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Why we live in the “suburbs”

This weekend’s Province carries the headline City Vs. Burbs. Inside is a story that compares costs of living in a downtown condo vs. a house in the suburbs (Coquitlam) on a $640,000 purchase.

I was recently in southern Ontario, in a town where you can still buy a fantastic family home (with a backyard!) for $160,000, and what we paid for our house would get you 4500 square feet of executive home on 10 acres of landscaped property.

I was in sticker shock and talking about house prices in BC when I was asked, not maliciously, “is it really that much … better?”

photo by Bliss Designs (D. Ferreira Stoddard)

Both of these events had me really thinking about how fortunate I feel to live here, in the ‘suburbs’. The Province story really concentrated on the financial dollars of ownership, where clearly it will cost more to heat, insure, and maintain a house than a condo. It also made specific assumptions that you would be a couple who both worked downtown and would require two cars.

The woman who lived in the city maintained that she “didn’t want to live in [her] car”. This is a typical assumption of living in the suburbs. During my visit to Ontario, my sister and her husband were researching new vehicles. They were looking at SUVs, and it took me a while to understand that they actually REQUIRE a four-wheel drive vehicle. To get to work. Which is an HOUR away. In the snow, for a few months out of the year.

We pulled up to the car lot and she walked up to a shiny black Denali and a shiny black Escalade to check the prices. “Wouldn’t you be worried about…getting shot at?” I asked, to be met with confused looks. All righty, point Team Ontario.

In our circle, I know maybe one or two who work in downtown Vancouver. Most work locally or in another suburb and face commutes of 30-40 minutes. While we technically live in a suburb, there’s not much that would take me into the city. We have one vehicle, that we clock, on a busy week, maybe 40 kms.

Within walking distance we have a YMCA community centre, grocery store, restaurants and pubs, drug store, medical clinic, midwife, physiotherapy, naturopath, 3 playgrounds and a water park, 2 elementary schools, 1 high school, optometrists, daycares, dentists, liquor store, dollar store, sports shop, bike shop, hair salons, butcher, bottle depot and several other services that I haven’t required yet…but imagine I will at some point. There are several office buildings and workplaces that I see neighbours walking to every day (including my husband and occasionally myself).

We all have our own “wish lists” for desired services in the immediate neighbourhood (farm market, pet supply store, and toy store are the ones I hear most often). I’d LOVE a library! But in general, there’s not much that takes me out of the neighbourhood, aside from weekend trips to the beach (just 10 minutes away).

With a population of over 460,000 I don’t really consider Surrey to be a suburb. We have our own hospital, a number of big and small shopping centres, libraries, office buildings, museums, ethnic centres, endless parks, movie theatres and yes, THREE Wal-Marts.

So I happily suffer my 1700 year mortgage, complain about lack of AC during the 3-day “heat waves”, whine about the 10 minutes it takes to cut the lawn and stay home and play on the day that it snows. I’ve learned to laugh at all your Surrey jokes while enjoying my cheap and legit Indian food and blueberries grown down the street…with the pseudo-family of my neighbours and friends.

Photo by H. Kopcok

My favourite thing about my neighbourhood remains the people. It’s almost a small town within the city feeling, with many of the local shop owners and employers and several teachers also being residents. We are an active, social community. As the tired old adage goes, it takes a village, and indeed we use our network of locals to help us through. Though we come from so many kids in the same age range, we easily share childcare and booster seats – which often leads to sharing stories, laughs and lives.

So in the City Vs. Burbs, I don’t see it that way. I know that our family is fortunate to work so close to home, but that’s becoming more andmore possible. When it comes to BC Vs. small-town Ontario, I just prefer the mild, unreliable climate of BC. A guaranteed white Christmas just doesn’t outweigh the pressure of the shovel, and I’d rather have a warm breeze than the chill of a sealed up air conditioned house (even if that warm breeze brings the faint aroma of manure from the local farms).

With communities like ours popping up all over Surrey, Port Moody, and Coquitlam, I can see the trend continuing, and multi-use communities expanding all over Metro Vancouver. (Of course, ours is still the best!)

We have so many fascinating people in our neighbourhood and in an effort to connect us all, a friend and I recently started a community website, called Not Quite South Surrey. The name stemmed from a struggle to define our South Newton community, which many claim as South Surrey (but…it’s just Not Quite). It’s allowed us to connect with even more of our neighbours and we look forward to new opportunities to engage with the residents.

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