Central State of Mind: Dan & Kathryn Friesen

Introduction

“Yeah, but you don’t have kids.” Without question, that’s the most common remark Sharon and I hear when we talk about living in the core. Obviously there are families living in central neighbourhoods (32% of the downtown population is under 20 years of age, for instance) but you don’t hear about them as often as you hear about families in new suburban neighbourhoods. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve embarked on a new series we’re calling Central State of Mind. Our goal is to feature Edmontonians who have chosen to live centrally, and we’re kicking it off with a young family that selected King Edward Park over the new neighbourhoods in the south. Certainly we have been inspired by Elise Stolte’s excellent summer series, Living on the Edge, but we think the stories of Edmontonians who have voted with their feet and their money to help Edmonton become a more compact, financially sustainable city deserve to be told as well.

Meet Dan, Kathryn, and Sam

Dan & Kathryn Friesen live in King Edward Park, though when people ask they usually say Bonnie Doon because most don’t know where King Edward Park is located. They’ve lived in their current home for four years now, after moving from a condo in the heart of Old Strathcona near 80 Avenue and 105 Street. Choosing a mature neighbourhood was an important decision that Kathryn & Dan put a lot of thought into. Newer neighbourhoods in the city seem to get most of the attention, but not everyone chooses to live there. Sharon and I sat down with Kathryn & Dan at their home in early August to learn more so that we could share their story.

Kathryn & Dan

One of the biggest factors that went into their decision was commuting and their desire to avoid it as much as possible. “It seems like a waste of resources and a waste of time,” Dan said. The location they chose is split between Kathryn’s office downtown and Dan’s office in the south side (they both work in social services). Each can get home from work in less than 20 minutes, even in heavy traffic. “The time commuting takes away from time you can spend with your kids,” Kathryn told us as we watched her two-year-old son Sam play in the backyard. Before Sam was born, Kathryn would either bike or bus to work, but now she drives so that she can take him to daycare. Dan usually bikes to work. They’re a one-car-household, though they do have access to their parents’ vehicle if necessary.

Another factor was walkability. “I love that we can walk to so many places,” Kathryn said. “It was important to incorporate that kind of physical activity.” The Safeway at Bonnie Doon is within walking distance, as is a Korean restaurant that the couple enjoys (they lived in Korea for a time). There are also plenty of playgrounds within walking distance. “There’s a great playground with a spray park less than a five minute walk away,” Kathryn told us. King Edward Park, Duncan Innes Park, and Avonmore Park are all within walking distance, and Idylwylde Park is only a little further away. Additionally they have good access to bike trails and can get into Mill Creek Ravine easily. The day before we visited, they had biked to Heritage Days at Hawrelak Park.

Backyard

As a new mom, access to programs, services, and other families was important to Kathryn. She was part of the New Moms Network at the Bonnie Doon Public Health Centre, just a ten minute walk from home. The moms group she is a part of now has 30 people – Kathryn & Dan told us there are a lot of families in the area. “There’s a lot of play in the front yards, it’s not all hidden in the back,” Kathryn said. She said that families in the neighbourhood often join each other for walks. In addition to spending time in the neighbourhood, Kathryn also frequents Kinsmen, within biking distance (or a short drive), and the downtown library, which she takes the bus to get to. “I talk to other new moms living on the outskirts, and they talk about the need to drive to get to those programs.” She has a lot of praise for EPL and its drop-in programs, such as Sing, Sign, Laugh & Learn. “I have no idea what I haven’t given up because I just look at all these things I have access to that are free!” She said that similar programs in the south side (in the newer neighbourhoods) are usually for-profit.

Dan was comfortable choosing an older home, even though there’s a lot of upkeep. “I could make a list of things this house needs that is pages long,” Dan mused, though he pointed out that newer homes aren’t problem-free either. “With newer homes you often have to fight the developers or builders.” Their house had been updated in recent years, with new windows, a new roof, a new hot water heater, etc. “All of the essentials were done,” Dan told us. He thinks there is certainly some truth to the notion they don’t build houses the way they used to. “The structural elements of the house are solid,” he said. “But you still have to look for a house that has been kept up and looked after.”

King Edward Park Home

Of course, Kathryn & Dan were thinking about the future when they chose King Edward Park as well. The neighbourhood has two great schools – Donnan and St. James. Additionally, Avonmore School is only a few blocks to the south. “Schools in mature neighbourhoods seem to have more unique programs,” Kathryn told us. The family is also excited about a new LRT stop as part of the Southeast LRT to Mill Woods line. In addition to Bonnie Doon, a stop has been proposed for 73 Avenue and 83 Street.

Living in a mature neighbourhood that doesn’t require as much driving has had a positive impact on the way the family goes about its day-to-day activities. Kathryn calls it “slowing down” and finds she has to choose to do one or two things, instead of many. “When you live in the suburbs and you’re driving places anyway, you end up packing more into your day.” It might take more time to choose the bus, but Sam loves the ride and Kathryn doesn’t feel like she’s dragging him from place to place. “Less lugging, more hugging,” she said. “I find we’re just so much more relaxed.”

King Edward Park

Dan & Kathryn are certainly happy with their decision to live in a mature neighbourhood, and they suggested the choice is more common than people think. “We’re not an anomaly,” Kathryn declared. “People think we’re an anomaly, but we’re not.”

About King Edward Park

According to the 2009 municipal census, nearly 4400 people live in King Edward Park. Roughly 32% of the population is under the age of 20 and 64% of the population is under the age of 40. The neighbourhood is split evenly between owners and renters. Single-detached homes are the most common type of structure, followed by low-rise (under 5 stories) apartment buildings and duplex/triplex/fourplex buildings. According to the City of Edmonton, the neighbourhood was annexed in 1912 but most development didn’t occur until the 1950s.

King Edward Park scores 72 on Walk Score, which is “very walkable”. The neighbourhood is included in the Mill Creek South Community Walking Map. It gets a Transit Score of 60 which is “good”, thanks to 41 nearby bus routes. King Edward Park is one of six neighbourhoods in Edmonton to take part in the speed reduction pilot, with speed limits lowered to 40km/h.

The neighbourhood is scheduled for reconstruction as part of the 2012-14 construction program (work will include roadway construction, street lighting upgrades, and sidewalk, curb, and gutter reconstruction). It was part of the drainage renewal program last year.

Central State of Mind

Would you like to be featured in the series, or do you know someone else who might like to be? If so, please get in touch! And if you haven’t already read it, David Thompson’s column on the cost of urban sprawl in Edmonton is definitely worth your time.