Once upon at time, Calgary was known as the “single family home” capital of Canada. This was due in large part to the city’s 9.5-fold growth, from 1951 to 2001, a time when owning a single family home was the North American dream. Today, Calgary boasts one of the most diverse housing markets in North America – new single family, townhomes, low-rise and high-rise condo construction is happening across the city. 2014 was a watershed year for condo construction with 10,637 starts vs only 6,494 single family starts.
Dr. Harry Hiller, Sociology Professor, University of Calgary postulates “Until the late ‘70s, most new residents to Calgary were from rural communities which meant they were used to living in a single family detached house with grass on all four sides. High density apartment living was seen as something for students, seniors and renters.”
But today, Hiller notes “more and more new Calgarians come from urban centers where high density living is more typical. In addition, families are smaller and childbearing delayed, both opening the door for young professionals to adopt the condo lifestyle.” He adds, “The rise of the condo as an owned unit in a high density building where equity can be sustained is a relatively recent development that is becoming more popular.”
By the ‘90s, Calgary planners, politicians and developers began to realize the need to plan a city that would be more cost effective to manage. This meant rethinking how to build new communities on the city’s edge, diversifying housing in post 1950s residential-only communities and attracting more people to live near downtown.
Live, Work, Play Mantra
Today, new master planned communities on the edge of the city offer a balance of single family (on smaller lots) homes, townhomes and low-rise condos. Wendy Jabush, VP Calgary Homes, Brookfield Residential says, “We continue to see the condo market grow in Calgary with the changing demographics. Condo living is very attractive to smaller households and people of all ages looking for maintenance-free living.” She adds, “Both the City and industry want choice in communities. Both parties are looking for a diversity of housing types to serve the changing face of Calgary and one that is inclusive of everyone's needs.”
Calgary’s established communities are being revitalized with numerous master-planned condo communities like Bridges, East Village and West District, as well as mixed of condo, townhome and single family communities like Currie Barracks, Quarry Park and Garrison Woods.
Today, it’s all about the new mantra, “live, work, play” communities where residents can do most of their everyday living without leaving the community - some even work in the community. Unlike the mid to late 20th century, when new communities were 90% residential, today new communities approximate 50% residential, 25% commercial and 25% retail, restaurant and recreation
Calgary has one of the most dynamic downtowns in North America - built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago. Unfortunately, most of downtown’s growth in the late 20th century was high-rise office towers.
By the late 20th century Calgary’s urban culture came of age with festivals like Folk Festival, Art Walk, High Performance Rodeo and SLED Island. At the same time, Business Revitalization Zones in and next to downtown were successfully fostering street life – 4th Street, 17th Avenue, Kensington, Stephen Avenue and Inglewood.
According to John Gilchrist, author of My Favourite Restaurants Calgary & Banff, “In 1985, Calgary’s downtown dining options were largely hotel dining rooms or Chinatown restaurants. Today, there are hundreds of great restaurants in and around downtown with interesting new ones opening up every month. It’s an interesting place to live.”
By the mid ‘90s, condos were organically (no master plan) popping up on surface parking lots in the Beltline, Eau Claire, Mission and West Downtown. This was followed by master-planned communities like East Village and Bridges. In 2015, new condo development with retail at street level is happening in Altadore, Bankview, Bridgeland, Kensington, Marda Loop, Montgomery, Parkdale, Brentwood and West Hillhurst.
Parham Mahboubi, Vice-president Planning & Marketing with Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark Group thinks “Calgary’s eclectic Beltline offers an urban experience on par with Vancouver’s Main Street, Granville Street, Gastown, Kitsilano and West End.”
Ryan Bosa, President, Embassy BOSA is currently building condos in East Village (and soon Currie Barracks and Beltline) echoes that sentiment. He fell in love with downtown back in the ‘90s when his Dad, Nat Bosa pioneered condo living in Calgary with the construction of five condos in Calgary’s West End. “When he first saw Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s vision for East Village, toured the site and saw how our downtown had evolved, his immediate thought was “this is hands down the best condo play in North America. I am all in!”
For Calgarians Richard and Debbie Brekke, the idea of moving from their Elbow Park home after 25 years to a condo in Mission, was a no-brainer. “It simplified our lives and gave us more time for fun.” Richard loves their floor to ceiling view of downtown and doesn’t miss looking out his Elbow Park window and feeling guilty because he hasn’t “cut the lawn or weeded the garden.” Debbie, loves the street life on 4th - “I didn’t want to wait 10 years!”
Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and was first published on April 10, 2015 in their CONDO XTRA special publication.
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