Surfing the realtor.ca website (which I am prone to do every once in awhile), I wondered how the economic downturn is impacting the sale of luxury homes in Calgary and area. Plugging in a lower limit of one million dollars while keeping the screen the same size, I scrolled over the inner city communities immediately north and south of the Bow River and to quickly find how many homes met those criteria.
No surprise that Mount Royal, Roxboro, and Elbow Park resulted in the most hits (61). But what was surprising was West Hillhurst, Parkdale, St. Andrew’s Heights and Briar Hill (WPAB) got the second most hits (53).
Why is WPAB Booming?
Calgary is segregated into four quadrants, each with its own economic engine. The SW communities’ vibrancy is linked to downtown and the oil and gas engine, the SE neighbourhoods serve Calgary’s thriving warehouse/distribution engine, while the NE communities thrive on the every-expanding airport engine and the NW neighbourhoods support the city’s mega education and medical campuses.
While downtown gets most of the attention as Calgary’s major employment centre, (as does the airport with its multi-billion dollar expansion), Calgary’s NW quadrant, aka The Learning City, has also experienced significant growth. In the past decade, SAIT and the University of Calgary have undertaken huge expansion programs, as has the mammoth Foothills Medical Centre campus. As well the Alberta Children’s Hospital moved to the NW in 2006 into a new mega building.
Since 2001, SAIT has added four major new buildings including the opening of the 740,000 square foot Trades and Technology Complex that can accommodate 8,100 full and part time students. Today SAIT has 2,600 faculty and 15,311 students (a 9% increase since 2012). Similarly, student enrollment at the University of Calgary has grown from 24,000 in 2006 to 31,000 today, with a faculty of 1,800.
These expansions bring with an increase in high-income earners. Sure, the doctors and professors don’t have the stock option plans of the oil patch, but their salaries and reasonably secure jobs are sufficient to support a strong luxury home market.
A quick check of the city’s website shows the median annual household income for a couple with children in WPAB ranges from Briar Hill’s $181,167 to Parkdale’s, $132,276, compared to the city average of $115,908.
Today, custom homebuilders’ signs are commonplace in WPAB.
Location Location Location
WPAB is perfectly situated for a short commute (walk, bike, transit or vehicle) to all NW post-secondary and medical campuses; as well Mount Royal University is just a few minutes south on Crowchild Trail (except at rush hour). In addition, downtown is also minutes away for those oil patch employees, bankers and lawyers who want more bang for their housing buck.
WPAB is not only great for families with kids attending post-secondary schools, but also for those with young children. There are literally playgrounds every few blocks; including Helicopter Park (named after the STARS helicopter that often flies overhead on its way to the Foothills Medical Centre and yes, it does include a helicopter climbing apparatus) one of the most popular playgrounds in the city.
When it comes to skating rinks, WPAB is charmingly old-school - several outdoor skating rinks exist and it is not uncommon to see dad out flooding the rink next to one of the playgrounds just like it was the 1950s all over again.
Residents of WPAB enjoy easy access to the Bow River Pathways, making for a short and easy bike ride to downtown for work or pleasure, or a nice, walk or run year-round. From a recreation standpoint, the old-school West Hillhurst Recreation centre offers an arena, gym, squash courts and an outdoor pool and tennis courts. As well, many amenities exist at SAIT and the University of Calgary, especially if you work there.
Culturally, a 10-minute drive in the evening gets you to downtown theatres or live music venues, the Jubilee Theatre as well as the University of Calgary and Mount Royal theatres and concert halls. You can walk to McMahon Stadium for Stampeder games. And if you want to get to the Rockies for skiing, boarding, hiking or biking, it is just 6 stoplights or less until you are out of town.
Luxury Home Evolution
Full disclosure: yes, I live in West Hillhurst and have lived there since the early ‘90s. When I first moved here, almost all of the infills were “skinnys,” i.e. houses on 25-foot lots. However, about 15 years ago things started to change and more often than not these new infills were either large luxury homes on 50-foot lots, or attached duplexes that looked like mansions.
Who would have thought 25 years ago that you could sell a duplex in West Hillhurst or Parkdale for over a million dollars?
For over 20 years, I have observed new infills of all shapes, sizes and styles being built on almost every block in WPAB. Yet there are still many cottage homes from the 30s, 40s and 50s on almost every block in West Hillhurst and Parkdale.
The same phenomenon exists along the St. Andrew’s Heights and Briar Hill ridge, where multi-million dollar, multi-level, Architectural Digest - worthy homes are interspersed with what were luxury ranch homes in the 50s and 60s.
WPAB is testament to how healthy communities evolve slowly over time. I expect in another 20 years, my early ‘90s home will be ready for the next generation to move in and renovate or build something new that better meets the needs of mid-21st century families.
While some may think the infilling of Calgary’s inner city communities is happening too quickly, in fact, it is happening gradually over decades – there are still lots of older homes on most streets.
Healthy communities evolve over time in a manner that will attract new families who will keep them viable and vibrant.
Calgary's inner city northwest communities are becoming very cool urban places to live, work and play.
Note: This blog was commissioned by Source Media for their Domus Magazine in January 2016.
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