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SmithAir747
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Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:12 am

Does anyone on A.net live in Calgary? If so, what is it like living there? How are living and housing costs? What is the quality of life there?

I am currently pursuing my PhD in craniofacial embryology at UCSF in San Francisco. When I finish my programme (hopefully by 2013), I will have to do a postdoctoral fellowship--somewhere--in my field.

My current research project includes a collaboration with someone from the University of Calgary, as a second mentor. I actually spent the month of October, 2010, in this professor's lab learning some special techniques that are necessary for my work with avian embryos. (Or as I call them, ALIEN embryos, because I experimentally induce craniofacial deformities in them!)

Both my PhD mentor here at UCSF and my mentor in Calgary have asked me to consider doing my postdoctoral fellowship up there in Calgary.

As I said before, I spent one month in Calgary, but that's not enough time to really get to know a city. (My 3 years in London, England, were wonderful years--probably the best years of my life up to that time--but there is so much more of London I would love to get to know, if I ever get to move back there again someday soon.)

During my month in Calgary, I spent most of that time in the laboratory doing intensive technical work with my embryos, Monday through Saturday. The first Saturday I was in Calgary, I did a whirlwind walking tour of downtown, including a trip up the Calgary Tower (where I stood on the glass floor and looked straight down for a vertiginous view of downtown). I got around fairly well when I needed to on the city's modest public transit system (LRT and buses). However, I did not get enough of the lay of the land--I needed more time to really get to know how to get around and get more familiar with the different areas of the city (besides downtown and the University of Calgary area). At that time of year (October), it was very cold--I saw my first snow of the season whilst I was in Calgary.

I noticed the city seemed kind of dead when I was there. Is that an accurate impression of Calgary at that time of year (October)? I know that in July, the Calgary Stampede is a real draw, and I would like to experience that. What else goes on throughout the year? How do the residents enjoy themselves?

I have been looking at studio and 1-BR apartments downtown and around the University of Calgary. Downtown tower block apartments start at CAN$800/month for rent (and up). University-area properties are similar. As a comparison, here in San Francisco, I pay US$1158/month for my studio apartment in UCSF student housing. If you live in Calgary, what are your experiences with costs of living there?

By the way, this will be the 2nd international move for me (I lived in London 2004-2007). Will I need a special visa or other documents (since I will be a postdoctoral fellow working in a university lab for several years)? I was a student in London for 3 years, on a UK student visa (Entry Clearance) for those 3 years. If I do bring my car with me (a very long drive from San Francisco to make this move), what will I need to do with it (as well as getting a Canadian driving licence)? How about banking? I would like to bank with a bank that has international reach, since I travel abroad quite a bit (and would like to move overseas as my career presents opportunities in the future).

As a possible future Calgarian, I would love to get the scoop from any of you who have lived there. Thanks in advance!

SmithAir747

[Edited 2011-03-23 21:22:59]
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14)
 
Jean Leloup
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:18 am

As someone who has lived in the Calgary for a little over a year, after spending time in several other Canadian cities, my short answer would be this:

1) It's okay to live in, not that great or livable compared to most other big Canadian cities.

2) Everyone else who lives here will tell you it's great.

It's unbelievable the amount of misplaced pride people have in this place, relative to other places in Canada. This belief that "Calgary is the promised land!" is more pathological than Winnipeg's hopeless inferiority complex ("Hey! Look at us; we're still here!"), or Montreal's insistence that everyone has a great quality of life despite perenially depressing economic figures ("You english just don't understand."). I think this complex stems from the fact that so many people are desperate to justify the fact that they moved here (for work) from nicer, more livable places, twinned with the fact that, as the "next Toronto", economically speaking, they can feel the growing resentment from the rest of our complicated land...

More in depth...

Pros:

Calgary is in a beautiful geographical area; there's no doubt about that. It's wonderful living so close to the mountains, but the endless prairie on the other side of town is gorgeous too. In the middle, there are all kinds of great little lakes and valleys in the foothills. Lots of opportunity for good hikes, although my favourite sport of cycling has really taken a hit - most of the mountainous areas nearby don't allow biking, and it's way too windy to ride much on the open roads.

The airport is easily accessible, with a steadily growing flight offering. As I recall you're from the midwest somewhere; should be easy one-stop trips home, and relatively convenient to most of the western half of this continent.

The people here are generally decent; I won't begrudge them that. The conservative politics don't really suit me, but that's democracy for you and I don't mind being in the minority as long as people's rights are still respected. As an American, you won't find anywhere in Canada more politically like home (including low taxes) than Calgary. You shouldn't have trouble finding a church you like, either. There is a growing diversity here, too, which is slowly making things interesting. Immigrant populations are increasing, and Calgary recently shocked Canada by electing a South Asian, muslim, *ahem* 'confirmed bachelor' as mayor. Interesting times.

