Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Re-imagining Main Street

Every few months or so, the subject of redeveloping Main Street in the city's North End  rears it head again across the various local social networks, blogs, and chat threads. It remains a prominent pet peeve of mine (the street, not the recurring discussion) and is a very visible reminder of failed, ill-informed ideals, and the destruction of one of Saint John's key corridors.  It's time to start planning now for the ultimate demise of this inner-city highway and rebirth as a modern pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use incarnation of  its past.

During one of the many discussions on the subject, I decided to put my ideas on paper to illicit some discussion (see the image below) -- as the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words."  Of course, these are pie-in-the-sky, unlimited budget ideas, but let me know what you think of the ideas presented or how you would fix what ails Main Street.

Key points:

  1. Prioritize streets based on their best use (people streets, car streets, and shared spaces)
  2. Divert east & west flow-through traffic onto Hilyard Street, Paradise Row, and Chesley Drive, effectively creating a "Main Street Bypass"
  3. Reduce Main Street down to 2 or 3 lanes with on-street parking and active transportation facilities
  4. Develop mixed-use infill projects on the 10+ acres of freed-up land under the existing Main Street lanes (and collect those tax dollars!)
  5. Reduce the Viaduct to 4 or 5 lanes (or less!) with a dedicated pedestrian / cycle trail connecting to the Uptown, Harbour Passage, and the Boardwalk
  6. Remove the high-speed on/off ramps from the viaduct in favour of pedestrian-friendly intersections

Sunday, February 5, 2012

City and Country: A Tale of Zoning Regulation

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally written for Spacing Atlantic on January 31st, 2012. See the original article here.

SAINT JOHN - It’s official. The City has finally implemented a new municipal plan to replace the outdated 40 year-old plan whose policies have ransacked the city. Sprawl, encouraged under the old municipal plan, has shifted the population around, outside the city’s borders, and created a doughnut hole where a densely populated city once stood. Of course, this is an easy conclusion to reach with hindsight at our disposal but, to be fair, I’m sure the Council, city staff and consultants of the day had the best interests of the city at heart. In the prevailing 40 years, however, the trends and practices in urban planning have made a massive about-face. No more of this idyllic “city-country” state, the suburbs, but a focus on density, walkability, and sustainability. The residents of Saint John appear to have sensed the impact of these old outdated policies and have begun rejuvenating the city even in the absence of a new municipal plan. The city is seeing a natural resurgence and the new crowd-sourced municipal plan will be a fantastic guiding document and development tool reaffirming the direction the city is already heading in.

So how do we begin to physically repair the damage? The new municipal, as much of a success as it has been hailed to be, is only a guiding document at 30,000 feet, as the saying goes. The real opportunity for the city now is to reform of the zoning bylaw. Zoning is the “interpreter” of the municipal plan and what the future developers of our city will use as the guideline for the individual buildings that will be built in accordance with the plan. Thankfully, by provincial legislation the bylaw must be revised to reflect the municipal plan within 18 months of the date of adoption.

As I write this article, I am sitting on the ferry to Grand Manan chatting with many of the locals. I am reminded of the distinct difference between the city and country and how fiercely proud these residents are of their way of life. Their isolation is their pride and they do things “their way.” A person can come to Grand Manan and get an honest appreciation of the benefits of living there without distraction. That is, of course, until you tell them you're "a mainlander." I recall making a similar distinction between city and country while looking through the window of the high speed train on my way from Rome to Florence, Italy. Taken to the extreme, many towns were walled-in, thereby controlling growth and necessitating density. Outside the walls, you lose the protection the wall provided to the medieval town but are given all the freedom you desire. Italians are fiercely local as I noted in many of the small Tuscan villages and each town has their own traditions. City life and country life have a clear distinction and their own identity.

Around the time of the Great Depression and earlier, there was no other choice: you either lived in the city or the country. But cities were a whole different beast back then: littered with poverty, substandard housing, smoke-belching factories, and crime. The country offered none of the amenities and employment opportunities at a time of growing technological change; farming as a way of life was beginning its long decline. Given the circumstances as they saw them, the urban planners of the day determined that a city-country mix, the suburbs, offered the magic panacea. Life would offer the best of both worlds. Everyone would have a patch of land, a single-family home, and a glowing family. The so-called American Dream was born.

