This is the second entry in the Central State of Mind series. To read the first entry, click here. Sharon and I visited Judd and Linda in early October to learn about why they chose to live centrally.
Judd and Linda live in Oliver, though like most people who call the eastern part of the neighbourhood home, they would say they live in Grandin. A short walk from the Grandin LRT station, their 1000 square foot condo is certainly cozy but its location more than makes up for its relative lack of space. The couple moved to the neighbourhood four years ago because they were ready to start a family and their previous home downtown was adult-only. Their daughter Zoe was born two years ago.
Avoiding or at least reducing their commute played a big role in Judd and Linda’s decision to move to Grandin. Judd works downtown as a mechanical engineer, while Linda works part time in social services in Central McDougall. They’re a one-car household, and they use their vehicle as infrequently as possible. Judd usually walks to work, though he has experimented with a variety of transportation options. Biking to work consistently takes about ten minutes, while taking the train can be quicker or slower depending on whether he misses the train or not. Judd has even ridden his longboard to work, though he says “it’s a lot more work because I have to dodge people on the sidewalks, and I usually end up walking anyway.” Linda used to walk to work, a trip that would take about 30 minutes. “We have friends that get up at 5 in the morning just to get ready for their commutes,” Linda said, as she reiterated the importance they place on living close to work.
Location is about more than just commute times, however. “I love being able to just go out for a walk,” Linda said. Judd agreed, adding that proximity to amenities is another reason why they liked the area. “Everything is within walking distance,” he said. Ezio Faraone Park is a short walk away, as are the Legislature grounds, both among the best urban green space that Edmonton has to offer. Grandin is also perfectly situated between Downtown and Garneau, which means favorites like Blue Plate Diner and Transcend Coffee are just a short walk or train ride away. “I love going to the City Market on Saturdays too,” Linda told us. “I try to go a little earlier, it’s a nice walk to get there.” Location wasn’t the only thing that attracted them to the Grandin area, of course. “It’s quiet, tree-lined, and pub free!” Judd quipped when I asked him for additional reasons.
Their current living situation does have its challenges, however. “It would be nice to have a little bit more space,” Judd admitted. Entertaining is difficult with Zoe’s play area concentrated in the living room (she had a very cool toy kitchen that made Sharon jealous). The family is casually looking for something central with a bit more space, but it has to be the right fit. “To get something bigger, it has to meet all the requirements that are met now,” Judd said. “If something bugged us so much, we’d have a realtor!” One of the biggest issues with the smaller space is the layout. Sound seems to travel right to Zoe’s room, often waking her up. She is getting better at sleeping through it, however. Communities they are looking at include Westmount, McKernan, and Bonnie Doon. They’re intrigued by the City Centre Redevelopment, but that’s a bit too far into the future.
Another challenge is the lack of shops and restaurants in the area that cater to families with young children. Linda wishes there were more kid-friendly cafes, and mentioned Café O’Play in Riverbend as an example. “In the summer it doesn’t matter so much, but when it gets cold, there aren’t as many places to take Zoe.” Similarly, many of the new restaurants that have opened nearby are focused on attracting adults, not families. Interestingly, grocery shopping has also been a challenge. “Downtown shopping is not baby-friendly,” Judd declared. Grocery stores in the area either don’t carry the items they need, or when they do, often charge far more than at other locations. On one trip to Sobeys for instance, Judd found just one brand of diapers and one brand of baby wipes. “When she grows out of diapers, it won’t be such a big deal,” he said. They usually shop at Save-On-Foods for smaller items, and now are able to make the short trip to Superstore on Kingsway Avenue for baby stuff. They also walk to Planet Organic occasionally.
Much of our conversation revolved around the challenges of having a young child in the core. “We kind of got into a pocket of timing with Zoe,” Judd said, realizing that the things they need and want now will change. “The less she is an infant, the easier everything gets.” Something that is very top-of-mind for Judd and Linda at the moment is wheelchair access. “Having a kid downtown has given me an appreciation for people who are in wheelchairs,” Judd said, noting that strollers and wheelchairs have similar needs and challenges. “If one elevator breaks down, then you’re often having to go quite far to detour,” Linda explained. “That’s why malls are so friendly to parents,” Judd concluded, because they offer multiple seating areas, big washrooms with change-tables, and excellent access.
Judd and Linda often compare their situation with friends who live in the suburbs. “It’s the commute, that’s the difference,” Judd said. “We don’t have the 20 minutes stuck in traffic, but we have a smaller space.” He does recognize there’s a tradeoff, in that having a car means you don’t have to think as much about where you’re going. “A car gives you options.” Less stress is just one the benefits of avoiding the commute, however. “Living centrally gives you more time to do other things,” Linda said.
The couple would like to see more families living centrally. “It should be more affordable for younger families,” Linda said. She likes Oliver, but says there needs to be more options for family-friendly housing in central neighbourhoods. That means three bedroom condos, as an example. “Having two kids tips the balance,” Judd said. They are confident they have made the right choice, though even they question the centrally-located/smaller-space tradeoff from time to time. “We are in the minority here. Everyone else in the world does it,” Judd said. “Why does it feel so hard sometimes?”
One of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods, Oliver is also the city’s most populated. According to the 2009 municipal census, more than 18,000 people live in Oliver. Roughly 27% of the population is under the age of 20 and nearly 65% of the population is under the age of 40. There are more than twice as many renters in the neighbourhoods as owners. Accordingly, there are significantly more apartments than single-detached homes. Development began in the 1880s, according to the City of Edmonton, though it wasn’t named Oliver until the 1950s.
Oliver scores an impressive 83 on Walk Score, which is “very walkable.” It also gets a Transit Score of 63 thanks to the Grandin LRT station and 45 nearby bus routes. You can learn more about Oliver at Wikipedia and at the Oliver Community League website. The community league is one of the city’s most active on Facebook and Twitter.
Central State of Mind
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