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From suburban to urban

NorthYorkEd

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My wife and I are early-40s, both employed, no kids by choice. We lived in the burbs for most of our lives and then sold our house to move closer to the city. Now leasing a condo in the North York city center area, we are enjoying all the benefits of a more urban lifestyle (though I'm sure some would argue that NYCC is far from truly urban). But it is a good stepping stone for us.

My question is mostly for those who moved into the city after being raised or living in the burbs, but anyone is free to chime in. Was "urban" something you were personality-wise, or did it take some getting used to? Was it easy to shake off the more demanding aspects of city life, or did you have to work at it over time?
 

urbandreamer

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I've lived all across Canada, from small hamlet to suburb to city. I would say other than Montreal and perhaps Vancouver's West End, most of Canada is not really intensely urban. Toronto is really mostly SFH with pockets of condos and apartment buildings. A good compromise for you may be the Annex, High Park/Junction/Roncevalles or Little Italy/Ossington area. The quietest and most relaxing place I ever lived was in the Annex, really a stone's throw from the Brunswick House.

Perhaps the most intense "downtown" feeling I get in Toronto is around King and Spadina ... yet it's really not that busy.

Personality? I call it the laziness factor. :) Just because you live "downtown" doesn't mean you'll eat out every night, or go clubbing or to the theatre. It's just more convenient if you don't want to drive everywhere or loathe walking miles to get the basics. OTOH, I know several downtown condo dwellers who insist on driving everywhere--their condo lifestyle really is similar to the suburbs minus the Tim Hortons in the lobby.

I like both intense living--Williamsburg is perfect for me--and rural isolation. The suburbs are just a poor compromise.
 
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NorthYorkEd

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Personality? I call it the laziness factor. :) Just because you live "downtown" doesn't mean you'll eat out every night, or go clubbing or to the theatre. It's just more convenient if you don't want to drive everywhere or loathe walking miles to get the basics. OTOH, I know several downtown condo dwellers who insist on driving everywhere--their condo lifestyle really is similar to the suburbs minus the Tim Hortons in the lobby.

An example of "personality" factors might be an area like The Beach or Leslieville, where cars are always jammed on all the side-streets. For me, it would be a nightmare trying to find a spot near my home or doing 3 and 5-point turns just to get in and out. That type of congestion would negate a lot of the positives. But I know the idea is to not use the car, but sometimes you have to drive and sometimes friends and family visit, or service people come over, whatever. I just don't know how people function in such constant tight congestion without losing their minds. So do they adapt, or is there just something in their personality that this just rolls off? Maybe it is easier when you are younger, but at our age, the loss of a certain amount of personal space is sometimes a challenge.

I like both intense living--Williamsburg is perfect for me--and rural isolation. The suburbs are just a poor compromise.

I'm not familiar with Williamsburg, but I agree that it's either urban or rural for us as well. :)
 

M.R.Victor

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For me, there was definitely a period of adjustment. I lived a good chuck of my life in the suburbs of a small sized rust-belt US city, before moving to Toronto. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the visual stimulation, the large amount of casual interaction, the sheer number of people, and the amount of walking I ended up doing (I was a university student). It was a vastly different cognitive experience from the usual, pattern-based suburban life that I had been accustomed to.

Having lived in Toronto for upwards of 9 years now, I really couldn't go back to suburban life. It's not a zero-sum game, and, for me, all the trade-offs of city life have become catalysts for positive change. I think this is one of those transitions that I've made for a lifetime. I now appreciate the tranquility of the country-side significantly more than ever before, but the predictability of suburban life leaves me feeling drained of energy. The huge distance, effort and expenditure required for most activities creates a sort of psychological dis-incentive from doing anything but the basics. I'd say the quality of my life has dramatically improved.
 

NorthYorkEd

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The huge distance, effort and expenditure required for most activities creates a sort of psychological dis-incentive from doing anything but the basics. I'd say the quality of my life has dramatically improved.

Agreed. While in the burbs, we found ourselves not doing as much in the city because it involved a substantial effort just to get there. Now we are always doing stuff, and discovering new things, because it is so easy and convenient. It's funny because at one time we were content to hang around the house, pull weeds in the yard, talk about doing the floors or the kitchen or whatever. Now we just love finishing dinner and heading out to the streets. Our home is more of a crash-pad; a place to eat, sleep, or have some quiet time in between doing all this other stuff.
 

Silence&Motion

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My wife and I are early-40s, both employed, no kids by choice. We lived in the burbs for most of our lives and then sold our house to move closer to the city. Now leasing a condo in the North York city center area, we are enjoying all the benefits of a more urban lifestyle (though I'm sure some would argue that NYCC is far from truly urban). But it is a good stepping stone for us.

My question is mostly for those who moved into the city after being raised or living in the burbs, but anyone is free to chime in. Was "urban" something you were personality-wise, or did it take some getting used to? Was it easy to shake off the more demanding aspects of city life, or did you have to work at it over time?