What we’ve since learned, rather than offering the best of both worlds, suburbs, in general, have the best of neither and actually dilute what is special of the city and the country. They are not the idyllic city-country states envisioned by those pioneering planers all those decades ago and have only served to make the whole undistinguishable. The rush to compete with the rampant suburban development has seen the country divide up their precious farmland and sacrifice privacy and space for sprawling subdivisions while the city has moved away from density and walkability to “flatten” and redistribute the population around a greater area, hollowing out the core. Municipalities around the world have “suburbanized” their zoning standards in a bid to compete and keep development dollars within their boundaries. But to what effect?

Think about it. Take Uptown Saint John and plans for a new residential building. The current zoning standards require 1.25 parking spaces per unit, the same as most surrounding suburban communities despite ample transportation options other than a personal vehicle. Meeting this requirement necessitates a parking lot. The parking lot ends up on the side of the building where another building could otherwise go, creating a gap-tooth street face. For the same reason, an existing building might not be reusable because the site cannot accommodate a parking lot, so it is torn down and sold to the neighbouring property owner as parking. Now you’ve created a near vacant block to the point that the neighbourhood is no longer walkable, thereby requiring people to drive from one location to the other, thereby requiring space for more cars to park, thereby requiring more parking, thereby requiring fewer transit stops and reducing transportation options, etc., etc. It is a vicious cycle. In our attempt to compete with suburban zoning standards, we have inadvertently given the tools necessary to tear down the very city life and vibrancy that our residents want.

By doing this, we’ve lost much of what made us distinct and what gives us our pride and identity. But Saint John is lucky.

Despite the devastation cast upon our city by the last municipal plan and zoning regulations, Saint John was originally built at a time when walkability and density were key building blocks of community design. It still has an urban core that many other cities can only dream of recreating. This is where the magic is already happening. New stores, restaurants, and specialty shops are popping up every day and new infill projects, such as the Abbey on Charlotte Street and the Harbourfront Residences at Three Sisters on Prince Williams Street are prime examples of the growing urban movement. Although the zoning bylaw is far less “sexy” than a municipal plan, it is with zoning that the community interest shown in the municipal plan will truly be reflected and promote the kind of development we want to see.

As a member of the City’s Planning Advisory Committee, I couldn’t be more excited to begin revising the zoning bylaw (expected to get underway in earnest in February). The launch and public engagement, unfortunately, is unlikely to attract the same crowds and levels of interest seen in the PlanSJ process. The subject matter is far too technical, mechanical, and dry for most people but there have been exciting developments in zoning over the years, from urban design guidelines, to form-based codes and transect models that will help us to once again separate the city and country and grow a sustainable, imaginative community. A complete rethink of our zoning bylaw is necessary, not just a rehashing of what is already existing. To meet the directives of the municipal plan we need to move away from prescriptive standards toward permissive and performance-based standards; away from “setbacks” in favour of “build-to” lines; reduce car dependency with parking “maximums” and on-street parking; reduce the width of streets; require bicycle parking and other public amenities, and encourage mixed-use developments where most zones segregate perfectly compatible uses. The possibilities are boundless.

This is where the rubber hits the road. We’ve got a great municipal plan in PlanSJ but if we don’t get the zoning just right, we’ll end up with egg on our face. And not the fresh, organic kind from our local country farmers either. It’s time we realized that getting the best of both worlds isn’t always best.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Main Street and the Department of Cars

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally written for Spacing Atlantic on September 20th, 2011. See the original article here.

SAINT JOHN – We are now a few months into the City of Saint John’s experiment with bike lanes on Main Street in the city’s North End and, from all reports, the world hasn’t ended yet. Traffic has naturally slowed to non-freeway speeds without backing up (or really being noticed at all) and the route sees many cyclists use it every day. It has even been popular enough with pedestrians that the City thought it was necessary to issue a statement saying that the bike lanes are approved for – you guessed it – bicycles only. Too bad for the pedestrians in need of a safer walking route, but that’s another story.

So if these new bike lanes have worked out so well and so naturally, why then did it take more than a year of negotiations to put them in place after the temporary closure of Harbour Passage and 30 years of lobbying to reduce the number of lanes on Main Street? Considering the fact that the Province of New Brunswick put the kybosh to its six-lane Route 1 highway expansion a few months back, was it really that hard to determine that all 6 lanes of this unnecessary inner-city freeway weren’t needed?

