Meeting up with friends, hitting the gym, relaxing at home with your feet up after a hard day at work. What would you do with the extra hours you could save travelling to and from the office? The next time you're stuck in a traffic jam envisioning better possibilities, many happy downtown dwellers are already living out the dream.
"From the time I leave out the door and walk to work it takes ten minutes." For Sarah Kelly, who works in Finance at Manulife Place, it's a life well lived. Her relocation to Edmonton's core just made sense.
"I was living south side and got a new job downtown - it would have taken me an hour to get home at the end of the day. Instead I sold my place and moved closer to work. That was 13 years ago and it's been great."
That's freed up a lot of prime time after work to enjoy the sights, sounds and attractions in the heart of the city. For Sarah and her partner it's all about walkability, liveability and convenience. "We are last minute people, we can walk up and buy tickets to concerts at the new arena, go to the Citadel, Winspear or Art Gallery of Alberta."
Sarah enjoys her morning smoothie at Kb&co on 104th street before heading into work.
A typical Saturday for her includes hitting the farmers market, and meeting girlfriends for brunch, yoga or a stroll through the river valley. The evening might be going to a hockey game and wrapping up with dinner at a restaurant or grabbing a coffee at Credo on 104th Street. "The Downtown has been totally re-energized and it's been fantastic to see and be part of the growth."
According to the City of Edmonton, the buzz downtown is growing every day. The City says private developers and public organizations have invested over $5 billion in the core. This includes construction of the new Rogers Place arena, development of urban parks, new drainage systems, bike lanes and spectacular developments like the public plaza and condo SKY residences in the Ice District. A Downtown Business Association 2017 report finds that more than 1,800 residential units are under construction in the city core and another 6,000 to 7,000 units are being planned.
The types and designs of condo homes to choose from are endless. Sarah lives in a smaller building of only 40 units and loves the California style and open courtyard. It's a generous 1,000 sq foot 2 bedroom 2 bath condo that meets her and her partner's needs. Located north of Audrey's books, it's within walking distance to the Save On grocery store, excellent shops and restaurants, and she's excited for the new green space proposed in the area.
Chris Henderson, Principal Strategist from ZGM Modern Marketing Partners, prefers living on the fringe. He and his wife have a walk-up townhouse just west of the High Level Bridge. It's a community he describes as vibrant and a place that "aligns all his preferences" including a small backyard for family barbecues and a park close by. Chris has lived in the area for the last ten years and enjoys his daily twenty minute stroll to work - which includes one steaming cup of Almond Latte Grande from District Cafe & Bakery along the way. He also favours the LRT and downsized the couple’s second vehicle, a decision that's worked out very nicely. "We did the math, and figured out in car payments that we could pay of our mortgage 1/4 faster without a second car."
There's another added advantage - being immersed and living in the downtown enhances his job. "On the weekend, we might head out the farmers market, even if we don't buy anything we go to talk to people. It's a great way to feel connected to the spirit of the city. It helps me with work, experiencing it all the time and building on that helps us in our business. It’s the people -- that’s what Edmonton is."
Safety is another key issue important to residents and workers in the core. According to the Downtown Business Association survey, "Mapping Growth: A Comparative Look at Downtown's Transformation," 63% of respondents feel safe in the downtown at night. That's up from 39% in 2010. "The vibrancy has changed," says Sarah. "There are definitely more people walking around, and the more people there are, the better it is. If it was too quiet, you wouldn’t go out.” Chris agrees, "You take a little bit of the bad with the good with the foot traffic. Being near the High Level Bridge we do get some activity but it actually makes it safer."
And Sarah is quite comfortable in her building too. "’There's an older lady who lives on an upper floor who is very friendly - there's nothing better than to be in PJs and run upstairs to borrow some sugar, or a bottle of wine!", she laughs. In Chris's neighbourhood, it's all about familiarity - some of the couple's closest friends live only a few blocks away. His brother is one condo away and his Mom and Dad live in a penthouse in a building behind him. "My Mom likes to go on her scooter and walk the dog and her biggest worry is if someone will shovel the walk."
While there is a fantastic mix of people of all ages living downtown, the urban renewal is attracting more and more young professionals. Entertainment and dining are top of the list. "I've lived in Calgary and the Edmonton food scene is catching up," says Sarah. "We have a better art scene, better music scene, and with the Street Festival, Folk Fest and the new Roxy being rebuilt, there's so much to do.” For Chris he likes the variety and it keeps him busy. It might be a night out at Wilfred's, the Commodore, or even grabbing a quick bite at McDonald's. With the eclectic mix of entertainment, eating options and activities, it’s official: "In the summer;” he says, “I can not leave a 20 block radius."
Adds Sarah, “There are tons of people in my industry who live downtown - lots of people in and around and under 50. A new guy in my office just told me that's where he's living now. And I thought, of course, ‘Why wouldn't you?’, it's more of a scene. It's always been there - but you have to look for it."
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