I grew up in Scarborough, lived in suburban Waterloo for university, and moved to downtown Toronto when I finished my degree. I definitely think it was a personality thing. As a teenager in the late 1990s, my image of the suburbs was people in khakis and golf shirts, living out of their SUV. Spending most of their weekdays working in office parks and their weekends going to the shopping mall and mowing their lawn. I loved going down to gritty Yonge Street, Queen West, and Kensington Market. I kind of hated everything about the suburban lifestyle. Even though I could drive, I choose to bike or take the bus. I always felt my progressive politics put me out of place with the blue Liberal ridings in the area.

I'm happy to be downtown now, and I love the lifestyle it offers me (particularly being able to cycle instead of drive). But downtown and the suburbs have both changed since I was a teenager (as have my views on them). I appreciate Scarborough more now that I'm gone. I realize that there's a lot of great food and great parks out there. I find the strip malls that I used to take for granted to be full of interesting places. I still find the 905 to be completely detestable, though. The few times I've been to Vaughan Mills Mall have made me want to commit suicide.

Ironically, I used to go downtown to escape the Jack Astors and ticky-tack houses of the suburbs. Now there are Jack Astors and ticky-tack condos all over downtown.

Nonetheless, I'd like to stay living within the old city of Toronto, or East York at the furthest.
 

FinchConnection

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I grew up in Willowdale - very near to where you are currently living and I remember when everything north of steels was still farmland. It was outrageously suburban back then (although the Don Mills community I was in was one of Canada's great urban experiments) and I remember that going downtown was very much a luxury. I loved my neighbourhood, I was never bored or held malcontent for the area but when I began going to U of T downtown it was as if a switch had been hit. The sheer endless possibilities of being downtown, the various experiences, festivals, relative ease of getting around offered me a truly satisfying experience.

While not being bothered by the bustling that is downtown, I do miss the East Don Parkland trails that I would walk my dog / bike through on the weekends. I've been able to find that tranquility where I live now - at Yonge and Wellesley. This community has grown on me (initially I wasn't sure whether the village would have anything to offer me but I quickly discovered otherwise). The close proximity to green space, my balcony facing North, my gym, the subway, and the multitude of bars, restaurants and coffee shops I frequent regularly changed my perspective.

I held the misconception that only condo's outside of the core were friendly and that residents in condos / apartments downtown were cold and unwelcoming but I was very wrong. The residents here are warm, forthcoming and on the most part, very considerate.

Among my childhood friends from North York, I was really the first to immerse myself in downtown living (many had moved off to London and Kingston for university and upon returning had moved back home). They visit with me regularly and I've demonstrated to them how enjoyable and rewarding this lifestyle is.

So to answer your question, I believe that sure you can have a predisposition towards urban living due to your own childhood or adult circumstances but given the right exposure / examples anyone can make the transition. The people that I know who have rejected living downtown are those wedded to the notion of having a big house and a big backyard - unfortunately for them many have had to move to Stouffville, Uxbridge and Barrie in order to have it.
 
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TOperson

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My personality was urban before I knew that even was. I grew up in the suburbs and hated it, and even now when I am in a suburban environment I feel sort of ... pulled down. It's a downer, for me. I don't mind older suburbs with big mature leafy trees. The trees make a difference. I suppose it makes the environment feel more natural.

I've noticed that a person's comfort level with urban living is related to how essential they think a car is. Some people think you MUST have a car to be a functioning adult. But cars are a huge hassle downtown, so if you feel you must have one and use it for everything, you will probably be happier in the suburbs, just because there is room for cars. If you are OK with walking, transit, cycling, you will probably enjoy living downtown.
 

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My wife and I grew up in Toronto and couldn't leave fast enough for the tranquility and open spaces of the 'burbs.
Married in 1959, we bought a starter home in the DVP/ York Mills Rd area and raised 4 children, all of whom on cue ( as dictated by the current opinion that the tree line was down the centre of Eglinton Avenue) denounced the 'burbs as some sort of Siberia and moved "downtown" when they finished school.

Number One has since purchased a Condo on York Mills Rd. If he had children they would be attending the same schools he did. And he drives.
Number Two lives in Barrie and drives a pick up truck. His passion is wild life photography.
Number Three lives in Burlington and is a school trustee, how's that for born again suburbanite.
Number Four lives in the High Park/Junction area and is your last hope. Maybe not for long as the kids grow up.
 

M.R.Victor

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Well, I'm sure we all hope that, as the suburbs become more dense, urban, and serviceable by transit, your children will have the opportunity to raise their own families in a comfortable and affordable fashion while being able to do so in a relatively sustainable manner.
 

tariqata

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I loved going down to gritty Yonge Street, Queen West, and Kensington Market. I kind of hated everything about the suburban lifestyle.

I resemble this remark - took the bus and subway downtown from Richmond Hill whenever the opportunity arose in high school, started staying over at my boyfriend's apartment on Ontario Street on weekends once I started university, and moved into the city as soon as I could afford rent.