The trouble is that Main Street is considered to be, like many streets in Saint John and other New Brunswick cities, a provincially designated highway. This means that the Province is in full control and the municipalities must bend to the their will or negotiate and battle for changes.

And the trouble isn’t that municipalities aren’t used to inter-governmental cooperation, it’s that the Department of Transportation (DOT), the department responsible for Main Street and others like it, has an extensive yet very narrow mandate to the point of being flawed. In short, the DOT’s mandate is limited to highways, ferries and bridges. Not a single word relating to transit, rail, air, or active transportation is even mentioned.

So, can a department of transportation that doesn’t actually consider and encompass all modes of transportation truly be called the "Department of Transportation?" In New Brunswick’s case, it should be renamed “The Department of Cars and Things That Carry Cars.” With a more honest title like that, more of us would be dubious and it is no wonder why negotiations for new bike lanes took so long. The DOT has no reason to consider anything but the movement of cars.

Cities are, first and foremost, built to accommodate people. Roads, on the other hand, are secondary and built for the sole purpose of servicing and connecting those cities and not the other way around. Yet with the DOT controlling streets that are of prime importance to these cities, the needs of the people are effectively secondary to the needs of moving cars. Although transportation is without a doubt critically important for the movement of goods, people and the economy, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of cities and the people who live in them, nor should it ignore all other viable means of transportation. The fact that this is the case in New Brunswick shows that there is something fundamentally wrong. Our cities and their residents are the true economic drivers, not the cars on our roads.

In the meantime, its too bad that all of this progress appears to be temporary. We've been promised that Main Street will go back to being a virtual high-speed inner-city freeway once Harbour Passage reopens and the repairs to the Province's other "thing that carries cars," the Harbour Bridge, are complete. The Province appears anxious to return to its familiar modus operandi.

To be truly successful, the DOT must change its M.O. and have a holistic view of transportation along with its full effects on, not only the Province, but individual municipalities and, most importantly, the people who live there. And who knows these effects better than the cities themselves? Give the cities the necessary control they require to serve the needs of their residents first. New Brunswick’s DOT needs a broader mandate, one that encompasses and actively considers all forms of transportation and prioritizes the needs of a municipality over the needs of cars. If nothing else, the DOT, in the province with the most roads per-capita, must realize that car-centric policies are proving to be unsustainable on so many levels, from finances to the environment. We’re moving into a new era of planning and personal priorities. Bike lanes on Main Street mean progress and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Department of Cars needs to get with the times.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Shop; Therefore, I Am

As a follow-up to my previous post on regionalization in the Greater Saint John area, I received a comment from a reader who, among other things, thought that I was:
A. Being biased, and

B. Disregarding that residents from surrounding communities shop everyday in Saint John and provide tax dollars through sales tax
Fair enough – I’m not always right, nor do I cover every angle and I encourage people to express their opinions. My only goal is to stimulate conversation on the subject and not necessarily to be right. With that said, let’s clear up a few things.

First things first: bias.

I've only been a resident of Saint John for less than 10 years and prior to that I spent more than 20 years living in Quispamsis. I’ve long felt the guilt of living outside Saint John while using all of its services. Secondly, in my day job I work directly with municipalities all around the Maritime Provinces and their staff on a daily basis who have each described the pain suffered by a lack of regionalization with suburban communities. Lastly, I work every day with urban planners and on planning projects and we review best practices from communities all around the globe. Regionalization is not a new topic for me or for most cities.

There. I hope that clears that up. Now, on to shopping.

This is a very frequent argument from those in the outlying communities: “I shop in Saint John; therefore, I am contributing tax dollars to Saint John.” This is true. But the rest of the story goes like this: in New Brunswick, moreso than other provinces, municipalities are extremely limited as to how they can generate revenue. Property taxes are by far the largest revenue generator, followed by sales taxes. The trouble is, however, that municipalities only see 8 cents for every dollar of sales tax that is collected. This is far less than the revenue generated by property taxes.

Let’s look at an example of how that works out in the end.

