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Airdrie vs. Lethbridge vs. Red Deer

Well these past couple years we’ve seen a big push of people moving out of bigger centers and into smaller cities, especially here in Alberta where a lot people are moving from big cities like Toronto & Vancouver. Small cities have their perks and there are many features that make different cities an ideal place to live.



Red Deer is located right in between Calgary and Edmonton, Airdrie is just north of Calgary, and Lethbridge is the furthest south in the province. Looking at Lethbridge, it’s reasonably close to multiple places if we’re looking at day trips. It’s under 2 hours to the BC boarder, which makes it closest out of the 3 cities, and it’s also the closest to Saskatchewan on the east side. You’re also only about 90 minutes to the Rocky Mountains, or an hour from the US border going into Montana. So it has great proximity to a bunch of different places, but the downside is that it's furthest form any of the bigger cities in Alberta, being about a 2 hour drive to Calgary. In Lethbridge you’ll find most of the terrain is prairie with grassy hills.

One of the big pro’s to Airdrie’s location is the proximity to a big city and an international airport. Being only 10 minutes north of Calgary allows you to enjoy living in a small city, while still being very close to the amenities of a big city. Calgary’s airport is on the north side of the city, so in Airdrie you’re only about 20 minutes away. It's also the closest of the 3 to the Rocky Mountains, being only about a 1 hour drive, makes it easy to spend a morning on the ski hill or an afternoon in Banff. In and around Airdrie you’ll find prairie fields that definitely make Airdrie the flattest of the 3. 

From here if you take a trip north on the number 2 highway, Red Deer is about an hour and a half from Calgary and the same distance north to Edmonton. Like Airdrie, Red deer is built around the number 2 highway in Alberta that runs north/south, with makes it very convenient to go north or south to the big cities. There are also some nice lakes in the Red Deer area that you can enjoy in the summer time, but you will be furthest of the 3 from the Rocky Mountains. The landscape changes a bit here too in Red Deer. It’s less prairie land and more trees and hills, which definitely adds to the scenery.

Location plays a part in the weather too. All three cities get nice and hot in the summer, but cold in the winter. However the cold never seems to last long because of chinooks; warm winds that sweep the cold air away. This is especially true in the southern parts of Alberta, happening most around Lethbridge, a little less in Airdrie, and even less frequently in Red Deer. Chinooks can be a good and bad, and are a big reason why Lethbridge in particular gets the name of “windy city”. Red Deer however, experiences slightly harsher winters that last a touch longer. All three cities get plenty of sunshine though, with 333 days a year of sun in the Calgary/Airdrie area, 324 days in Red Deer, and 320 days in Lethbridge. 


Alright and Now for population, Airdrie is sitting at just over 80,000 people  people, while Red Deer and Lethbridge are over 100,000, Lethbridge at 106,000 and Red Deer is just a couple thousand people more than Lethbridge. This factor definitely contributes to the overall feel of each city, with Airdrie having more of a large town feel, where Lethbridge and Red Deer definitely have more of a city feel to them. For the average age in each city, Lethbridge sits at the oldest with 40, Red Deer trails behind at 39, and Airdrie has the youngest population at an average age of 34. The Lethbridge average age surprised me. I thought it would be younger than that since it has a big student population with the university. With students removed the average age in Lethbridge would be even quite a bit higher than 40. Now on the other hand, the young average age makes sense in Airdrie though, as families with children make up a big portion of every neighborhood. The city also accommodates this through its infrastructure and keeps families in mind for future development plans. 


Starting with Red Deer, Red Deer has all the amenities of a large city in a smaller-sized package and with convenient locations and easy to find parking. There won’t be much you can’t find within the city with 2 good sized shopping malls and tons of local specialty stores. There’s mixed opinions on the public transit system, some saying it’s slow or you’ll still have to walk a bit, but clunky transit seems to come along with most small cities as they grow. So overall, amenities wise you’re going to have everything you need in Red Deer. The drawbacks here would be if you like going to the big city for additional shopping & entertainment amenities, such as big sports events, concerts, and other nightlife things that the big city provides. But you do have the option of either going north to Edmonton or South to Calgary high are both about an hour and a half away.

In Lethbridge, there will again be everything you need, but maybe not a whole lot more than that. Although there is a shopping mall and local retailers, it doesn’t have the same level of diversity when it comes to shopping and entertainment. You’re also the furthest away from major centers compared to the other two cities on our list, being about 2 hours from Calgary, and about 5 from Edmonton. Lethbridge is also quite spread out, which means you pretty much need to drive here. It has a limited public transit, which can be a drawback for people.

Now for Airdrie, there’s a pretty wide selection when it comes to its range of stores. Everyday essentials like grocery stores, hardware stores, drugstores, and big box stores such as Walmart are all within reach here. Also with Airdrie not being very spread out, you're only going to be a 10-15 minute drive at most to get to where you’re going, and even less if you live more central in the city! As for malls, one of the biggest malls in the country, Cross Iron Mills, is just 5 minutes away between Airdrie and Calgary, and there’s also another mall in that area, New Horizon Mall, that’s more of a marketplace style shopping with small kiosks and lots of variety thats not the typical mall stores you see in regular malls. For restaurants you’ll have plenty to choose from with lots of franchise restaurants and fast food chains, and also with a growing number of local places to eat of all different styles of food. The nice thing about Airdrie being the most diverse of the 3 cities, is that you get all the different selections of stores and restaurants that comes with that!


