All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Land assemblies

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dsc00006In my neighbourhood (Hastings-Sunrise, in Vancouver), For Sale signs are popping up like mushrooms, especially along the arterials.  A lot of those announce the potential for land assemblies: buy three or four houses side by side, and you could build a mid-rise condo building or appartment tower.

Along Broadway between Commercial and Rupert, in particular, it seems that there are more houses for sale than not.

At first glance, this should be good news.  Housing is unaffordable in Vancouver.  Increased housing supply, even if it is only one part of the solution, is a must.  And a land assembly should help: where there are, say, four adjacent homes on 33 ft lots, there could be twelve townhouses or thirty appartments, depending on the design.

But, as usual, the devil is in the details.  These houses are for sale…for a price; upwards of three million for a regular size lot has been mentioned.  Clearly, the current owners hope to cash in, and who could blame them?  Except that at that price, the only realistic development options would be luxury condos, which may well be fine but don’t help with housing affordability.  And I doubt that many developers will bite, at that price.  So we’re back to square one: no housing in sight.

But forget this for a moment, and assume that appartment blocks could soon be sprouting up all along the arterials, Broadway, Hastings, Renfrew, Rupert, Nanaimo, say, creating a stock of affordable housing.  Wonderful, right?

Not so fast.  I take issue with their location, along busy streets.  This is where noise and air pollution are concentrated.  Does it make sense to pack as many people as possible in precisely those areas that are least safe?

Close proximity to traffic leads to increased exposure to air pollutants from traffic, fine particulates and nitrogen oxides in particular, as well as increased noise.  These irritants are the main culprits in the findings that people who live near arterials are at higher risk of asthma, obesity, dementia, cardiovascular problems, you name it.

To say nothing of the traffic itself.  The demand for affordable housing is most critical for young families.  You wouldn’t want to have kids playing tag near Broadway, would you? A recent report for the BC Ministry of Environment recommends setbacks away from traffic areas; this is just going in the wrong direction.

Is moving to the far suburbs the solution for young families?  Housing is more affordable, but then there are the costs of a long commute – to say nothing of the health impacts of the commute itself, or the increased risk of accidents.

There is a better way.  Why should the neighbourhoods be zoned so that only the arterials can develop into appartment blocks?  All the streets between the arterials are zoned for single-family housing, despite the fact that this is the bulk of the land area, and it is where the air is cleaner, the streets quieter and safer.  In view of the problems this zoning causes, this is patently absurd.

Changing the zoning to higher-density low or medium rise buildings throughout the neighbourhood would solve many problems at once.  With a much larger pool of land that could be developed, it would diffuse the offer, ensuring that development occurs where it most appropriate – and not just along arterials.  It would create an interesting mix of housing: detached homes, townhouses, a few low-rise blocks interspersed through the mix.  Done intelligently, it would promote the incorporation of small business and retail shops.  Of course, the increased density would justify better transit, parks, and other services, and reduce the carbon footprint per capita.  Jus’ sayin.

And maybe, just maybe, the increased density could lead to a revitalisation of a particularly dismal stretch of Broadway.  Finding a decent café between Victoria and Rupert was impossible, until recently.  There is a little pioneering one at the corner of Nanaimo, newly opened in a recent four-story building that has been built with retail facilities at sidewalk level.  It’s a start.  It would be nice to see more like this.

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Written by enviropaul

February 7, 2017 at 6:16 pm

One Response

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  1. […] surrounded by denser development in the suburbs (at the expense of decent transit), as well as the smaller-scale doughnut effect of higher density along the arterial streets but single family houses in […]


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