Using the example from my previous post, “Want $265,000 and 4 Months Vacation? Move to Saint John,” let’s assume that a random suburbanite’s household income is $96,587 and the value of their home is $204,027. Assuming that 30% of their income, right off the bat, is allocated to housing costs that cannot be spent elsewhere, that leaves $67,611 in discretionary income. In the absolute best case scenario for Saint John, let’s also assume that every single penny of that discretionary income is spent within the City’s boundaries and is subject to HST; this results in $8,789 in tax revenue collected.

Of that figure, at 8 cents per dollar, Saint John stands to net $703 for each suburban household. Overall, not bad; that adds up pretty quick considering there are thousands of these households!

But, on the other hand, if that suburbanite’s home of equivalent value was located within the City’s boundaries, the amount of property taxes collected at $1.785 per $100 of assessment would net the City $3,642. Add in the sales tax kick back from that resident’s discretionary spending and the City of Saint John stands to collect $4,345 per household.

Ouch. All of a sudden that boasting of contributing tax dollars to the City’s economy by shopping doesn’t look so good.  Especially when you realize that it is a mere 16% (best case) of what a resident of the city contributes to the City’s coffers.  What's worse, considering the truth of the matter, is that the City of Saint John will receive 8 cents per dollar of tax regardless of where you spend those tax dollars since there is no direct tax transfer from the Feds or Province to municipalities (aside from gas tax transfers).  With that said, suburbanites shopping in Saint John effectively provide a net benefit of $0 directly to the City plus all the wear-and-tear on all their services.  The only hope is that by shopping at establishments in Saint John, Saint John reaps the additional corporate property tax dollars rather than one of the surrounding communities.  Unfortunately, that benefit still doesn't appear to balance the books.

Reconsidering the example provided by David Gingras and Daniel Bourgeois in my previous post, “Something for Nothing,” you can plainly see how the lack of regionalization affects and penalizes the City of Saint John. Saint John, in theory, must provide the same level of services for Jim, who lives in a bedroom community just 2 meters past the City boundary, as they must for Joe, who lives within City limits, but with none of the revenue.

You can’t say there is bias there!  Its just plain facts.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Something for Nothing

I've been struck recently by all the debate surrounding regionalization, particularly in the Greater Saint John area, and the rhetoric has really heated up lately between the City of Saint John and the Town of Rothesay. I recently read a statement in the Telegraph Journal by Rothesay Mayor Bill Bishop that really caught my attention:

“The suburban mayor said he didn't see how Rothesay would benefit from an amalgamation, which he said would drive up the costs of the town's services.”

While the topic of amalgamation is different than regionalization, the rationale is similar and the suburban mayors have been quoted as making similar arguments about regionalizing services with Saint John. And he's right. I'm certain the price of the town's services would go up.

But here's the kicker: Saint John has been silently subsidizing the cost of Rothesay's services for decades.

In a recent article written by Daniel Bourgeois and David Gingras, they go on to describe how major reforms in the 1966 Equal Opportunity Act made huge strides in equalizing services to cities and towns around New Brunswick but, in the following 45 years, very little has been done to correct the remaining inequalities that continue to penalize cities like Saint John. They used the following “fictional but realistic” example to illustrate their point (modified from a Moncton example to a Saint John example for relevance):

“Let's give an example to illustrate the mess we are in. 
Joe lives on Rothesay Road, at the eastern extremity of the City of Saint John. He shops at the Sobeys at McAllister Place, uses Rothesay Road and Rothesay Avenue to get to work at Kent, and attends all the Sea Dogs games at Harbour Station. 
His twin brother, Jim, lives next door, shops at the same grocery store, uses the same roads to get to work and back, and accompanies Joe to all the Sea Dogs games at Harbour Station. They both live urban/suburban lives and both have common urban/suburban complaints, such as the absence of sidewalks, access to municipal water and sewer, and the time it takes for snow plows to clear the road in front of their houses. 
They own identical three-bedroom bungalows, and both houses are assessed by Service New Brunswick evaluators at $150,000. Joe pays $2,668 per year in property taxes, while Jim pays $1,785. How is that possible? Where is the equality? 
The explanation is simple: Joe lives within city limits while Jim lives two metres north of the city boundary. The city's property tax rate is $1.785 per $100 of assessment, while Rothesay's property tax rate is $1.19 per $100 of assessment. 
In principle, the rates should reflect the difference in services. But no one can seriously argue that Joe receives twice as many services as Jim does. In fact, the only key service that Joe has that Jim does not is the right to vote during municipal elections every four years. 
Democracy comes with a price, but $3,500 more over four years for that right is steep.”

