Street in the Calgary township of Scarboro. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE
It should come as no surprise that people who live in single-family homes in Calgary’s established communities are not interested in their streets being haunted by quadruples and the heavens forbidding townhouses or apartment blocks.
That’s the fear of the large community guide returning to the city’s planning committee on May 5th.
The dream of living in a single family home, in a community of mostly single family homeowners, is part of the Calgarians (and most Canadians) DNA.
A 2018 ThinkHQ survey, titled Calgary Growth Perspectives, looked at what Calgarians were looking for in a new home and 66 percent looking for a single family home.
This is in line with the fact that 67 percent of Calgarians currently live in a single family home (56 percent in single family homes and 11 percent in attached maisonettes).
Our home is our castle
Urban planning for the future of a city is complex and chaotic, especially when it comes to residential developments. After all, as the saying goes, our home is our castle.
The six foot high fence around our houses is the moat around our castle. It protects us from intruders and is spied on by neighbors. We love our privacy. For most of us, our home is our largest investment and risk that we have ever taken.
And Calgarians love home ownership more than most citizens! DYK: Calgary has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world at 68 percent (Montreal is 56 percent and Paris is 33 percent). Homeownership, like living in single-family homes, is part of Calgary’s DNA.
Calgary’s high home ownership is due to several factors.
- Calgarians have the highest household incomes in Canada. That means that buying a home is actually an option.
- Calgary has one of the highest employment rates in the country. These are families with two incomes, which means more money for a bigger home. As I would like to say, “With the family with two incomes, you can buy the two-story house with two garages and more than two bathrooms.”
- Calgary has a high percentage of young families. There is a great demand for family-friendly backyard homes.
- Calgary’s development took place after World War II, when home ownership and single-family homes became popular and accessible.
The bottom line is that Calgarians love their single family homes and do everything possible to maintain their value. Even if you can show them that the greater density and diversity of housing types in their community does not affect their value. And the more expensive the house / community is, the more expressive homeowners will be about not wanting change.
Single Family Home vs. Apartment Living
Homeowners of large single-family homes interact with their city differently than in condominiums or apartments. They are more likely to spend money on home repairs and renovations than on entertainment.
Their idea of entertainment is to hang out in their media room. Instead of going to the cinema or the pub. You can take in friends on their private backyard patio instead of meeting them on the street patio.
If you’re a homeowner, less need for a gym within walking distance when you have an exercise room downstairs. You don’t need a coffee shop nearby to work as you have a home office. You don’t need a grocery store nearby as you have a car and you shop for multiple people which means a shopping cart is full of groceries, not a backpack load.
Simply put, if you own a large family home, you don’t need the same amenities as you would in a 500-square-foot apartment.
What makes a great community is in the eyes of the homeowner, not the city planners and politicians. There is a strong groupthink among North American planners and our cities need to grow up, not out. This means that established communities welcome more density and need to be like European cities.
While they may be right, Calgarians are not buying it. Why? Because, unlike Europeans, we love to own (or dream of) a large single family home in a community with most other single family homes. We don’t let planners and politicians tell us that we can’t.
For the majority of the Calgarians, a large community is one that is dominated by large single-family homes.
When you reduce the supply of single-family homes in established communities, you increase the value of the remaining homes, making them more difficult for the average Calgarian to buy.
And those are fighting words.