Which neighbourhood in St. John's Newfoundland should we live in?
August 1, 2014 11:18 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are moving to St. John's to start PhD programs this month. Where is the best part of town to rent a house with trees, access to hiking trails, but with a maximum 30-40 minute walk to MUN?

We have been house hunting for a few months and are still having a tough time figuring out the character of the neighbourhoods. We spent the last decade in New York City and Brooklyn, but now we're looking for a house that doesn't feel commercial and developed in that city way. We don't want to live in one of the many cookie cutter subdivisions that seem to be popping up all around the city. If we could live in the middle of the woods, we would.

So far, we've been advised to look between Freshwater Road to the west, Prince Philip Drive to the north and the ocean to the south and east. We've been told that the eastern side of this area is preferred, especially because of access to Rennie's River trail. We will have a car, but want to walk to MUN several days each week.

Are there any places we're missing?
posted by jardinier to Travel & Transportation around St. John'S, NL (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
St. John's has a really tight rental market, and if you want to avoid subdivisions, that's your prime area. I wouldn't rule out the area north of Prince Philip Drive though, as there are a handful of houses scattered in Pippy Park, which will be pretty close to living in the woods, and still close to the university.

Don't prioritize an area based on the Rennies' River trail though. St. John's has a pretty great system of trails throughout the city, even through newer subdivisions.
posted by peppermind at 2:03 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you - I've expanded our wanted ads and searches and am looking at the area where houses back Pippy Park. I've never seen any homes for rent in the park though - I've been using Kajiji and the MUN student off-campus listings. Is there a better source for houses that might fit this idea?

I'm also noticing a few trends: indecipherable photos of interiors, rooms painted incredibly dark colors (making everything look smaller and darker than it already is), and every house being advertised has an additional tenant living in the basement. I'd like to avoid all of those things if possible, but it's looking like we might have to rent a "main floor." What's the local take on this kind of arrangement, is it just something that out-of-towners get duped into or is it standard?
posted by jardinier at 10:33 PM on August 2, 2014

Having downstairs tenants probably means there's a legit and completely separate basement apartment in the building. You might share a driveway or something but you wouldn't have access to eachother's living space, and it's pretty common.

This is almost certainly the worst time of year to be looking for a rental unit, especially since you want to be within walking distance of the university, so you may have to be a bit more flexible with your criteria, honestly. Kijiji is probably your best bet, but you could try NL classifieds.
posted by peppermind at 5:16 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Georgetown neighbourhood is a short walk from the university, the downtown, some good (for Newfoundland) supermarkets, and cultural institutions like The Rooms and the Holy Heart theatre. The houses are mostly charming Victorians, mature trees etc, and it's easy to get onto wooded trails or out into the hills beyond Quidi Vidi and Signal Hill. There's a good sense of community there, too. It's where I'd most want to live, if I was moving back home. The area around Churchill Square might suit your needs, too.

Even if you are right downtown, though, you can be out of the city (indeed, out of sight and out of earshot) and in some rugged nature pretty quick - just walk out the battery or around signal hill. It's one of the neat features of St. John's, that the oldest and most densely built sections retain very quick and easy access to nature - which is not true of the newer suburban areas, which just sprawl forever with little foresight or planning.

Areas like Mount Scio and Pippy Park might make sense, too. As "in the woods" as you'll get without sacrificing the walk to the university.

I'd avoid areas like Cowan Heights or the new suburban developments around the big box areas (Stavanger drive, Kelsey drive, etc). They're ugly and inconvenient and have little to offer anyone.

The rental market is kind of nuts back home, and this is a bad time of year to be looking. You may have to make a difficult compromise. I hope you'll really love your time there even if this is the case - it's a charming town with a lot to offer, even with issues like sprawl and insufficient housing.
posted by erlking at 9:50 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, NB: it sucks (SUCKS) to be a pedestrian in St John's between December and April (or May, some years). The city does not do any sidewalk snowclearing and it is the snowiest major city in Canada. The local culture is very car-centric. Fall is glorious, usually, so explore on foot before winter comes. As peppermind has said, there is a vast and excellent network of walking trails :)
posted by erlking at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Super helpful - thank you both!

Where is Georgetown? Any sense of the location would be helpful. I haven't found any maps that reflect the neighbourhood boundaries (rough as they likely are), so I'm having some difficulty understanding what the names mean.

We're seriously considering a place on Exmouth with a deck, patio, and that backs onto Pippy Park. But I do get a sense that area is a lot of student housing - how is that spot between MUN and Avalon on Pippy Park?
posted by jardinier at 11:54 AM on August 3, 2014

Georgetown Bakery (which happens to sell the best bagels east of Montreal imho) is more or less smack in the middle of Georgetown. I'd say the most expansive boundaries would be Bonaventure Avenue in the west, Bannerman Park / Rennie's Mill Road in the east, Empire Avenue in the north, and Military Road in the south. The Churchill Square area I mentioned would be directly to the north of Georgetown, on the other side of Empire Avenue - Carpasian Road, Pine Bud Avenue, Long Pond road, etc.

Exmouth might be OK for you. There are definitely a lot of students in that neighbourhood, but, frankly, the same is true of area within walking distance of the University - there's >15,000 undergraduates there, and fewer than 2,000 spots in on-campus housing.

The main street near Exmouth is Thorburn Road, which is just awful - ugly, heavy traffic, pedestrian unfriendly - but the side streets around it like Oxen Pond, Larkhall, etc., are fairly nice if nondescript suburban developments from the 70s and 80s. There's also a physically separate bike path that runs along that stretch of Prince Philip all the way to the university (this is rare: St John's is not great at bikes, although it is trying to get better)

Other good things about that location: easy access to Pippy Park (which is mostly undeveloped forest - it's not an urban park, like Bannerman, Victoria, or Bowring, the city's other major parks), easy access to the Health Sciences Centre (the city's largest/best hospital), easy access to the Avalon Mall (which is a medium-large and thriving mall - not a dead mall at all). For my money, I'd be looking to be closer to downtown and downtown-adjacent neighbourhoods, because that's where 90% of the cultural action is, but if you're more into nature this may be the ticket.

It may be too impenetrable to someone who has never been there before, but here's an art print with all the neighbourhoods of St John's, which I found here.
posted by erlking at 12:50 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

We will need/want to walk to campus several days a week, year-round - so the walk from Exmouth seems like it will be the best of the options we've found so far (especially if the sidewalks aren't plowed in the winter on the streets we would need to walk from other areas). Does it seem reasonable to walk into and across campus in the winter from Exmouth? Georgetown is beautiful, but everything there (at the moment, and so far) is almost double our price-range! Perhaps in the future! The artprint map is amazing - we'll have to pick one up when we get there too - thanks!
posted by jardinier at 1:32 PM on August 3, 2014

I think you'll be able to make it to campus in the winter walking from Exmouth, although make sure you have good boots and warm clothes. If walking ever seems too daunting, the Metrobus routes 10 and 15 go fairly directly from that area onto campus.

Anything along Allandale / the western half of Elizabeth Avenue might be worth looking into, too - Whiteway Street, Newtown Road, etc.

Glad to be of help! I hope this works out for you :)
posted by erlking at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Resolution: We just signed a lease for a place on Exmouth St. in what (thanks to the art print neighbourhood map) I've learned is called Baird. Along the way we found that posting a Housing Wanted ad on kijiji actually brought landlords to us making offers of housing! The house is just about everything we wanted considering we needed to be close to MUN. Thanks for all your help!
posted by jardinier at 7:53 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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