Disheartened by price surges, bidding wars, lines and over-crowding, an entire crop of Toronto and GTAers are chasing a slower-paced lifestyle and affordable living options.
It’s a reality most GTA dwellers can relate to. A bright eyed youngster sets out for the big city, maybe for school or their first job, or just after a little independence. Taking advantage of every party, networking event and restaurant opening in town, offers an endless array of opportunities just waiting to be explored. And with their two roommates and maybe a little help from mom and dad; they got this.
Fast forward ten years later, and life has gotten real. Lingering student debt persists, marriage and kids come into play and the realities of the 50-hour work week have them living for the weekend, yet struggling to be able to afford anything. They’re trying to save to buy a house for their growing lives.
There has to be an easier way. After all, it seems ridiculous that a dual income household with steady salaries should have to worry about how to pay rent and bills, and maybe go out to dinner here and there. This isn’t what they had in mind back when they assumed the suburban life their parents had would never be for them.
Suddenly, even the die hard urbanites are understanding the appeal of moving out of the GTA to a place where the problems of the city won’t follow. The small town revival is real, and it is their key to true independence, the type they found in the city ten years ago and which they can barely remember now. A chance for them to stop surviving and start thriving. With the average home price a cool $100k+ less, these small, under-populated towns give families a chance to invest, to travel, to try new things and most importantly to get out and live, with about half the financial stresses of their big city cohorts.
And it’s not quite the death to their social life one might expect either. Cities like Hamilton and regions like Niagara are more populated than ever with young GTA transplants breathing new life into the once sleepy communities, giving rise to trendy restaurants, artisan coffee shops, recreational opportunities and nightlife. The best part is, these places don’t come with a line-up, a cover, or a crowd.
Now, this might be a stark contrast from what the experts tell us – the hordes of magazines, news stories and sound bites we hear proclaiming that millennials are rejecting their parent’s lives. They say they hate the suburbs and want walkable neighbourhoods, more density, the most density in fact. Urban sprawl is the enemy. They don’t care about children or owning property, they want liberal, shared space policies. That is, until they don’t. Until they settle down, have a family and finally realize what they really wanted was freedom to actually live their lives, carve their path and choose their lifestyle.
As you drive through the small towns of Southwestern Ontario, freedom is something that you’re barely even conscious of, and yet it’s unmistakably there. Country roads that take you through undisturbed green pastures, downtown blocks of historical buildings occupied by one of everything you may need; a grocery store, a hardware shop, a bank and a medical office. Isn’t this the true representation of the growing minimal movement that’s starting to take hold? Where neighbours are there for each other, not battling over parking spaces. Where you can still find that artisan cup of coffee or craft beer, and know the person pouring it for you, or believe it or not, the farmer who grew the raw ingredients.
Small towns seem to be the only place left where GTAers stand a chance at starting something that’s all their own, maybe even with a little extra money to invest, explore and live a full life.
And while these small town transplants may think they’ll be shunned by the locals, just one more hipster driving up the demand for new housing and overpriced coffee, Canadian hospitality and grace reign true in these towns in a way that we’re seldom accustomed to in Toronto. Sure, you may hear the occasional grumble, but it’ll pale in comparison to those you heard all day, every day on subway platforms and in traffic jams. Especially when you start to realize the ones grumbling are becoming familiar faces at your local pub and you can now greet them by name.
It’s not just families seeing the appeal either. Businesses, both startups and large organizations, are making the move (think Amazon considering Kitchener-Waterloo over Toronto’s downtown) for the same reason the average Joe is. Lower cost of operation, more room to grow.
When we think back to what experts say about millennials looking for walkable, urban environments, we can’t help thinking how that model has proven unsustainable time and time again, in some of the most popular metropolises in the world. As we crawl across the inner city highways, we’re seeing communities so dense that neighbours could high five from their balconies (although they mostly just ignore each other) and we can’t help but wonder if this is the freedom millennials were really after, or if the neighbourhood they imagined actually looks very different.
Perhaps a place where they can recreate the very best parts of what they’ve been after, for about half the price and half the hassle. A distilled version; leaving only the stuff they love, like authentic interactions and more face time, a space of their very own and a chance to build something real and lasting. Maybe the small towns of Southwestern Ontario are the place they were really looking for.