Where should we live in Vancouver area?
August 13, 2012 9:36 PM   Subscribe

My husband is considering a job offer in Vancouver. His office would be in the Downtown Eastside. We have two kids who are entering Grade One and Senior Kindergarten. Which neighbourhoods should we look at that would allow us to live car-free with minimal commute time near good elementary schools?

For the past year, our family of four has been travelling in the US, Asia, and Europe. We love the location independence, but our income hasn't been so stable. Now my husband has a good job offer from his old firm at the Vancouver office (he was previously in Ottawa). Exciting location but a little daunting to relocate there.

I am overwhelmed at the thought of figuring out the right Vancouver neighbourhood to rent in. We want to live car-free in a walkable area with easy access to transit (don't we all?). We need to find a good school for our kids, aged 6 and 4. (We're too late to get them into Mandarin immersion, but we'll settle for access to Mandarin after-school or tutoring and a diverse public school).

posted by alicat to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:40 PM on August 13, 2012

Commercial Drive is my current home and is a wonderfully diverse and comfortable neighborhood and is almost walking distance from the DTES. The heart of the neighborhood is Grandview Park but shops run from Venables all the way south past Broadway. Slightly further east but still a quick bus ride is Hastings Sunrise, centered at the intersection of Hastings and Nanaimo (now being called the "east village" by a marketing association) which is another very comfortable area, I would say maybe a bit more working-class and family-oriented and less expensive. Both parts of town are urban and walkable and close to downtown, though you'll pass through the DTES on the way downtown and will have to get comfortable with the extremes of poverty there. Don't know anything about the quality of the schools, but they are good neighborhoods, and I would expect the schools to be good as well.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:34 PM on August 13, 2012

Hastings Sunrise is walkable with lots of little shops and cafes and such, but primarily residential and thus quiet at night. Quick transit or even bike ride into the downtown east side.

Mandarin shouldn't be a problem - according to their wikipedia page, English is a second language (I lived there last winter and this doesn't surprise me).
posted by mannequito at 10:51 PM on August 13, 2012

What's your budget for rent?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 PM on August 13, 2012

I'm not sure of the name of the school, but the elementary school at Pandora and Nanaimo often has needles and empty liquor/beer bottles scattered around it and smells of urine. A friend who lives up the street says all the neighbours opt for French Immersion to avoid that school. Does the high school you feed into matter? That might also affect your decision, but it depends on how long you're planning to live here. More than 50% of Vancouver secondary students go out of catchment.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:06 AM on August 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the help so far, everyone!

For rent, probably in the range of $2500/month. Ideally three bedrooms but it doesn't need to be large.

High school doesn't matter too much because we're not planning to stay long-term (it's a three-year contract, and we'd like to keep travelling after that).
posted by alicat at 3:45 AM on August 14, 2012

Why not Richmond? Closer to the ocean and parks, Canada Line, Mandarin immersion, plus actual Mandarin and Cantonese signs. Good food!
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: Virtually anywhere you live in Vancouver will give you a good school. If you want to live in Vancouer proper (and not Richmond, as KokuRyu suggests) you're almost guaranteed a good school, especially if your rent budget is $2500. Mount Pleasant is residential and affordable, with a number of excellent elementary schools. Hastings-Sunrise is slightly less expensive, although expect rents to go up now that it's been renamed "East Village" and has become the new target for gentrification. Commercial Drive is a lovely area, but definitely more lively in terms of bars & restaurants, so perhaps you'd prefer something less bohemian.

The quintessential Vancouver neighbourhood (though not to my taste) is Kitsilano: close to beaches, parks, high end cafes, yoga studios and organic grocers, upscale and residential. Great schools, of course. A short bus/bike ride to the DTES. You may also consider a Condo in the West End, Yaletown or Gastown, all of which are right beside the DTES, but offer the most urban Vancouver 'hoods.

I'm not sure if you're Canadian, but we don't really have to worry too much about inequality between schools in our wealthier cities. Pick the neighbourhood you want, and your kids will get great educations with a diverse array of fellow student backgrounds.
posted by Catchfire at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2012

I should say that Richmond has good schools too! I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. But as you move into the suburbs, it's not as certain that the schools will be of a level.
posted by Catchfire at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2012

As a parent who lives in Vancouver, I have to say that I vehemently disagree that public schools are generally okay across the board. Many schools have disorganized PACs and don't even get it together to apply for the PAC grant from the government ($3500). At our first schoo, what little money they did have went to buy rain clothing (at full price, because the parents didn't know to ask the co-op store for help!) for all the kids who didn't have rain gear *in Vancouver*. Other PACs don't even have the ability to fundraise, meaning there is no extra money for school supplies, field trips, art projects, speakers, events or other activities. At many inner city schools, they can't even do field trips when they do have the money because there are no parents available to serve as chaperones. At struggling schools, no one looks after the earthquake and disaster kits either. At one school my child attended, there were kids who played unattended for hours after school. Moreover, at struggling schools, the teachers, as passionate as they may be, are struggling to keep up with all the diagnosed and undiagnosed special needs children, plus all the unofficial special needs - and many of the families have no extra money for counselling, tutoring, local trips, supplies, extracurricular activities or anything else to support their kids -- and navigating a new country, mental health issues, health problems and financial issues overwhelms many people. And if the school isn't in a catchment for a "good" high school, many parents send their kids elsewhere (even at the elementary level). This is changing with the creation of magnet schools, but things are still very difficult at many schools -- including those in the West End, Strathcona, Commercial Drive, and Mount Pleasant. And it's not uncommon to find needles, condoms, empty bottle, sleeping areas and unofficial toilets on school property in those areas either. I used to think most schools would be fine at the elementary level, but my own experience (and info shared by teachers and other parents) suggests that there's a reason housing costs so much more in areas with high functioning schools.