And even on the point of democracy, it is not that cut-and-dried. As Dave Drinnan points out in his recent blog post “To Whom is the City of Saint John Responsible”, the suburban communities feel a sense of entitlement in the governance of Saint John as witnessed by all the comments posted to articles in the Telegraph Journal and even signed petitions to directly influence the politicians on their policy decisions. So, why is this?

Plain and simple: the City of Saint John is providing services to their suburban neighbours and the suburban neighbours want a say in the services they receive.

Joe and his brother Jim both drive on Rothesay Avenue to get to work everyday. The roads they use are plowed and maintained by the same muncipal works department. Its the same fire department that responds to an industrial accident at their workplace and the same police force that has to pull them over for speeding to the big game at Harbour Station. The problem is, Joe pays for those services and Jim does not and the City of Saint John provides those services and the town of Rothesay does not.

But even better than the story of Joe and Jim to illustrate this point is to look directly at the data. Here is a graph of Saint John's tax rate since 1971:

And here is the population of Saint John and the surrounding communities since 1971:

There is a clear upward trend in the tax rate of Saint John and a corresponding, although slightly less severe, trend of declining population indicating that the tax rate increased at a higher rate than the corresponding decrease in population. In theory, this could mean, among other interpretations, that the cost to provide the existing municipal services cost rapidly more over the time period or the population was receiving an increased level of services. Ask any resident of the city or read the Telegraph Journal and they will tell you it certainly isn't the latter.

The interesting element in these graphs is that the growth trend in the surrounding communities' population is virtually an identical match to the rise in Saint John's tax rate. I'm no economist or statistician, but that suggests to me that there is a causal relationship between the out-migration of residents to the 'burbs and Saint John's tax rate. And since the overall census metropolitan area's (CMA) population remained virtually constant over the same time period (only a marginal increase from roughly 110,000 to 122,000 over 40 years) we can also say that the level of services in Saint John remained generally consistent with the overall population of the CMA.  

In other words, the City of Saint John continued to provide the same level of services to the residents of the CMA even though many of those residents moved outside of the city's boundaries into the "bedroom communities."

With this data in mind, consider Mayor Bill Bishop's statement again:

The suburban mayor said he didn't see how Rothesay would benefit from an amalgamation, which he said would drive up the costs of the town's services.”

The cost of providing all the services that his town's residents enjoy are simply not reflected in their tax rate. Saint John has been bearing this weight for decades and Rothesay's (and surrounding communities') tax rate should be adjusted accordingly. Will it be painful? Yes. Will it be fair for all residents of the Greater Saint John Area? Yes. Regionalization is necessary but the mayors of the surrounding communities seem blissfully unaware of the pain that has been borne by the residents of Saint John to provide the 'burbs with their artificially low tax rate. Somehow they shouldn't have to suffer because of regionalization?  Much of the rhetoric from the surrounding communities seems to be based on this lack of realization.

What stings even worse than the lack of regionalization, however, is that Saint John's tax rate has reached a tipping point where residents of the city are escaping to the surrounding communities to avoid paying the high taxes. This becomes something of a "chicken-and-the-egg" situation: people leaving the city has caused the tax rate to increase to the point where more people want to leave the city to escape the taxes. And who wouldn't? Receive all the services you enjoy without having to pay for them? Sign me up! – they're getting something for nothing.  It will be tough for Saint John to ever catch up, no matter what they do or how they manage their money.

To add insult to injury, the 1971 tax rate for the City of Saint John ($1.15) is far lower than the current tax rate of all the towns in the CMA. Meanwhile, the CMA's population remained virtually constant. Given the data above, it isn't difficult to see that the current tax rate of Saint John would likely be much lower than it is today if suburbanization had not occurred to the extent it has.  Its no wonder Mayor Ivan Court favours regionalization and amalgamation if only to get back the lost tax revenue and reduce the tax rate for residents of Saint John.

