Why the Suburbs are Suddenly Cool Again

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As the cost to survive continues to climb in Toronto – let alone to live – the once cringe worthy and totally “off-limits” suburbs have become an increasingly attractive option to renters, buyers and business owners.

But now, moving to the suburbs doesn’t mean committing yourself to a life of big box stores, chain restaurants and having to drive everywhere. Dare we say, the suburbs are even becoming cool. This is reflected in everything from the pricey makeovers of malls like Square One and Sherway Gardens and the relocation of Toronto chefs to cities like Hamilton, to the types of people who are now populating suburbia.

The bottom line is that many young people – and well-educated ones with good jobs – can no longer afford to live in Toronto. With the dream of owning a house within the city core something many people have kissed goodbye, we now face a crisis when it comes to the rental market too, with vacancy rates now at historic lows and landlords who have free reign to jack up the prices of condo units on the regular.

Not wanting to raise kids in cramped apartments New York City-style, people are starting to realize that we can enjoy a better quality of life in the suburbs.

Montreal native Allie Novack and her boyfriend, Snir Seitelbach, recently made the move from downtown Toronto to Thornhill in search of more space. “Given the crazy real estate market we wanted to ensure we would be able to afford a home that we liked and that we wouldn’t have to sacrifice on space or comfort,” said Novack, who works for a Jewish non-profit. Seitelbach for a healthcare services company. “Everything is very close and the community is extremely friendly. It’s also nice to see all the schools around and the community centres. You get a very homey vibe.”

Filmmaker and media personality George Tsioutsioulas swapped the concrete for green space a few years back and moved his family to Pickering. “I love being surrounded by trees. Our backyard faces a ravine, so I feel like I can breathe when I am back there,” says Tsioutsioulas. “Plus, the older I get, the more I enjoy being in my bubble; not being face-to-face with another neighbour is awesome (am I coming off as antisocial?). I also love that we’re on a court in a good, safe neighbourhood, so it’s a great place to raise kids.”

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Of course, many cultured, self-proclaimed foodies feel like moving to the suburbs means residing yourself to a life of cookie cutter monotony and kissing the sights, sounds and tastes of the city goodbye. Both Novack and Tsioutsioulas – who used to take full advantage of Toronto’s offerings – are doing just fine in the ‘burbs.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system, but with a car there are ways to make it work. Driving downtown (not during rush hour) or parking at the subway has been able to keep us connected with our downtown life,” said Novack. “Of course it’s a bit weird to have so much space and not hear as much noise, traffic and police sirens.”

When it comes down to it, the young suburbanites I know all say the same thing; it’s not as bad as you think – and is only going to get better as more of Toronto’s movers and shakers get lured in by the appeal of suburbia.

“If you are trying to get into this market, want space, comfort and good resale value, it’s a great place to be,” said Novack. “Your friends will still come over, you’ll still go out, you just might need to make more meals at home. Don’t be afraid; we thought we’d never move to the suburbs and now we love it. It doesn’t change the type of person you are. If you are a social person who loves going out, you still will!”

After grinding away, pounding the pavement just to survive, the change of pace is actually a welcome one for many.

“Back in my younger days, I lived and partied and did everything downtown,” said Tsioutsioulas. “Now, whenever I have to head into the city for a meeting or whatever, I lose my mind over the ridiculous traffic, the parking and the hustle and bustle.” He is adapting well to his life in suburbia. “The hardest part was getting used to the idea that I live in Pickering, but I am good with it now,” said Tsioutsioulas. “I’ve become boring slowly over time, so it’s been a smooth transition. I figure senility will be a similar ride.”

It’s not just the families who are fleeing to the suburbs, but business owners as well. Sick of paying sky-high rental costs, Toronto business owners are recognizing a growing market in the suburbs of people with serious purchasing power who crave more than Walmart and Jack Astors.

Daryl Dsouza recently closed King West staple Lou Dawg’s and opened up shop in Hamilton. “In looking to expand the Lou Dawg’s Southern BBQ business, vibrant cities like Hamilton and Waterloo have provided affordable lease prices and a community of wonderful people that enjoy high quality food and live music,” said D’Souza.

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D’Souza is just one of many former Toronto restaurant industry staples who have opened up shop in Hamilton. For example, Chef Matt Beasley, formerly of One, now owns a place called Aberdeen Tavern; former Portland Variety chef Matt Cowan is now the owner of The Heather, just to name a few.

Once seen as gritty and blue collar, Hamilton’s reputation is quickly changing. According to a recent MacLean’s article, the fact that Hamilton is still a little rough around the edges is helping its arts scene.  “That grittiness, that toughness is still here and that’s attracted the artistic crowd,” George O’Niell, CEO of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington told the publication. He compares Hamilton to Queen West but on a much larger scale.

D’Souza also says that Hamilton is cooler than people give it credit for. “I always knew Hamilton had a thriving music scene, but it’s incredible how many of Canada’s top musicians call Hamilton home,” says D’Souza. “It really is an incredible culture of people that celebrate and support music and the arts.” He acknowledges that Hamilton offers a much slower pace than the big city life, but says it’s a good thing.

“The Lou Dawg’s Hamilton franchisees were living in the core of Toronto in a small condo/townhouse with their 1-year-old son.  The franchise expansion provided an opportunity to trade Toronto life for a beautiful house in Hamilton surrounded by a great community in a vibrant city with a strong culture committed to music and the arts – ideal for raising children,” says D’Souza.

But if you’re thinking Hamilton, you may want to get in now; over the past five years, the average price of homes in Hamilton neighbourhoods has risen more than 60 percent.

When it comes to managing your work/life balance, the biggest fear of many potential suburbanites is the prospect of spending most of your life in commuting – either on a crowded Go Train, or on traffic-filled highways. The good news is that the upcoming Highway 401 expansion will increase the number of lanes from six to ten across Mississauga to Milton. Not to mention, as we move closer to a freelance and precarious work-based economy, an increasing number of employers allow their employees to work from home at least once a week.

You never know, you could just find yourself with a “905” area code in the near future.

RELATED LINK: The (North) American Dream: Homeownership, Is it Worth it?

What do you think about the rising trend to move out of the city? Would you ever live in the suburbs? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin is a Toronto-based writer, actor and queen of the side hustle. When she’s not writing the day away in a face mask, she’s taking in the city’s vibrant arts scene, doing a red carpet interview or brunching with her leading ladies. Follow me: @erinnicoledavis
Erin Davis