In a housing market that has already experienced years of slow growth, Calgary builders are breaking with past practice to develop multitextured communities that mix a diverse range of housing forms with non-housing elements, including the city’s newest hospital and the world’s biggest YMCA.
At Westman Village in the city’s southeast, Jayman Built has created a new community of condos, rentals and retirement homes with access to a slew of amenities, including the man-made Mahogany Lake. In nearby Seton, Brookfield Residential is constructing a self-contained community of 17,500 people anchored by the massive 330,000-square-foot YMCA.
“These aren’t your grandma’s suburbs,” local city councillor Shane Keating said.
Westman Village and the community of Seton in Mr. Keating’s southeastern ward are not the traditional Calgary neighbourhoods of acres of cookie-cutter houses. Rather than dormitories for people commuting to work in the downtown core, they are designed to be self-contained communities, each on a different scale.
Westman Village is the smaller of the two. When completed, it will have about 840 residential units and a population of 1,200 to 1,300. It includes rental apartments, condominiums, luxury townhouses, a seniors’ facility offering a variety of levels of care and a daycare.
The community radiates out from the Village Centre. Every resident has access to all the amenities in the Centre. Those include a woodworking shop, a professional-level demonstration kitchen, a badminton court, a private movie theatre, a billiards room, a fitness centre and more. The residential units are connected to the centre by tunnels and “Plus 15”s (enclosed walkways 15 feet above ground) so people can get in and out without going outdoors – a blessing in the long, cold prairie winters.
Wallace Chow, executive vice-president for the multifamily division of Jayman Built, said the plan was to have a diverse community of residents of different ages and income brackets.
“What really sets Westman Village apart is … it’s a very, very integrated and holistic community,” Mr. Chow said. “We’re trying to encourage a lot off interactions, social interactions; meet your neighbours.”
The design philosophy puts people ahead of cars to make it easier to stroll around the lakeside community, with smaller streets and with all parking for residents underground, so the surface space usually set aside for parking can be used by pedestrians instead.
Mr. Chow said the design is inspired by the intimacy of an old-world village. "You go to Europe and it’s filled with these places,” he said.
About 50 per cent of Westman Village has been sold so far. The third and final building in the condominium section is under construction and is expected to be completed this fall. Construction on the second rental building will start this summer and the last senior-living building this fall. The plan is for Westman Village to be complete by the end of 2020.
Jayman Built said its development approach has allowed it to weather the general market slowdown and it is seeing continued sales and leasing activity.
Mr. Keating said the project succeeds in blending ownership and housing types. “You look at the mix in socioeconomic terms," he said. "You can buy a condo for $250,000 or you can buy a luxury townhouse for $2-million. … You can rent … you don’t even have to buy. And they all have access to the same amenities.”
The nearby community of Seton, being developed by Brookfield Residential, has as its focal point the huge new YMCA which took the title for the largest Y in the world after outstripping the Rocky Ridge YMCA in northwest Calgary, which opened in January 2018.
In its first month, the Seton Y signed up more than 10,000 members and logged 130,000 individual visits.
The concept for Seton was developed after an extensive consultation process. One of the most startling bits of information gleaned from this was that only 26 per cent of Calgarians reported feeling a sense of connection and belonging to their communities.
“It’s crazy,” said Heather Cockerline, community experience lead at Brookfield. “There is this overall craving of people wanting to be connected to people.”
One of the ways Brookfield is building that connection is by continuing to consult residents and potential buyers of homes in Seton, something that will carry on as the community continues to grow until its scheduled completion in 2028. As the needs of residents change, they will continue to have a say in how Seton develops, from what to do with park spaces, what kinds of equipment they want in playgrounds and even what kind of public benches they want to sit on.
Seton will have a greater mix of home styles than traditional suburbs, including apartment condos, townhomes, duplexes, lane homes and single-family homes. Similar to Westman Village, it’s being made accessible to a wide range of income brackets and, therefore, a wider demographic than in other suburbs. “To have a mix of all demographics, it really enriches the experience of living in a community,” Ms. Cockerline said.
Residential homes have been on the market for less than a year, with five phases of single-family homes and multifamily units on offer. Ms. Cockerline would not provide exact sales figures, but said Seton is one of Brookfield’s best-performing communities and sales have been strong. A new phase has just been released and another is due to be launched this fall.
Mr. Keating sees the labour market created by these new communities as among their most valuable assets.
In and around Seton, “you’re talking about 8,000 desk jobs,” he said, and that doesn’t include the hundreds of jobs at the newly opened 269-bed South Calgary Campus Hospital.
“People are saying that suburbs cost money and they don’t pay their way," Mr. Keating said. "That may have been the truth when you look at 30 and 40 years ago when you had developments like McKenzie Towne and Douglasdale in Calgary where it is primarily single-family housing with a tiny bit of multifamily spread throughout and technically no commercial [component].”
Those jobs create a tax base outside of the downtown core and reduce traffic congestion, Mr. Keating said. In addition, Seton will be connected to the rest of the city by the coming Green Line light rail transit system.
“My guess is, if you did a study, not only would [the taxes from Seton] pay for all of their services, but they would also contribute, the same as the core has done, just because of the embedded commercial nodes,” he said.
Integrated and diverse communities such as Seton and Westman Village are Calgary’s blueprint for the future, Mr. Keating said.
“I don’t think … we will ever see a community that is single-family housing [again]."
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