Another big pro is the University of Calgary itself. I haven't attended there, but my fiancée does, and though it was once the poor little sister of the U of A, I get the impression there are lots of good things going on there. The campus is vibrant and dense - in a way that urban planners should have taken note of for the rest of the city. It's obviously close to the Foothills and Children's hospitals (which I imagine would be of interest to you), and it's on the C-Train.

The C-train is another plus. Given the fiscally conservative nature of politics here, we're lucky to have such a good light rail system. It's not extensive enough, but if you strategically locate yourself it is a good system.

The biggest plus, I guess, is the generally steady and growing economy, which I guess is what has brought most people to Calgary to begin with, and what makes them stay. On the other hand this is irrelevant to you as a student/researcher, and also to myself who has a government job that would pay the same no matter where I was, meaning there's no advantage to being in a 'boom' area. Perhaps if I had come here to make 'big bucks', I would have an overall rosier view of things!

Cons:

Calgary doesn't have nearly the cultural scene that one might hope. Compared to many cities of even much smaller size, there is a dearth of really walkable areas, individual restaurants, nice cafés, etc. It compares very unfavourably with ANY of the large Canadian cities it's size (except maybe Edmonton), and several that are much smaller. Drive south to Missoula, MT, and you will see a city with more to enjoy than Calgary at only 5% it's size. God help you, my friend, if you are forced to compare it to London!

After we moved here, we kept looking for the 'nice part of town', particularly downtown, and gradually realized that it doesn't exist. Note that I don't mean that the town is 'run down'; it's clean and safe (excellent police service) and has all the necessities, etc. I just mean that there aren't a lot of nice places to 'hang out'. Kensington is great, but it's tiny and really only amounts to a handful of nice joints. 17th Ave. S. is nice too, but a little more spread out and again not that big. There's also a minute number of nice little places in Bridgeland. But all these places are far apart from each other. And in between, the classic 'downtown' of Calgary, where the big buildings are, offers little draw for anyone who isn't, well, working in those big buildings. There's one nice underground mall, and there is a top-class theatre/concert venue, as well as a nice littler theatre, too. But when the show's over, you just go somewhere else... Most will go to the endless suburban strip malls for a meal, leaving little life in the real city. Kensington and 17th can only go so far, and this aspect has been a real bitter disappointment in our move to this supposedly 'hot' city.

There doesn't seem to be any end in sight to the above, in terms of urbanm revitalization. The sprawl that Calgary is making is horrendous - not in the number of new homes (no problem with that), but in the pointlessly wide waves of development, with neighbourhoods that are completely unwalkable in their scope and layout, and are placed endlessly further away from any real centre. This aspect is not as important to a student, but good luck to anyone wanting to raise a family in this sprawl who will have anything but a cookie-cutter existence.

In summary, despite the above bitterness, I wouldn't dissuade you from coming to Calgary. Like I said, the people are decent and that might be the most important thing for enjoying a few years here. The school is a cool place and there are lots of things to do nearby (particularly in the mountains). Just don't expect much life from the city itself (other than Stampede week!). For all the hype, it's really my opinion that at the moment, Economic Emperor Calgary has no clothes.

A couple of practical points you touched on:

Doing a post-doc should, I think , quailfy you for a student visa which should be no problem at all for an American. Check with the university, but I wouldn't anticipate any trouble here. As a student in Canada, you probably won't need to re-register your car and they won't want you to get an Alberta licence. You can stay nice and American; I actually see a lot of California plates here. You may want to check whether the university has a good health plan to offer you during your post-doc, in order to be covered as you partake in the long but free waiting lines of the Canadian health care system.  Smile

As far as rent goes, do keep in mind that the market here is the weakest it has been in quite some time. This means that there is a good chance that rents may have risen quite a bit by the time you leave, although perhaps not to SF levels. So you may want to budget a little more.

If you're at all in a position to buy a small condo, it might be a smart investment for when the market inevitably rebounds.

Good luck with your decision, and I'm sure you won't regret it if you do come here. Just don't buy the hype that it's one of the greatest places in Canada to live!  

JL

[Edited 2011-03-24 01:26:21]
Jean Leloup - original a.net moderator (2001-2005) and still recovering!
 
matthew11
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:37 pm

Calgary was actually named recently as one of the top 5 overall best cities to live in.