In the end, the lack of regionalization only hurts the entire community. Saint John is, without a doubt, the life-blood of the CMA and it needs fair compensation for the services it provides to its residents and all the residents of the CMA. Yes, under regionalization some people will pay more and it will hurt and some people will pay less and it will be a well-deserved relief, but in the end the greater region will benefit.  "What is good for the gander is good for the goose," as the saying goes and things may finally be equal among cities and their surrounding communities.  Regionalization is the final step in fulfilling the true intent of the Equal Opportunity Act.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

UPDATE: Want $265,000 and 4 months vacation? Move to Saint John.

I met with some friends last night who had all happened to read my recent blog post on the advantages to living in a Saint John suburb versus a KV suburb. We had a brief discussion and one friend questioned the value per kilometer that I used to calculate the transportation cost. "What do you drive? A Hummer?!" he stated. He thought that was a high value that was over-inflating the savings.

He was right to question that value -- I hadn't put much thought to it. I simply picked what I thought to be a generally low number, $0.35 per kilometer, that some businesses (i.e., the Province of New Brunswick) pay their employees on a per-kilometer basis thinking that this adequately reflected the value of fuel plus wear and tear. I certainly did not want to over-inflate my calculations. My friends also brought up the good point that the more you use your car, the less it costs you on a per-kilometer basis given that your fixed costs (insurance, loan payment, etc.) remain constant.

It turns out, I wasn't that far off.

According to CAA, if you drive 30,000km or more per year, the cost to operate a Chevrolet Cobalt is, on average, $0.321 per kilometer. Certainly not a Hummer. If we were to assume that a person in Saint John drove only 24,000km per year, their cost to drive the same Cobalt would be $0.384 per kilometer. AHA! Score another point for KV!

Well, not really. When I ran the numbers, the advantage surprised me and actually increased the monthly savings for living in Saint John by an additional $11. The new savings looks something like this:

  • $447.03 per month,
  • $5,464.36 per year, or
  • $134,109.00 over the life of my 25 year mortgage

Add that to the other $135,000 in additional income that I can make and my total savings are now $270,000!

But wait -- it gets more interesting! Soccer moms everywhere are shouting at their screens right now, cursing me out, saying "You can't cart a family of 5 around in a Cobalt! I'd need two of those! My mini van is far more efficient at carting a family and saves me money in the long run!"


According to CAA again, if we both drove a Dodge Caravan it would cost $0.426 per kilometer to operate based on 30,000km, and $0.511 per kilometer to operate based on 24,000km. So the savings for living in Saint John just keep on piling up exponentially:

  • $515.53 per month,
  • $6,186.36 per year, or
  • $154,659.00 over the life of my 25 year mortgage

Things are just looking up and up! I should just change the title of the article to "Want $290,000 and 4 months vacation? Move to Saint John." And if you're a minivan driving soccer mom that works for the Province, ask for a raise.


  • CAA Driving Costs Brochure (

Want $265,000 and 4 months vacation? Move to Saint John.

I’ll admit it – I live in suburbia. And I hate it. The flat blandness. The cookie cutter McMansions in car-centric neighbourhoods. The endless lawn mowing and manicuring for a lawn I never use. I hate it all. The one thing going for me: at least I live in Saint John. So I mentioned this to a friend recently who, in all seriousness, replied, “Why don’t you just move out to KV? At least then you wouldn’t get the fog and you don’t have to pay those high taxes. That’s the whole reason I moved to KV.” As if that would make me happier about living in suburbia.

Fog aside, that statement intrigued me.

Residents outside Saint John love to crap on the high tax rate of the city, and they’re right. It sucks and it hits me right in the wallet every year. Score one for KV. But when I looked back at my friend with the smug glow of self-satisfaction on his face, I thought to myself, “His house, for all intents and purposes, is the exact same size and quality as mine. The yard too! My neighbourhood is equally sought after by families, but I know I only paid a fraction for mine as he did for his, and the daily commute to KV must be killer!” Then I remembered growing up, spending 20 years on the far outer rim of KV. The commute WAS killer. But for him, it was completely worth it. So what IS that worth? Now that my parents aren’t paying the bills anymore, I thought, “maybe he’s on to something.”

I decided I would find out.

