Sharon and I decided to collaborate on this post. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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
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.
104 Street & Jasper Avenue on a rainy day last year
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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!
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.
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!
The view from our balcony