One virtue of small cities


in Daily updates, Ottawa

One nice thing about Ottawa is that – as long as you avoid homes in distant suburbs or jobs in distant industrial parks – commutes are manageable. As long as you live and work in the general area of Centretown, walking to work will probably take less than half an hour.

That isn’t true of larger and more interesting places like Vancouver or Toronto. It’s a significant consideration, given that commuting time is basically dead time that gets wasted five days a week. It may be possible to make some use of the time, like by listening to podcasts or trying to read, but there is certainly a frequent sacrifice of sleep or interesting activities that accompanies any lengthy commute.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

BuddyRich March 31, 2011 at 9:48 am

By discounting the burbs from transit considerations you paint a rosier picture of Ottawa than actually exists. Living downtown in any city confers the same benefit with bigger cities usually having better public transit as a bonus.

I mean if I lived in a condo on Lakeshore or in the lEspinade in Toronto I could walk to Bay St. within 30 mins. Downtown infill is really helping make all of our cities more liveable. No idea about Vancouver but Montreal is even better as it’s core was built around smaller more livable neighborhoods to begin with so it’s core is already
mixed between business and residential.

Affordability of downtown accommodations is another matter, though Montreal is fairly cheap.

Padraic March 31, 2011 at 10:05 am

As BuddyRich points out, there are a few more variables to consider. Bigger cities will have higher property values, but also higher salaries. You could also trade off the size or quality of your dwelling for a shorter commute – so if you want to keep rent and commute constant in a move from Ottawa to Toronto, then decrease the square footage of your apartment.

I live in downtown Toronto, pay $450/month for rent and have a commute of 2.3km because I’m willing to live in a small apartment. And when I graduate, my commute will drop to 0.8km!

BuddyRich March 31, 2011 at 10:49 am

Coincidentally, and it shocked me yet again, Moneysense has named Ottawa the best city in Canada to live in, while other cities were surprisingly low.

Though they used purely empirical stats to derive their conclusion and not subjective things.

oleh April 1, 2011 at 7:33 am

The West End in Vancouver is a densely populated residential area anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes walk from the epicenter of downtown. At one point it was the most densely populated community in Canada. It is relatively affordable. The newer Yaletown and Coal Harbour residential area is also equally close but generally much more expensive.

After living for over 20 years in the suburbs about 9 kilometers from downtown where I work, I am increasingly drawn to the advantages of living in the West End, especially in the quieter areas near Stanley Park, about a 25 minute walk from my work.

Living in a much smaller city of perhaps 25,000 to 50,000 people would also serve the purpose of reducing the commute.

BuddyRich April 1, 2011 at 8:10 am

Interesting aside, Ottawa was once again ranked number 1 on Moneysense’s annual Best Canadian Cities to Live in list. It is the 2nd year in a row and the 4th time in the 6 years Moneysense have ran their analysis that Ottawa has come out on top.

I can’t say I disagree though they only looked at empirical measures like income, employment, crime, housing affordability, access to doctor’s, etc. Nothing qualitative or subjective, which will hurt bigger cities without a stat to highlight the benefit of having more people.

Though to be fair, Ottawa-Gatineau is Canada’s 4th largest metro area, but because Gatineau is 300K+ people on the other side of the river Ottawa just feels small.

Though true to its reputation as a boring city it only comes out on top because it does everything consistently well, but nothing particularly great.

Pauline April 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

“It may be possible to make some use of the time, like by listening to podcasts or trying to read, but there is certainly a frequent sacrifice of sleep or interesting activities that accompanies any lengthy commute.”

As someone who lives in an east end suburb, I disagree. During my hour long trips back and forth, I take out my sketch book and draw. It can be a bit tough with the jostling and the curious onlookers, but I think that it’s a constructive and fun way to spend time. :)

oleh April 7, 2011 at 2:03 am

When I am commuting by the bus downtown I see many people listening to music or other information or checking and using their PDA’s. One loss that arises from that is not interacting with the passenger next to you, even you would want to for fear of disrupting that person.

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