a fellow 104th Street resident (across the street from you in Phillips Lofts), there’s been many times when I’ve tried to explain the appeal of the area to people who still have a sterotype image of downtown being where the homeless people live and somewhere that empties out at 5pm every day. Now I can point them here where you’ve said my exact thoughts in a nice and organized fashion!

  2. I love this post!! You know I couldn’t agree more that living downtown is fantastic. I hope more people will realize it and that developers will provide more options for families (3+ bedrooms).

  3. I feel pretty much the same way – I live on 104th and 99th ave. As a student at the U of A, my UPass is mandatory and I use it at least twice a day to get to and from campus via LRT. I work Saturdays, so I don’t get to go to the market as often as I’d like to, but there are grocery stores nearby to cover that. The vertical diversity of services and businesses housed downtown is unmatched in other areas, like Mill Woods, where I grew up, or Terwilliger, where everybody seems to live now. I just wish that motorists weren’t such jerks when I’m on my bike. I follow the rules of the road, and I really wish that other cyclists would too. The only disappointing thing at times is the skyline – you can really tell what office buildings waste electricity at night.

  4. Great post Mack! Hopefully more of the younger generation reads your post and considers downtown as a great place to live. Finally our core is starting to change and adapt to the needs of its residents.

  5. Since I moved to Edmonton, I’ve always tried to live somewhere in the centre, and most of that time has been downtown. There’s an energy to being in the middle of it all that a few hundred extra square feet just can’t compete with. I find it funny when I run into people who are afraid of the idea of living downtown. I can think of a single time in the last ten years that I’ve really felt unsafe, and that was mainly due to the fact that, at the time, downtown sort of died once the business day was over. The more people living downtown, the more vibrant and safe it becomes. It’s been great to see the changes over the last few years.

  6. Both of you bring (publicly) your energy and enthusiasm about Edmonton’s core to the forefront. It helps people like me, who see the core every day (and with the routine of work, start taking it for granted), see the positive transformation that is happening, and to stop thinking about it the way it was. It is becoming a place to be proud of.  Great post!

  7. Everyone who lives on 104th loves to champion it. Yes it is a very small step in the right direction, but it is only one block in a vast downtown core that needs revitalizing.

  8. Great post! We don’t live downtown, but we chose Garneau for similar reasons – We can walk to work and to do most errands, and are close to lots of transit options. We were able to find a relatively new townhouse condo unit that has the space for our family of three, and we enjoy not having to worry about heating bills, snow-clearing or other maintenance.

    When Dan started working at the U of A and we were getting ready to look for a place to buy, the university hired a company to show us around town. Before our meeting I gave them a list of neighbourhoods I wanted to check out – Garneau, Old Strathcona, McKernan, Queen Alexandra, Oliver – and they didn’t take us to any of them! They told us they had “too much crime” and weren’t good places for a family (I was expecting our son at the time). They suggested we look in Terwillegar or Riverbend. They did take us to the north Italian Centre for coffee on our tour, and made an offhanded comment about how it was a lovely neighbourhood to visit for the shopping but they wouldn’t suggest living there or going there at night!!!

    And then we had the same issue with our real estate agent! As much as we insisted we wanted to live somewhere central and walkable, he started out taking us to places in Sweetgrass, Malmo Plains, etc. It was only after a day of looking at houses in completely non-walkable neighbourhoods that we finally impressed upon him exactly what our priorities were.

  9. Thanks for writing this. I’m in the process of living my beloved Old Strathcona (and Rachel Notley’s riding – which I couldn’t be more proud about) for downtown. I’m having a bit of anxiety. Though i will be in lovely Grandin with a beautiful view. Thanks for reminding me to be excited about what I’m moving toward, instead of feeling sad about what I’m moving away from !

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