Urbs vs. Burbs: “We live twice as far from downtown but can get there in a third of the time”

Urbs vs. Burbs: “We live twice as far from downtown but can get there in a third of the time”

Scarborough die-hard Jeff Carolan on leaving Queen Street in search of more space for his growing family—and feeling more connected to the city than ever

Jeff and Sarah Carolan live in 2,700-square-foot home in Scarborough for $3,000 a month in mortgage payments

Who: Jeff Carolan, 47, a risk manager at a financial institution; Sarah Carolan, 43, a lawyer; and their kids, Russell, 17, and Elizabeth, seven
Where they live: A 2,700-square-foot home with a 300-square-foot yard in Scarborough for $3,000 a month in mortgage payments
Where they used to live: a 1,300-square-foot townhouse with a 150-square-foot deck in the Beaches for $1,500 a month in mortgage
Commute now versus then: 15 minutes versus 45 minutes

After Sarah and I got married, in 2012, we started thinking about having a kid. We were living in the Beaches, in a three-bed, one-bath townhouse on Queen Street at Coxwell. Russell, my son from a previous marriage, spent every other weekend with us. While it wasn’t exactly a family-friendly area, there was some green space plus the beach itself. When we were hanging out near home, we’d kick a soccer ball around or catch a movie at the nearby theatre. We didn’t have a car, so we’d take transit to get to places like the Science Centre. If we were going farther afield, we’d rent a car. We figured it out.

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Making it work inside the townhouse was a different matter. Our third bedroom was a home office, so if Sarah and I were going to have a child, things would be cramped. Plus, living on Queen Street was noisy. Upgrading in our neighbourhood was beyond our budget. We briefly considered moving to Newmarket, where my parents lived, but it was too far from the city—I’d lived in the east end since finishing grad school, and I loved it. In April of 2013, we decided to look in Scarborough.

There was a new development of townhouses for sale in Cliffside, roughly 20 minutes east of our place. We were pleasantly surprised by how quiet the neighbourhood was. We wouldn’t have to worry about the kids running out onto a busy street, and the complex had a parkette with slides and things to climb. It felt like being in a suburb like Newmarket or Whitby, but with better access to Toronto. Location was a major selling point: the townhouses were across from the Scarborough GO station, so we could get to the Financial District, where we both worked, in 15 minutes. We were amazed—we could move twice as far from downtown but get there in a third of the time it took us on the streetcar.

Related: “My parks are nicer than your backyards”: An architect explains why young families should live downtown

The family moved from the Beaches to this house in Scarborough

The family's 2,700-square-foot Scarborough home comes with a 300-square-foot yard

The family spends time playing in the park in their Scarborough complex

The choice was easy to make. We bought a corner unit for $530,000, sold our townhouse for $410,000 and moved on Canada Day of 2014. In 2016, when our daughter, Elizabeth, was born, we bought a car, which added about $500 a month to our expenses. But we still mostly preferred to use transit. We registered Elizabeth for a daycare downtown, and we brought her with us on the GO train. There were a half-dozen other families doing the same, so the middle car turned into a kind of rolling daycare, with all the kids sitting in their strollers and playing side by side. After work, we could pick Elizabeth up without fear of being late—we’d heard horror stories about parents getting delayed on the GO and their daycares charging them $10 a minute in late fees. Elizabeth now attends an elementary school in Cliffside, but Sarah and I still commute (two days a week for me, three for her).

There are no downsides to where we live. As a family, we spend time playing in the park in our complex or biking around the neighbourhood. Sometimes Russell and I will go jogging together on a nature path near our house. We’re in a sweet spot because we have the financial benefit of being outside the city, but it’s still easy to get downtown. We go into Toronto with the kids at least once a week. Depending on the weather and the activity, we’ll alternate between driving and taking transit. We’re still close with two families from Elizabeth’s former daycare, and we often meet up with them for playdates in the west end. Other times, we’ll visit the aquarium or go to shows or sports events. Russell is a big Celtics fan, so we’ll go to a Raptors game when Boston is in town. He starts university soon, and we’re hoping it will be easier for us to see each other because we can meet up in the city occasionally. When Sarah and I have a date planned, we usually hop on the train for a dinner downtown.

There are so many things to see and do in Toronto. If we had ended up moving to Newmarket or another suburb, I doubt we would have taken advantage of it to the same degree. I’m so in love with the city, and I absolutely consider myself a Torontonian even though we live in Scarborough. I think the definition of who can be a Torontonian has expanded.