Calgary Pros and Cons

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  • Calgary is a city of just over 1 million people.

Calgary's Advantages

  • Because of the current oil boom in Alberta, Calgary provides tremendous job opportunities and is attracting many new residents, both from other parts of Canada and from overseas. **Edited to add - the 'boom' went bust - Alberta oil industry is in decline.
  • One of the attractions here, in addition to the job opportunities, is the city's proximity to the stunning Canadian Rockies. Depending on the area of Calgary in which you are located, you are between 1.5 hours and 2 hours' drive from Banff. The mountains are great for downhill skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
  • Calgary has a great need for anyone who can work in the oil industry -- engineers, geologists, etc. The oil boom also has created a building boom, so people in the skilled trades are in great demand too -- electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. Another area in which there is a shortage of personnel is health care -- nurses, etc.

Calgary's Disadvantages

  • One of the downsides of the oil boom is that, in the last three years or so, Calgary real estate prices have sky rocketed. Prior to that, British expats could bring the equity from their UK houses and in many cases pay cash for mansions in Calgary. That no longer is the case. While Calgary houses still are cheaper than their UK counterparts, the price gap has narrowed.
  • Something you should be aware of, if you are in an occupation that requires low skills and that pays poorly is that, while these kinds of jobs pay higher wages in Calgary than they pay elsewhere, they still do not make Calgary an affordable place. About half the people in Calgary's homeless shelters have some form of employment. If you have one high income earner in a household and that person's partner accepts a poorly paid job, just because it enables him/her to be home when the kids get back from school or some other logistical reason, that's fine. But don't expect to make ends meet if both of you are doing poorly paid work (serving in a fast food restaurant, operating a till in a supermarket, and so on). If you both have poorly paid jobs, you'll both need at least two jobs in order to keep a roof over your heads.
  • A disadvantage of Calgary is that, because of the city's phenomenal growth over the last few years, civic authorities are finding it very challenging to keep up with the burgeoning population's infrastructure needs. Roads, schools, hospitals, etc., are being built as fast as government entities can manage, but users of these services often have the feeling that service providers are only barely keeping up with their needs.
  • People who knew Calgary before the current boom have noticed a deterioration in the quality of life. Traffic is busier and messier than it used to be, vendors of every kind are less responsive than they used to be (customer service in stores is poorer than it used to be), and the crime rate has gone up.
  • It has become quite a challenge for two-career couples to find childcare in Calgary.
  • Several British expats who have moved to Calgary or who have come to Calgary on recce trips have been surprised by the number of homeless people in the downtown core and in neighbourhoods adjacent to downtown, e.g., Beltline. Homeless people generally are harmless, indeed polite. Still, it comes as a surprise to see them in a city that supposedly is booming. Well, the presence of homeless people is evidence of the fact that the benefits of the boom are not experienced equally by everyone. That is one of the very points that this article attempts to convey.

A Bit of Context

  • Like many other resource-based economies, Calgary's economy is prone to boom and bust cycles. Back in the 1970s, Calgary experienced an oil boom that was rather similar to the current one. Then, in the mid 1980s, there was a bust. Many people lost their jobs, real estate prices plummeted, many houses suddenly were worth less than the mortgages on them, and many Calgary residents lost their homes.
  • Starting in the mid 1980s and continuing all through the 1990s, it was quite difficult for outsiders to find employment in Calgary. When a region of Canada goes through a rough economic patch, employers are much more apt to demand that prospective employees have "Canadian experience." That's the way it was in Calgary during that slower economic period.
  • That has all changed. Many employers are desperate for workers. They have been forced to be much less fussy about whom they'll employ.

Predicting the Future

  • Many people believe that the fundamental factors that are driving the current energy boom are long term trends. Consequently they believe that this energy boom will be sustained for much longer than the previous one in the 1970s. Many analysts predict that this boom will last for at least 15 years.
  • But remember that the health of Calgary's economy is influenced by the energy industry. If some unforeseen development were to have an adverse effect on Alberta's energy industry, there would be a ripple effect throughout the province's economy.
  • Take into consideration the fact that you would be moving into the city at a time when real estate prices are high by the standards of this city.

Weighing It All Up

  • Now before you jump to conclusions and assume that this article is telling you to steer clear of Calgary, please put this into context.
  • There still is a steady stream of British expats arriving in Calgary. They continue to report that commuting (whether by road or by transit) is better than it is in the UK's large metropolitan areas. They find the local people friendly, and they love the good access to nature and to outdoor activities. Many of them report that they feel safer in Calgary than they felt in their UK cities.
  • The deterioration in the quality of life has been felt by people who have lived in Calgary for a long time and who knew it when it was a smaller, slower city. If you arrive now, Calgary's past won't matter to you, and you won't have a basis for comparison.
  • In fairness, it should be admitted that, to the extent that crime exists in Calgary, it tends to be petty crime involving property. By most standards, the violent crime rate is low. What violent crime there is tends to be gang-related. If you are like the average person, it is extremely unlikely that you will be affected by violent crime.
  • On balance, Calgary is a friendly city that is a good place in which to live and raise a family.
  • What this article is telling you is that, while moving to Calgary, say, four years ago was a no-brainer, it now is a more complex decision. Back then Calgary was a bargain. Real estate was considerably cheaper than it was in Toronto and Vancouver, and yet Calgary had most amenities that a person could want in a city. Provided someone liked a dry-ish, four-season climate and outdoor pursuits, and provided they could find employment in an environment that favoured Canadian experience, Calgary was a fantastic place to which to move. Since Calgary real estate has grown much more expensive than it was, a person needs to weigh the decision more carefully. For people in some occupations, Calgary still is an ideal destination. For other people, it no longer is such a good choice.

Related Information

  • This is one of a series of British Expats Wiki articles about Calgary.
  • Calgary's Vital Signs is an initiative of The Calgary Foundation. It is comprised of a group of community leaders who monitor quality of life in Calgary.
  • It is not easy to make sense of the information on the Vital Signs website, which at first blush makes Calgary look pretty good (and in many ways Calgary does enjoy advantages over other Canadian cities). But Calgary does have warts, as this article has attempted to point out. It seems fair to give you, the reader, as balanced a picture as possible. So you may be interested in reading the CBC News article entitled, Calgary housing gets a D in quality-of-life report, which summarizes the main points of the October 2008 Vital Signs report.