When my wife and I moved to London, Ontario in 2009 from Calgary, Alberta, we decided to give inner city living a try. The result? We haven’t been happier! A smaller, established city such as ours has a lot of amenities and potential going for it. While there is always room for improvement, I wanted to share some of my favourite things about our inner city living decision.
I also acknowledge that everyone’s life circumstances are different, requiring different needs – not one shoe fits all. I merely wish to share some of our positive experiences and advocate that inner city living is a great opportunity that one should consider when deciding where to live in any city.
1) Commuting made easy, with exercise to boot!
One of my personal favourite things about living in the inner city is the ability to easily commute downtown without a vehicle. In the summertime, I ride my bike, which takes 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic (with minimal delays). I love being able to jump from neighbourhood streets, to mixed traffic, to river trails seamlessly during my commute. In the wintertime, I choose to walk, which takes 25-30 minutes.
Regardless of the travel method, the easy benefit to see here is the exercise I obtain. Instead of having to drag myself to a gym (we all know how motivation plays into this), this utilitarian exercise is built into my daily routine, so it’s harder to make an excuse. Full disclosure – I sometimes work from home as well. Also, you will generally see me “plugged in” to my headphones along the walk, but instead of music, I typically have an audiobook or podcast pumping in my ears. It’s truly amazing what knowledge you can gain with 30-60 minutes of commute time per day.
When I first started this routine, I thought I would dread this type of commute, but quickly realized that it is one of my favourite times of the weekday! I typically arrive at work refreshed and ready to go – no caffeine required.
2) A one-car household? No problem!
When we lived in the suburbs of the big city, we each had our own vehicle. While I admit, this was mainly due to personal choices at the time, things changed when we moved. Before leaving Calgary, we dumped my vehicle, expecting to buy a new one when we came to London. However, when we chose to live inner city, that choice soon changed.
For one, my easy commute to work did not justify another vehicle, so we decided to delay purchasing one and save some money. It’s pretty amazing just how much cars are money holes! Over time, getting a second vehicle became less and less of a priority to the point where we just stopped caring about it. Do we have conflicts where we both need a vehicle? Sure. But this happens rarely, and when it does, we typically find a way around it.
So you might be asking, you’ve gone down to one vehicle, why not go to none? The primary reason in our case is my wife’s career, which literally takes her down any obscure gravel road in Ontario! Aside from that, it is our personal choice, mainly due to our active lifestyle. We travel a lot and are involved in many activities that make having one vehicle ideal for our circumstances.
3) Gridlocked without a grid
Most inner city neighbourhoods around North America tend to use a classic grid pattern in their street layout compared to more modern crescents and cul-de-sac patterns typically found in suburbs. While walking around various cities in various neighbourhoods over the years, I personally find the grid pattern more favourable as a pedestrian, especially when street blocks are shorter. Comparing crescents and cul-de-sacs, pedestrian connectivity is typically lower between residences and amenities, which incentivizes automobile use over other modes of travel.
One concern to mention with the classic grid pattern is safety. You typically see traffic calming measures in inner city neighbourhoods to disincentivize vehicles from short cutting through residential streets. While crescent and cul-de-sac patterns better address this safety issue with vehicles, they do not necessarily help pedestrians. One possible solution is the use of a fused grid pattern network, which both provides better connectivity for pedestrians and bicycles and improves safety due to minimizing cut-through traffic.
4) Varied, mixed land uses
When I walk around my neighbourhood, in 10 minutes or less I can arrive at various shops and services to satisfy my basic needs – a grocery store, a library, a hardware shop, a coffee shop, restaurants, a tailor, dry cleaners, an auto mechanic, churches, etc. – no problem! Aside from the core commercial area of Wortley Village within my neighbourhood, we have a good mix of residences and other land uses.
It has been my observation that over the past 30-40 years, smaller, local businesses have generally given way to malls, which more recently have given way to big box store developments that seem to be popping up in every corner of cities around North America. The latter two development types typically have large parking lots and are not generally pedestrian friendly. How often do you see people leave one box store, just to jump in their vehicle and arrive at another nearby box store in the same complex?
For inner city living, I’m typically more a fan of medium density developments with features such as businesses on ground floors and residential spaces above, with a height of 3-4 stories. I have a preference for the mixed-use development type that you see across most cities across Europe, which has worked for centuries. Generally speaking, I feel that high-density developments (i.e. high rises and businesses) are more appropriate for city centre areas and primary transit corridors.
5) Mature Trees, Comfortable Walks
One thing I’ve come to love about inner city living is the mature tree canopy that lines many of the residential streets. In the summertime, this canopy provides more shade, helping to shelter me from the hot sun. In the wintertime, these same trees help break the wind, making it feel warmer. This both incentivizes walking (i.e. it is more comfortable to do) and enables longer walking.
Observing the suburbs, trees are either few and far between or mere saplings. While this definitely changes over time, this tree canopy is not present when a neighbourhood is first established. And unfortunately, such sparse coverage does not necessarily incentivize walking.
6) Trails and Parks for Leisure
And lastly, there’s the leisurely aspect to my neighbourhood. We can reach many lush parks and walkable trails by foot in less than 10 minutes from my door. We are very fortunate to be near to river trails, a wooded conservation area, and an abandoned orchard.
What type of neighbourhood do you live in? What other types have you lived in before? Please share your neighbourhood living experiences, positive and negative, in the comments below.