Photo: Sizing up potential homes goes beyond square footage

Choosing to live close to where we work and play can benefit our quality of life and the environment.

By Ryan Kadowaki, Climate Change Program Coordinator

As a young person who has experienced a number of temporary housing situations over the years, the idea of finally owning my own place has appeal. While I'm still a few years away from pulling the trigger (have you seen Vancouver real-estate prices?), I feel it's never too soon to start weighing my options.

With over 80 per cent of Canadians now living in cities, the concept of home is constantly evolving along with the population's needs. Gone are the days when purchasing a four-bedroom house in the suburbs was a foregone conclusion when it came to putting a roof over your family's head. Canadian birth rates have fallen by more than half since the 1950s. Many people are recognizing the advantages of finding a smaller space closer to work that still meets their family's needs.

Perhaps the biggest advantages (at least in the eyes of someone who is extremely impatient behind the wheel) are the time saved in traffic and the reprieve from exorbitant fuel and parking charges that are the modern driving experience. Transportation accounts for 27 per cent of Canada's carbon footprint. Cities need to address their contribution by developing infrastructure around people rather than cars. Not only will we be taking steps towards getting this climate change thing in order but we will also be giving a major boost to urban quality of life and making city living more attractive. Developing neighbourhoods that are walkable, high-density and mixed-use means that people can work and enjoy themselves without getting behind the wheel.

And what of the argument that city living is too expensive? This may be true in some areas but the notion does not hold up across the board. A study by the Centre for Neighborhood Technology that looked at 28 U.S. metro regions found that when commuting distances are greater than 16 kilometres, increased transportation costs were higher than any savings in housing prices. In many cases the savings amassed from the "drive till you qualify" home-buying strategy are an illusion.

Our workforce is also changing significantly, with women being employed at a higher rate than ever before and also earning most university degrees. These women are seeking positions at urban knowledge centres in government, universities and in the private sector. Time spent away from children due to lengthy commutes is one reason more parents are choosing instead to buy condos in the urban core, according to a Canadian study.

Other would-be home buyers are getting creative in their quest for ownership and have sparked a new fad: laneway housing.

I may not end up purchasing a micro-apartment ("although if it converted into 24 rooms, I could be persuaded), but I will keep in mind that there is more to a home than the number of rooms as I count my pennies and watch some more HGTV.

November 24, 2010

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