I think it all depends on your lifestyle. I used to live in Toronto for almost all my life. I moved to Calgary almost 3 years ago. I don't regret the move, I absolutely love it here. Beautiful city and geography. People are super friendly. Weather is unpredictable, but I don't find it any worse than Toronto, intact probably better since we get the chinooks. If you are the adventure type, there is tonnes to do with the mountains being so close. I'll admit, night life is weaker here, but it is getting a lot better than what it used to be, but still a long way to go compared to Toronto. However there are lots of great pubs and bars ways open late. Public transportation is quite reliable with the ctrain. Airport is very convinient to get to. Shopping is excellent, all top brand designer clothing etc have opened shops here. For the way I live my lifestyle I love Calgary very much. I recently opened up a cafe here, it is going very well. The cafe scene in the city is slowing getting better.

My uncle lives in Los Angeles. He comes here a lot. He says Calgary is very similar to cities in California, but of course a much smaller scale. He likes it a lot and could see himself living here if he had to.

Hope it helps and good luck with your decision : )
New Gemini Jets retailer in YYC (Calgary)! Purchase in store or online! http://www.euphoriacafe.ca
 
Jean Leloup
Posts: 2004
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:45 pm

Well I mentioned this thread to my fiancée and she mentioned these links to give you:

International Grad Students guide: http://www.ucalgary.ca/gsa/services/...s/InternationalHandbook2010-11.pdf

PostDoc handbook: http://www.ucalgary.ca/postdoc/postdocHandbook

PostDoc homepage: http://www.ucalgary.ca/postdoc/

JL
Jean Leloup - original a.net moderator (2001-2005) and still recovering!
 
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c172akula
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:09 pm

I'm born and raised Calgarian, going on 30 years now. So of course I love the city, and I have had the unique perspective of watching it change over my time here.

My wife and I (and 2 year old daughter) are urbanists, we refuse to go live out in the middle of suburbia and subject ourselves to 1 hour commutes (each way) to work every day. We live in the community directly south of the downtown core called The Beltline. An amazing variety of shops, restaurants, lounges, pubs, and all other amenities are always within easy walking distance, even on those ridiculous cold weather days.

Affordability for housing is still a big problem, prices came down a little over this last recession but are still pretty expensive as you are finding out. One of my best friends is a cardiologist at the Foothills hospital (UofC grad) and he bought a little 1 bedroom condo just north of the University, it is perfect for his needs and is nice and close to the hospital and the LRT line to.

The people in Calgary are still very friendly, I've noticed some grumpier folks over the last few years but they tend to be the people that have located to Calgary for work and are just using the city as an "ATM" to make their money and leave once they got what they wanted.

Are you planning to live in Calgary car-less? I could see that being a pain in the butt when you need to get to areas that aren't covered as well by our transit. Calgary transit does a very good job covering a city our size with only a 1.2M population, there is only so much money to go around to cover that vast distance.

Like any city, how much you enjoy Calgary depends on what you put into it. Many wrongly complain that Calgary is devoid of culture and only seem to think the Stampede is the only notable event in town, but there is much more:

-Folk music festival
-High performance rodeo
-Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (a friend is a bass player with them)
-Theatre Calgary
-Calgary Opera
-Lilac festival
-Sun 'n' Salsa festival
-Marda Gras
-Fringe Festival

...and much more.

Comparing Calgary to London will lead to disappointment I'm sure, I was blown away by London with what I saw on a 12 hour layover there. Apples to oranges in comparison.

So that's my biased opinion of YYC, I love it here and have no plans to ever leave it.



Sun 'n' Salsa Fest in Kensington:


Lilac Festival:
 
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c172akula
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:22 pm

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 1):
There's one nice underground mall,

We have an underground mall downtown? Are you thinking of The CORE? That is most definitely above ground, and with a brand new spectacular skylight to boot:

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 1):
There doesn't seem to be any end in sight to the above, in terms of urban revitalization.

So I take it you are completely unaware of Plan-It Calgary and its blueprint for intensification versus sprawl that the city has adopted and is utilizing in its growth going forward?
 
SmithAir747
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Thu Mar 24, 2011 9:39 pm

Quoting C172Akula (Reply 4):

Thanks for your perspective! I plan to live either downtown (in a tower block) or near the University of Calgary. I am single, so all I need is a studio or 1BR apartment.

I may probably bring my car with me (since I'll still be on the same continent). I don't drive much anymore (I live in San Francisco right now, and hardly use my car there). But I still get out of town with it. When I moved out to California from Indiana in 2007, I drove all the way across in my car. I think moving from San Francisco to Calgary would entail a long, long drive with my stuff along.

SmithAir747
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14)
 
Jean Leloup
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:35 am

Quoting C172Akula (Reply 5):
We have an underground mall downtown? Are you thinking of The CORE? That is most definitely above ground, and with a brand new spectacular skylight to boot:

Thanks for the correction; the shopping is not really my thing and I am transplanting Montreal's underground-city logic. The +15's between buildings in the day downtown are another big plus that I forgot to mention.

