After 50+ years of designing cities to accommodate automobile traffic, cities around the world - Calgary included - are now focusing on how to make new and old communities more walkable. The vision is to create “complete communities” where residents can walk to many of their daily and weekly activities and cycle and drive to other activities as needed.
I think it would surprise many Calgary planners and politicians to know that 49% of Calgarians surveyed in 2018 thought they lived in a “complete community” today. The study also found 78% of Calgarians find the concept of “complete communities” to be an appealing one.
At the same time, the elements of a complete community are not high on Calgarians priority list when it comes to buying a house. Confused? Read on….
A survey of 1239 Calgarians conducted by Calgary-based ThinkHQ Public Affairs in June 2018 for BILD Calgary Region (an association of developers and home builders) provides some interesting insights.
When Calgarians were asked, “How appealing is the concept of a “Complete Community” to you?” a whopping 78% said a “complete community” is appealing to them (35% said “very appealing” and 43% “fairly appealing”).
FYI: A “complete community” was defined as a mini-city, with housing and employment options and walkability to shops and restaurants all located within one community.
Those living in the inner-city (83%) were more likely to say a “complete community” is appealing to them than those in other parts of the city. An overwhelming 95% of those with young families thought living in a “complete community” would be appealing.
Do you live in a “complete community?”
Then Calgarians were asked, “How well would you say the phrase ‘complete community’ describes the community where you are currently living today?”
The response - 49% of Calgarians think they already live in a “complete community,” 28% say they don’t live in a complete community, with 23% not sure. Those living in the inner city were more likely to say they lived a complete community than those living elsewhere in Calgary, but only by a slight margin.
Surprisingly, 66% of parents of young families think they already live in a “complete community,” while only 44 of empty nesters think they live in a complete community. This may reflect that empty nesters live in established communities built in the mid 20th century without modern amenities, while young families live in new master planned communities with lots of amenities.
As I stated earlier, I bet most Calgary politicians, planners and urbanists who read ThinkHQ’s “Calgary Growth Perspectives” were surprised 49% of Calgarians (66% with young families) think they already live in a “complete community.”
What is really important?
ThinkHQ’s survey then dug deeper to find out what attributes of a “complete community” were really important to Calgarians.
Of key importance is access to stores, restaurants and services, followed by easy and safe access for walking and cycling in the community, then quality public spaces, playgrounds, parks, then by access to healthcare options and finally access to transit.
Of modest importance is access to recreation, health & fitness centers, followed by living close to where you work, then access to schools (this was surprise), then employment opportunities within the community, followed by mixed-use developments and finally diversity of housing options.
Of least importance is seniors’ housing options, followed by communities with a sustainable footprint, then diverse neighbourhood, public art and heritage preservation and finally of least importance was access to arts and cultural facilities.
The survey documented that Calgarians (young/ old, inner-city/suburban, condo/single family dweller) all think alike when it comes to the top five things they are looking for in a “complete community.”
Price beats community
However, when Calgarians were asked to rank what are the most importance factors in the purchase of a home:
88% said: A price that is well within my budget
77% said: Amenities of the home (size/layout/#bedrooms/bathrooms, yard)
52% said: A specific quadrant of the city
43% said: Type of community (new/suburb or established or inner city)
41% said: “Completed Community” elements
The ThinkHQ survey clearly demonstrates that when push comes to shove Calgarians have two key considerations when purchasing a home - PRICE and the AMENITIES of the home itself not the community.
So, while 78% of Calgarians think living in a “complete aka walkable community” is appealing, it is not a high priority. And communities with sustainable environmental footprints and higher density was ranked #13 in importance out of 16 attributes of a “complete community.”
What does this all mean?
If the City of Calgary wants more people to live in older communities as per the Municipal Development Plan, it must find a way to work with developers building infill homes – be they condos or single family – that are more affordable compared to those on the edge of the city.
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