Another year, another first-place ranking for the Beltline. The bustling inner-city community on the southern side of downtown has gotten pretty comfortable at the top, having reclaimed this year the first-place finish that it last achieved in 2016 and in 2015 after dipping into second in 2017.
Still, three first-place finishes in four years is what sports fans call a dynasty, and like the legendary dynasty teams, the Beltline’s dominance can’t be chalked up to one individual thing. Rather, it scores high in most of the characteristics survey respondents said makes an ideal ‘hood: lots of great restaurants and cafs (14 of the 25 places on Avenue‘s 2018 list of the city’s best restaurants are in the Beltline), two major supermarkets plus a handful of artisan markets and specialty grocers, inviting green spaces and play areas, a high level of walkability and myriad transit options (including public transit access and car-sharing services) that make owning a vehicle a choice, not a necessity. With a population of just over 23,000, the overwhelming majority of which lives in multi-family residences, the Beltline is just slightly less populous than the entire town of Cochrane. And so much human energy translates into vibrancy; even at rest the Beltline seems to hum.
Calgarians who came of age in the 1980s might recall a different kind of energy in the Beltline, when it was home to the infamous Electric Avenue, a stretch of 20-some bars along 11th Avenue S.W. between 4th and 8th streets. If that’s what you think of then you might recoil from the idea of the Beltline as a desirable place to live for anyone other than party-hardy twentysomethings. But the current reality is that the Beltline is desirable for respondents across the demographic spectrum, including seniors and those raising families.
The evolution of the Beltline as a family-friendly neighbourhood in particular reflects a generational shift in the concept of homeownership says two-term city councillor Evan Woolley, whose Ward 8 encompasses most of the community. “[People] are more comfortable with renting an apartment, with renting longer and to have a kid in that rental apartment,” he says. Beltline has one of the lowest percentages of owner-occupied homes in the city at just over 25 percent, and while it also has one of the lowest numbers of children per home in the city, there are still more than 1,800 children living in the Beltline.
The trend of families choosing the inner-city lifestyle is something that Tyson Bolduc can speak to. An architect who holds the volunteer position of director of planning and urban development for the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, Bolduc and his partner Maria Landry, also an architect, both grew up in suburban settings, but took to the inner-city lifestyle during their university years. “I got used to not driving a lot. I got used to being able to walk places. I got used to being able to go out and not worry about an $80 cab ride to get home, to the point where I started to feel too restrained if I wasn’t living in an inner-city environment,” Bolduc says.
The couple live in a fourth-floor condominium that they own in a Beltline high-rise. In 2016, they welcomed a son into their family, and for the time being, have no plans to move. “We weren’t ready to give up on the lifestyle and the idea that he could share our lifestyle – which is certainly not taking him to nightclubs and stuff – but being able to walk to a coffee shop or restaurant … using the community as your living room,” Bolduc says.
Since becoming a father Bolduc says he’s also tuned into the breadth of family life in the neighbourhood. “In our building there’s a ton,” he says. “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t encounter a kid in the elevator.”
It appears those kids are increasingly staying put, as well. Beltline resident Lee Stanfield and her husband Mike moved with their two young daughters to the Beltline eight years ago after getting fed up with the commute between their downtown corporate jobs and their southwest suburban home. The move corresponded with their older child starting school and the couple became active in their local CBE Connaught School, serving on the parent council and parents fundraising group for the school and extolling the school’s multiculturalism. “We have, at any given time at the school, more than 50 distinct birth countries represented, so it’s not just one level of new to Canada, it’s a little bit of everything, which is really fantastic,” Lee Stanfield says.
Their younger daughter will start Grade 5 at Connaught this fall and Stanfield says that the evolution of the Beltline as a more family-focused neighbourhood is reflected in the school’s enrolment. “When my older daughter started there, I think there were 140 kids and we’re up to 340 or 350 now. That’s huge growth,” she says. In addition to the numbers, Stanfield has seen the school become less transitiory, with her younger daughter having several friends that have all been in the school together since kindergarten.
Unlike the majority of Beltline residents, the Stanfields own one of the rare standalone homes in the community – a century-old house on the neighbourhood’s west side. Back when they revealed their move plans, Lee Stanfield says she often got the reaction that crime would be an ongoing concern, but that hasn’t been her personal experience. “I think it’s because there is that sense of community,” she says. “You know everybody who’s got dogs and they wave as they walk by and people keep an eye out for each other. It actually does have that sense of a community and of being a neighbourhood, rather than people just passing through.”
Beltline By the Numbers
2017 population: 23,219 Population growth rate since 2015: 0.06%
Walk Score: 90 Transit Score: 76
Recreation facility points: 54 Engagement ranking: 9/185
Median assessment value: $306,000