Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Why we love living downtown

Mack 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

  • Well, this die-hard Strathconan thinks this sounds completely awesome! How wonderful that downtown Edmonton has become such a great place to live (and be).

  • Jill

    I, too, live in old strathcona and think about condo living on 104th street. Although the strathcona market is close by, we always head to downtown market.

    Enjoyed this post. What’s the organic food store on the horizon?

  • Liesel

    Well, this post kinda made me feel like crying for some reason… I’m happy for you and for others for whom this kind of life is possible. My life (husband and stepkids) requires a more suburban setting but my sister is one of the friendly faces working at Credo- she moved out of our west-end basement in May into an apartment 5 minutes from Credo. So on Saturday mornings I park in her visitor parking and pretend that I live near the greatest street in Edmonton too!

  • Buddha Pest

    I worked on 104 Street, just across the street from where you and Mack live, for about 8 years from 1993 to early 2000. I’m amazed at how 104 Street has developed.

    Back in many of those years, there was nothing on 104 Street except (from Jasper Ave. to 104 Ave.) the Cecil Hotel & Tavern, a couple of small restaurants, a few large parking lots, a lot of vacant or low rent offices, and the Roost.

    If you and Mack hate what parking lots are like now downtown, you should have seen the situation back then. The parking lot that the Century is built on was one of the worst downtown. It was so bad that the City’s decision to put those colourful fences along the parking lots north of 102 Avenue were literally putting “lipstick on a pig”.

    Then, in the late 1990’s and early 2000s, some developers and other entrepreneurs took chances on the low vacancy rates and some incentives to rent and build. Along came “Hole in the Wall”, “Ric’s Grill”, and the smaller warehouse style condos on the north and south sides of the Street. It was a slow evolution, but even during those years, you got the sense that 104 Street had a lot of potential.

    The City also decided to make 104 Street less appealing to vehicular traffic by putting in dividers on the street which helped to make it more pedestrian friendly.

    Then, when the Century was developed followed by the Icon (I think that’s what’s it called), the appeal of 104 Street really took off and “the rest is history”.

    104 Street could have easily been a failure, if not for a few breaks. The nightclubs north of 102 Avenue were dominating the area for a few years. The closure of the Roost was a big break for those that don’t like nightclubs in the area. The closure of the Cecil, forced a lot of the bad element to find another place to hang out. The Centre High School at the Boardwalk building was a smart choice by EPS, but having that many students all day was tough on the area. And having Ric’s Grill , one of the first new restaurants along the street, be successful right off the hop gave 104 street some much needed credibility.

    104 Street has evolved and had its up and downs, but as you and Mack have shown, it is definitely one of the success stories downtown.

  • IP – it’s not perfect yet, but we are optimistic the effects of 104 Street can and will spread throughout the rest of downtown!

    Jill – I’m biased, but I think the City Market is the best in Edmonton :). The organic food store was being spearheaded by a local producer – the store would be carrying local, organic products year-round. Construction has been going at a snail’s pace, but we haven’t heard anything about it not going forward. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

    Liesel – we are very lucky to live where we do. But 104 is just as nice to visit too, as you said!

    Buddha Pest – we hear about the shady past of 104 Street all the time, but not in as much detail as you provided – thank you. Makes me think someone should put together a time lapse of photos of this area for the last two decades, just so people (including me) can really grasp how it’s changed. As you said, incentives and pedestrian-friendly steps like medians made such a difference – I can only hope that the City will consider more of these initiatives.

  • Angel

    When the hubs and I lived in the burbs (we bought into the whole “more bang for your buck” bit), we hit our lowest point in our home happiness. When we both sat down and listed what it was we wanted, we discovered that what we really were looking for was the hustle and bustle with the walkable convenience.

    While we both enjoyed living just off Whyte, we found that it just made more sense to move downtown. Living right in the heart of downtown, right on Jasper, gives us both what we’re looking for. And it seems as though we’re surrounded by a higher ratio of local business than we ever were anywhere else (Whyte being the exception).

    Just over a decade ago, late 90’s ish, we wouldn’t have even considered living downtown – revitalization was just gaining traction but it was a tough sell to the locals. Just walking to certain LRT stations was a frightening task late at night – you couldn’t have paid me enough to catch the last train out of the Bay Station. I was involved in a number of the discussions that the development group was having with the business owners in/around City Centre to get them on board (that my boss sent me, a lackey, pretty much sums it up perfectly). I remember their big push was future investment, and a lot of the businesses in the core at that time were very pessimistic about their views and pulling up stakes to concentrate on the burbs.

    Now that we’re in the middle of uprooting our lives to leave the city, it feels a bit heartbreaking. Because the downtown core is finally where we feel at home.

  • Angel – thanks for the comment. I have hope that others who have more recently bought into the “more bang for your buck” suburbian bit will also reconsider moving to the core because it is on its way up.

    I hope your move goes well, and that you are happy in your new home, wherever that might be.