Portraits of Walkability: Georgina's most Walkable Neighbourhoods

Wednesday Jan 13th, 2016


Walkability. If you've ever been privy to the circles of planning, development, or real estate south of Green Lane, you've definitely heard someone wax poetic about this term, and the value of robust mixed-use communities, intimately walkable development patterns, and new urbanism. With this series of articles, it's my goal to identify the most walkable neighbourhoods in Georgina - but I want to preface by establishing why this even matters:

Up here in the suburbs, we never really take the time to evaluate whether our built form environment conforms to these ideals, or if it even has the potential to. In a town like Georgina, where many buyers come in search of affordable home ownership, pedestrian friendliness has the ability to play a major role in consumer buying patterns.

In Georgina, in the $300,000-$400,000 price range, we often see a vast spectrum of buyers, the most prominent being first-time homebuyers, investors seeking rental properties, and baby boomers downsizing or moving towards retirement living. These buyers are all very different from one another, but they do share a common denominator: they value proximity.

First-time homebuyers (often millennials) value proximity because we seek to be surrounded by authentic experience and the ability to connect with one another, to become part of a community. At the same time, millennials see the automobile as something more focused around utility than status, and are gradually distancing themselves from automobile dependence. Walkability and intimacy of their neighbourhood and community is important to them. Connecting with people, places, and businesses nearby helps to create the feeling of an authentic lifestyle.

Investors seek marketability to tenants - they buy what tenants value. Tenants, especially in the Georgina market, value proximity. They see value in proximity because it allows them to live more frugally, by eliminating the expense of a vehicle through using public transit and walking to neighbourhood amenities. Eliminating this expense allows the end user to save towards home ownership or other expenses. With the rising cost of home ownership, we are beginning to see new household formation migrate towards rental tenure as the household saves for ownership, and the more this trend perpetuates, the more proximity plays a role in rental unit marketability.

Baby boomers are our aging population, who will likely play the most major role in the real estate market within the medium-run economy. Baby boomers value proximity for a number of reasons - the major one being the availability of the service amenities they will require as they age. Furthermore, eliminating the vehicle from the household makes retirement more affordable. This generation wants to age in place, and as such, they demand the resources to do so. Reaching ages where mobility begins to become a problem, transit and proximity will play a significant role for these individuals who wish to continue the lifestyle they enjoyed as an adult. Walkability appeals to this market especially because they value physical activity and the role it plays in their longevity.

So, then, what does this mean for our wonderful town? It means that the more we utilize, support and allow these walkable development patterns, the less likely we are to see traditional suburban development that leads to headaches such as gridlock, automobile dependence, and crumbling infrastructure.

Without further ado, let's take a look at Georgina's most walkable neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods have been evaluated based on the walkability of a residential home within a 2 kilometer proximity of the node, and the node's inclusion of retail-commercial services, outdoor space, community space, natural heritage & landscaping. Further follow-up articles detailing each node will give a more thorough analysis of the walkability of each node.

1. Uptown Keswick

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Uptown Keswick features a variety of dining, nightlife, professional services, and service and retail commercial businesses in the area, as well as some of the most densely populated structures in Georgina. This area was a traditional downtown for Keswick's cottage country area, with an efficient park-and-walk layout for weekend traffic. With close proximity to Lake Simcoe, as well as Woodbine Avenue to Highway 404, this highly walkable node provides convenience, sense of place, and sustainable value growth and investment quality for nearby residents.

2. The Queensway South

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This intersection boasts one of the premier big-box retail plazas in Keswick, as well as a number of small local retailers along a faux-downtown, corridor-style development, and a dramatic increase in service-commercial and retail influx in the area. Surrounding residents benefit from close proximity to public transit routes to Newmarket, Toronto, and beyond, as well as being within walking distance to virtually any amenity they may require.

3. High Street Sutton

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The Historic Downtown Sutton area, with its densely packed mixed-use retail/residential units, heritage environment, and river frontage, truly resembles a prototypical picturesque 'downtown' , similar to those ressurected in projects such as Unionville and Kleinburg. While many major national tenants and commercial services are gradually migrating towards Dalton Road, residents are still able to benefit from the locally owned service and retail commercial businesses that call high street home.

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