I figured it can’t be that hard; keep the calculation to things equal, things that can be easily quantified, ones that can easily have a dollar value associated with them and keep the subjective quality-of-life stuff out of it. He lives in a subdivision in Quispamsis off the Vincent Road; I live in a subdivision in Saint John off Westgate Drive. We both drive one car. Assume we both work 5 days a week in the center of the city in the area the highest concentration of workers (neither of us actually do) – near King Square. Add another round trip for the weekend errands. Easy. [I won’t continue to bore you with all the calculations an assumptions here; they’re included at the end of this article.]

So here’s what I decided I would measure, all other things being equal, with the facts and figures that I thought I could easily uncover using trusty old Google:

  • Average home price
  • Property taxes
  • Mortgage payment
  • Transportation costs

Here’s what I found: My friend was right. He’s paying 32% less than me in property taxes every year, which adds up to a savings for him, on average, of:

  • $38.24 per month,
  • $458.90 per year, or
  • $11,472.50 over the life of his 25-year mortgage

Wow – $11,000! That’s a substantial sum of money right in his pocket. All for choosing to live in KV. But here’s the kicker: living in Saint John won hands down in all the other categories. Not only am I saving on my mortgage payment and interest by paying nearly $40,000 less on the initial purchase price of my house, but combined with transportation costs, I’m saving, on average:

  • $436.06 per month,
  • $5,232.73 per year, or
  • $130,818.35 over the life of my 25-year mortgage.

Wait. Did I just say $130,818.35?! Cha-CHING! Suddenly sticking around in Saint John doesn't sound that bad! For what my friend is saving on an annual basis in property taxes, I am saving the equivalent on a monthly basis! And even though I said I’d keep the quality-of-life stuff out of it, when I crunched the numbers I found another interesting advantage to living in Saint John: my drive to and from work saves me 10.4 hours a month. That’s equivalent to more than an extra day of vacation each month or nearly 4.5 months over the span of 25 years! Increased quality of life… assuming that resting and spending time with your friends and family is something that you enjoy.

And here’s a different way of looking at the same data. If I chose to be a workaholic and spend those extra hours at the office, I could easily add $5,400 to my annual household income. What do you suppose I could spend another $135,000 on over the next 25 years?! All without spending any less time with my family than my KV friend would.

Hold on. Let me wipe that smug glow of self-satisfaction off my face.

I think I’ve made the right decision. But I give credit to my friend – he’s really committed to the lie. To the tune of $265,000 and months of free time. Is avoiding the fog, then, worth it? Nope. I’ll gladly put up with the 15 or so days of fog a year and the higher property taxes, thanks. And here’s the bonus – the closer you live to the centre of the city, the greater the savings. Call me greedy, but I think I’m gonna put my house up for sale – look out, Uptown, here I come! If you live in KV, you'd be smart to follow.

[UPDATE: In March 2011, I moved from the 'burbs of West Saint John to the Douglas Avenue area, adding $50,000 to my pocket book in increased income an reduced transportation costs.]


Kennebecasis Valley

  • Average home price: $204,027 (Vincent Road area) (
  • Tax rate: $1.207 / $100
  • Total taxes: $2,462.61
  • Interest on 25-year mortgage w/ 5% down at 5.5%:  $163,252.05
  • Monthly mortgage payment: $1,190.26
  • Distance to King Square (from Vincent @ Alderbrook): 24.4km
  • Cost to drive per month @ $0.35/km x 6 trips per week (wear & tear, plus gas):  $444.08
  • Time per month spent driving (according to Google Maps): 21.6 hours
  • Average neighbourhood household income:  $96,587.00 (
  • Lost income per month from travelling (@ $46.44 / hour / 40 hour week):  $1,003.02

Saint John
  • Average home price: $163,670 (Downsview Drive area) (
  • Tax rate: $1.785 / $100
  • Total taxes:  $2,921.51
  • Interest on 25-year mortgage w/ 5% down at 5.5%:  $130,960.40
  • Monthly mortgage payment: $954.82
  • Distance to King Square (from Westgate @ Downsview): 9.8km
  • Cost to drive per month @ $0.35/km x 6 trips per week (wear & tear, plus gas):  $178.36
  • Time per month spent driving (according to Google Maps): 11.2 hours
  • Average neighbourhood household income:  $102,170 (
  • Lost income per month from travelling (@ $49.12 / hour / 40 hour week):  $550.15