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OPINION: This is Calgary – where we love our single-family homes

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people living on single-family home streets in Calgary’s established communities are not keen to have their streets invaded by four-plexes and heaven forbid townhomes or apartment blocks.

That’s the fear with the Guidebook for Great Communities, which comes back to the city’s planning committee on May 5.

(NOTE: There is a rebuttal to this piece from Renfrew’s Nathan Hawryluk.)

The dream of living in a single-family home, in a community of mostly single-family homeowners is part of the DNA of Calgarians (and for that matter most Canadians).  

A 2018 ThinkHQ Survey titled “Calgary Growth Perspectives” examined what Calgarians were looking for in a new home and 66 per cent were looking for a single-family home.

That’s consistent with the fact that 67 per cent of Calgarians currently live in a single-family home (56 per cent in detached, single-family homes and 11 per cent in attached duplexes).

Our Home Is Our Castle

Urban planning for the future of any city is complex and messy, especially when it comes to residential development.  After all, our home is our castle, as the saying goes.  

The six-foot fence around our homes is the moat around our castle. It protects us from intruders and being spied upon by neighbours. We love our privacy.  For most of us, our home is our biggest investment and the biggest investment risk we have ever taken.   

And, Calgarians love homeownership more than most citizens!  DYK: Calgary has one of the highest homeownership rates in the world at 68 per cent (Montreal’s is 56 per cent and Paris’s is 33 per cent).  Homeownership, like single-family living, is part of Calgary’s DNA.  

Calgary’s high home ownership is a result of several factors.

  • Calgarians have the highest household income in Canada. That means buying a home is actually an option.
  • Calgary has one of the highest employment participation rates in the country. That’s two-income families, which means more money for a bigger home. As I like to say, “the two-income family allows you to buy the two-storey home, with two garages and two-plus bathrooms.”
  • Calgary’s has a high percentage of young families. There’s a large demand for family-friendly homes with a backyard.
  • Calgary’s development has happened post World War II, when home ownership and single-family homes became popular and attainable.

The bottom line is Calgarians love their single-family homes and will do anything to preserve their value. Even if you can show them that more density and diversity of housing types in their community won’t affect its value.  And, the more expensive the home/community, the more expressive homeowners will be about not wanting any change. 

Single-Family vs Apartment Living

Homeowners of large single-family homes interact with their city differently than those in condos or apartments.  They’re more likely to spend money on home repairs and renovations versus entertainment.   

Their idea of entertainment is to hang out in their media room. Instead of going to out to a cinema or pub.  They can host friends on their private backyard patio, rather than meeting them on street-side patio.

If you’re a homeowner, you have less of a need for a fitness studio within walking distance when you have a workout room downstairs.  You don’t need a café nearby to work, as you have a home office.  You don’t need a grocery store close by, as you have a car and are shopping for several people which means a shopping cart full of groceries, not a backpack load.

Simply put, when you own a large single-family home, you don’t need the same amenities you do when you live in a 500 square-foot apartment. 

Last Word

What makes a great community is in the eye of the homeowner, not city planners and politicians. There is strong group think amongst North American planners and that our cities must grow up and not out. That means established communities must welcome more density and be like European cities. 

While they may be right, Calgarians aren’t buying it.  Why?  Because unlike Europeans we love owning (or dreaming about owning) a large single-family home, in a community with mostly other single-family homes. We aren’t about to let planners and politicians tell us we can’t.

For the majority of Calgarians, a great community is one that is dominated by large single-family homes.

If you reduce the supply of single-family homes in established communities, you will increase the value of the remaining homes, making it more difficult for the average Calgarian to buy them.

And those are fighting words.