However, every place I've lived in the city has been a secondary apartment in a house or above a store, and when the then-boyfriend/now-husband and I started thinking that home ownership was the next step, we ultimately chose to buy a house in one of the streetcar suburbs rather than go with an option like a condo. It's well-connected to the rest of the city by transit and there's a lot to do within walking and cycling distance, and it's much, much more densely populated than the suburbs where we grew up, but there's still a little bubble of private space for us to be homebodies in. I think this kind of compromise neighbourhood definitely fits my own personality, at least, although other factors play into the decision too (e.g., the fact that I'm terrified of heights means that I really don't want to live any higher than a third floor!).
 

Ex-Montreal Girl

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I am in the middle, although closer to downtown than any suburb. A streetcar suburb as Tariqata says, with streets nicely laid out in a neat grid.

I grew up in Montreal in areas very close to the core. Not downtown but within a 45 minute or so bus ride (and maybe a transfer to another bus or the subway) from the old Forum or Eaton's (the defunct department store) or Expo 67 or my university. The streets were quiet enough for the kids to play hockey or hopscotch on while we were within walking distance, always, of almost everything we needed.

When we moved to Toronto, we chose Riverdale because it seemed familiar (although the houses were half the size and twice the price of what we knew back home.) We preferred Riverdale to the Annex because the east side seems less cramped than the west side. Also, I love the Danforth.

Now, two houses and a condo later, we're still in the hood.

I could never live right downtown -- even in St. Lawrence which I admire -- and the thought of having to fight traffic or TTC congestion kills me. I can easily walk, bike, bus, subway to streetcar to work. And the Danforth shops are just, as the real estate agents say, steps away. We have a car but it's rarely used weekdays.

Our Montreal condo is downtown but ever-so-slightly removed from the insanity, thanks to its proximity to the mountain. It's about as downtown as I would ever want to live.
 

W. K. Lis

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Other than the Rob Ford administration, other jurisdictions are finding out that people are driving less.

This article, at this link, describes:

The Driving Decline

The number of miles driven in Kansas has fallen sharply, yet we continue to spend enormous sums of money building roadways that don’t support bicycling and walking for transportation.

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest organization, has released a report, Moving Off The Road, that provides a state-by-state analysis of national driving trends. The report “analyzes which states drive more miles per-person, which states have reduced their driving the most since the end of the national Driving Boom, and how state changes in driving behavior correspond to other changes such as growing unemployment or urbanizationâ€.

How has Kansas fared?

In the period from 2005-2011, the average number of per-person vehicle miles traveled dropped by 3.12%.

The “peak†year for Kansas was 2006, and it’s been going down ever since (a total of 4.4% from the peak), to 10,456 vehicle-miles per person in 2011.

And our neighbors? Arkansas -2.50%, Colorado -11.40%, Iowa -2.47%, Missouri -3.45%, Nebraska -5.53%, Oklahoma -5.54%. Everyone’s driving less.

Why does this matter? Because it changes everything about our transportation system!

If we’re driving less and less, then there’s less and less of a need to continue building new roads, and there’s less and less fuel tax revenue for roadway construction, maintenance, and repair (especially once ever-improving fuel economy is factored in).

In other words, a funding crisis is looming.

Which makes it all the more important to invest our limited transportation dollars on projects that are the most cost-efficient, and that have the greatest return on investment, and can positively impact the greatest number of people.

Yep, that’d be bike/ped projects.

That should be no surprise, given some of the conclusions that have been reached in recent years:


  • Bicycling infrastructure is incredibly cost-effective. The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, for instance, determined that a $30 million investment could pay for either one mile of street widening, 600 miles of quality bike lanes, 100 miles of sidewalk, 300 miles of buffered bike lanes, 120 miles of bicycle boulevards, 30 miles of bike trails, or 20 miles of physically-separated cycle tracks. (What will $30 million in transportation funding buy?) Now, which of those choices has the most impact for the largest number of people?
  • In urban areas, where cars and bicyclists travel at similar speeds, bike lanes can accommodate 7 to 12 times as many people per meter of lane per hour than car lanes, and bicycles cause less wear on the pavement. [link]
  • For the cost of repaving 3 miles of Interstate 710, CalTrans could sign and stripe 1,250 miles of California roads for bike lanes. [link]
  • For every $1 spent on bike infrastructure, cities save around $5. [link]
  • Roadways require a HUGE subsidy, year in and year out. Drivers pay just 51% of the cost of U.S. roads & highways.
  • In Kansas, less than 30% of roadway spending is paid directly by drivers of motor vehicles. The remaining 70% is paid by everyone, whether they drive or not, from general revenue (i.e. taxes). [link]
  • The true costs of driving are enormous. CommuteSolutions.org estimates it (as of 2010) at about $1.36 per mile. [link]
  • And yet, the vast majority of automobile trips (69%) are two miles or less, an easy distance for bicycling. [link]
  • One mile on a bike is a $.42 economic gain to society, one mile driving is a $.20 loss
  • 83% of Americans support maintaining or growing federal funding for sidewalks, bikeways, and bike paths.


Read the whole article at this link.
 

Ex-Montreal Girl

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I predict that, by 2038, bikes (pedal power and electric) will vastly outnumber cars on our roads.

My only regret is that I will be too old to do wheelies on the empty DVP.
 

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