Kits, some parts of East Van, most of the West Side, Yaletown, Cambie Corridor, etc are pretty good places to look. But I'd be very cautious about saying all the schools are good. I think they might actually be a shock for some people to go to in 2012, given all the cutbacks.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2012

I am also a parent who lives in Vancouver. My experience has been different. As someone who volunteers in the DTES, I find the scary stories about needles and feces littering certain schools to be exaggerated. But certain things will trigger people differently, I suppose.
posted by Catchfire at 2:15 PM on August 14, 2012

Catchfire, I have found these things, reported them to the schools and so on. It's not something I made up. I also used to work across the street from a school in Strathcona. The Lord Roberts Annex in the West End has ongoing problems of this nature (especially due to the proximity to the meth clinic and also the desirable overnight shelter the playground provides) and so do many other schools in the downtown peninsula.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2012

Response by poster: I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond here (and privately by email)! My blood pressure has gone down several notches and I feel like we've got some great leads on where to look.

KokuRyu, I hadn't considered Richmond, so thanks for mentioning it (although it doesn't look like any of the public schools there offer Mandarin -- were you thinking of something else?)

Catchfire and Chaussette, I suppose everyone has a different definition of a "good" school, but those are the kinds of issues I was wondering about. We lived in downtown Ottawa for 8 years and my daughter went to a local school for junior kindergarten that was considered a beacon (under-funded) school. The teachers and community were great even though the classroom wasn't as new and shiny as at the alternative school. There are so many individual factors to consider, but it does help to hear your experiences, so thanks.
posted by alicat at 5:17 PM on August 14, 2012

No worries, alicat -- I'm sure no matter where you end up you'll love Vancouver. It's a great place to live for a few years. Good luck!
posted by Catchfire at 10:05 PM on August 14, 2012

A couple more suggestions:

If you want to check commute times, Vancouver transit information is fully integrated into Google Maps.

WikiTravel provides a quick overview of Vancouver neighbourhoods.

Another very walkable neighbourhood is Main Street, between about 16th and 33rd Avenues. (We live in this neighbourhood, near 28th Avenue.) It's an easy commute--one bus--to the Downtown Eastside. Our subjective impression is that other parents are happy with the local elementary schools, General Wolfe and General Brock (our kids are at a French immersion school, L'Ecole Bilingue, which is great, but not walking distance).

If you need a car occasionally, Vancouver has three different car-sharing companies.

It's possible to commute from Richmond or Burnaby via SkyTrain, but they're somewhat more suburban and car-oriented. If you want maximum exposure to Chinese language, Richmond definitely has a high proportion of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers (it's about 40-50% Chinese).
posted by russilwvong at 12:14 AM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: Just coming back to update ~

My husband did get the job and we arrived in Vancouver on the Wednesday after Labour Day. We focused our house hunt in Vancouver, ruling out Burnaby and Richmond as too far from downtown. We also eliminated False Creek because it was mainly residential/recreational and not so walkable for amenities, and downtown Vancouver because of concerns about the schools.

We looked at places in Kitsilano, Kerrisdale, Mount Pleasant, and South Granville, all of which were great neighbourhoods, but narrowed it down to Kitsilano as having the best combination of proximity to downtown and great amenities. It just struck us as more of a family neighbourhood. And I'm happy we'll be near the beach.

On the Saturday, we found a 3-bedroom duplex, newly renovated, for slightly more than our budget. It has a backyard for the kids and it's right across from a park. We can't move in until October 1, so we're staying in a temporary rental until then. I love the place we found.

The school thing was frustrating to deal with. Our kids weren't born in Canada, so we had to register them with a district placement office. There is no centralized information about which schools still have space, so they told us to contact individual schools in the areas we were looking to find out if they could accept our kids. Most school secretaries were very helpful with information but one was annoyed that I wasn't following proper procedure (even though I was only doing what the placement office told me to do).

Every school we contacted in Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant was full in Kindergarten and/or Grade One, with the exception of one. Thankfully, it's close to the duplex we rented.

I was really surprised to learn that the school district has NO bussing available except for students with disabilities. In Ottawa, they provide bussing within your catchment.

French Immersion and Mandarin Immersion are sadly not an option for us. The programs are all full, and our kids will be too old to apply next year. I'll be looking for after-school classes and tutoring for language learning instead.

Thanks again to everyone who answered here ~ I kept referring back to this thread as we searched and it really helped me get my bearings.

(Vancouver is gorgeous and I know we're going to love living here. Although I nearly had a coronary at the grocery store last night ~ the food prices are so high!)
posted by alicat at 3:38 PM on September 17, 2012

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