Lethbridge has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities, with the main attraction being over 200 km of well maintained pathways throughout the city and trails in the river valley. That being said, Red Deer also has over 100 km of paths as well, with many being in nature. and the number of parks here too is more than the other two cities. The paths in Airdrie, while there are a lot of them, they’re typically are more to connect the different communities together vs. being nature walking paths. This is the downside of not having a big river running through the city like Red Deer and Lethbridge do, you have less opportunity for natural riverbed/nature space that you can build a more natural feeling park space. 

While Lethbridge has the Old Man River and Red Deer has the Red Deer River, Airdrie only has Nose Creek. Nose Creek is a smaller stream that flows through the city, allowing for some fishing, but no swimming or boating opportunities. The bigger rivers in Red Deer and Lethbridge allow you to float down in the summer, go swimming, have campgrounds nearby, and things like that. Now being close to Calgary, there’s opportunity in the big city for water recreation, but not right in town. You’ll find in Airdrie, instead of enjoying a river in town, many people will head to the Rocky Mountains for their outdoor adventures since it's the closest to the Rockies of all 3 cities. 


All 3 economies are relatively thriving, Lethbridge has a diverse economy with a range of industries, including agriculture, healthcare, education, and manufacturing. This means residents have access to a variety of job opportunities and can usually easily find work in their field of expertise. In Airdrie many people work in professional offices, stores, or trades jobs, with a large number of people who commute to the bigger city of Calgary for work. It’s become a great place for people to live for those people who work in the big city, but don’t necessarily want to live there. It’s also a great place to start a business and become well known quite fast, with a big emphasis on shopping and eating local within the city. Now Red Deer is seeing more jobs open up, but it still has a 7% unemployment rate - highest of the three cities by almost 2%. Many people work in health care, construction, oil, and gas, and manufacturing. 


For post secondary schools, Red Deer Polytechnic is a great institute with a wide range of offerings. Its campus is a lot smaller than Lethbridge or ones in Calgary, but it is still a good school that has gone through some updates as well.

Lethbridge is home to 2 post secondary schools, the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College. Both are well regarded and offer a wide selection of programs, such as arts, science, and business. These are why Lethbridge has such a large student population, with about 12% of the population in Lethbridge attending either the university or college. 

Airdrie only has Bow Valley College, which is a small building mostly used for adults looking to upgrade or people taking shorter courses. The actual universities will be within Calgary and though they are not right in Airdrie they are huge campuses and many students live in Airdrie and commute to school.   


Typically what we see is, the closer you live to a major city, the more expensive housing prices get and this case is definitely no exception. One of the biggest advantages to living in Lethbridge or Red Deer is the low cost of housing. Compared to Airdrie, and other cities in the province, they have cheaper housing prices and rent prices, making it an appealing option for those who want the freedom that comes with lowered cost of living, if you’re okay with being further from the big city.

Looking at the detached homes first, we’re going to look at the average prices. In Airdrie you’re looking at an average price of $569,000 for a detached home, in Lethbridge this goes all the way down to $421,000 and in Red Deer its cheaper yet, being around $411,000. For condos in the cities, Airdrie has a condo average price of $240,000, compared to both Red Deer and Lethbridge that are right around $165,000 for an average condo price. 

It's a bit harder to get accurate data around rentals as we don’t track rented prices like we do sales in Alberta, but it seems that rentals will be bout 20% cheaper in Red Deer and Lethbridge compared to in Airdrie. 


In terms of overall crime, the Alberta rate is 8,722 incidents per 100,000 people and the Canadian rate is 5,856 incidents per 100,000 people. Airdrie for overall crime up against those provincial and national numbers looks pretty good, with a crime rate of 4,648 per 100,000 people, which is quite a bit better. Lethbridge doesn't look as good with a rate of 13,469 per 100,000 people, and Red deer is actually the highest of all 3 with a crime rate of 14,934 incidents per 100,000 people.

Now moving onto Property Crime, our Alberta rate is 5,159 incidents per 100,000 people, and the Canadian rate is 3,181 incidents per 100,000 people. Comparing that to Airdrie’s property crime, we see 2,750 incidents per 100,000 people. In Lethbridge we see a property crime rate of 7,967 incidents per 100,000 people, and in Red Deer that jumps up to 8,834 incidents per 100,000. So again Lethbridge and Red Deer come in higher than average for property crime. Lastly looking at the violent crime rate, and in Alberta our rate is 1,232 per 100,000 people, and the Canadian rate is 1,042 incidents per 100,000 people. Looking at Airdrie first again, we see a violent crime rate of 656 incidents per 100,000 people, which again is below the Alberta and Canadian averages. Moving onto Lethbridge we see a violent crime rate of 1,902 incidents per 100,000 people, and in Red Deer we have 2,109 incidents per 100,000 people.

So as far as crime in these 3 cities we ave a pretty clear winner. With Airdrie being better than average in all categories, and Red Deer and Lethbridge being quite a bit worse than the provincial and national rates, it’s hard to argue that Airdrie simply is the safer city of the 3, and by quite a large margin!


Check out my YouTube channel where I go over everything in this blog post and subscribe to my channel if you want to see more Airdrie related content!

- Brad Walker


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