Quoting C172Akula (Reply 5):
So I take it you are completely unaware of Plan-It Calgary and its blueprint for intensification versus sprawl that the city has adopted and is utilizing in its growth going forward?

I'm aware of all kinds of plans (including many unrealistic plans for transit that are decades away from being funded), but I'm much more painfully aware of the broad sprawl that is continuing completely unabated at the moment. I see it every day (working near Airdrie). It's painfully ridiculous, for example, that entire subdivided communities are being built on the far side of Stoney trail (the northern ring road for those outside the area), completely cut off from the rest of the city, while there is still room inside the ring. This is strong evidence of the very opposite of urban intensification. The development in Balzac is also a practically indefensible, unsustainable instance of sprawl, but that is not all the responsibility of Calgary, but rather the short-sighted county of Rocky View.

When I see evidence of the planning you mention actually occurring, believe me, I'll be among the first to give kudos and praise the initiative - I'd even be interested in buying downtown if there were viable trends in that direction. Hopefully there's reason to hope and I think Nenshi is the right man for the job for this portfolio - although it's been interesting seeing council working against him on his plan for the regulation of secondary dwellings. I think the success of any such plan will go hand-in-hand with the development of transit. Kitchener-Waterloo's plans for light rail downtown provide an interesting comparison.

JL
Jean Leloup - original a.net moderator (2001-2005) and still recovering!
 
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c172akula
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:37 am

If you have the time the drive from San Fran up to Calgary can be very nice. My family did the summer road trips to places like San Fran and Las Vegas when we were growing up, lots of nice stops and scenes to enjoy along the way.

Our weather right now sucks, I feel live I'm living in YVR with all this low cloud! I just took this shot from the balcony of our condo:

 
Jean Leloup
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:41 am

Quoting C172Akula (Reply 8):
If you have the time the drive from San Fran up to Calgary can be very nice

  

Calgary is a lot closer to you in SF than Indiana is. You could do the drive in three days, and you will benefit from having your car for trips to Banff, etc. - or anywhere in the YYC area that doesn't have great public transport.

JL
Jean Leloup - original a.net moderator (2001-2005) and still recovering!
 
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c172akula
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:49 am

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 7):
I'd even be interested in buying downtown if there were viable trends in that direction.

I think the prices of inner-city homes prove that they are areas in demand, as well as the recent surge in condo building in the Beltline, Bridgeland and Marda Loop areas (not to mention infill development). The problem becomes affordability versus the cookie cutter starter homes being built en-masse in the suburbs. Once the developers are made to pay the true costs of those developments and the city makes it easier for the inner-city developers to build their projects we'll continue to see more density in the inner-city area.
 
N1120A
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 5:05 am

One thing to remember - Calgary winters make Indiana winters feel warm.

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 1):
The conservative politics don't really suit me, but that's democracy for you and I don't mind being in the minority as long as people's rights are still respected.

Well, conservative in Canada is a relative thing. Your average member of the Conservative Party of Alberta is a centrist/Democrat here in the States.

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 1):

The people here are generally decent; I won't begrudge them that.

Well, they are Canadian after all.

Quoting matthew11 (Reply 2):
Calgary was actually named recently as one of the top 5 overall best cities to live in.

A lot of weird, cold places get rated on those "best to live in" lists. Its all relative.

Quoting matthew11 (Reply 2):
He likes it a lot and could see himself living here if he had to.

Has he been there on a -40 day in the winter?

Quoting C172Akula (Reply 5):
We have an underground mall downtown? Are you thinking of The CORE? That is most definitely above ground, and with a brand new spectacular skylight to boot:

I actually have a friend who was one of the leads in the movie "waydowntown" which had the CORE at its...core.

Quoting Jean Leloup (Reply 9):
You could do the drive in three days, and you will benefit from having your car for trips to Banff, etc.

You can SF-Calgary that in 2 days pretty easily.
Mangeons les French fries, mais surtout pratiquons avec fierte le French kiss
 
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c172akula
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:21 pm

Quoting N1120A (Reply 11):
I actually have a friend who was one of the leads in the movie "waydowntown" which had the CORE at its...core.

That was a pretty neat film, I liked the premise.
 
A332
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RE: Calgary: How Is It For Living?

Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:32 am

I lived in Calgary for 10 years (2000-2010).

When I left, I couldn't wait to get out of there. Now that I have been gone for awhile, I can't wait to go back. It's my home. I miss it so badly!

The crappy weather, the horrible traffic, the blandness... etc... oh, how I want to go back home.

I moved to Vancouver Island last fall. It's a great place, but it's not for me. I'll be moving back to Alberta at the first opportunity!
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