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Densifying Vancouver's Side Streets is Next Phase in Creating Affordable Housing

06/05/2015 12:13 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT
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Camera: Konica MT-7 Film: Kodak Portra 160

As real estate prices in Vancouver continue to skyrocket and our expectations around housing choices come into question, it is becoming clear that single-family home ownership in our urban centres is no longer realistic.

Reactions to this vary, but many in the millennial generation understand that buying a single-family home is simply out of the question.

Given that Vancouver's affordability issues are intricately connected to the limited housing supply, the conversation needs to turn from complaints about foreign investment and taxation to solutions. For decades, new development in this city has been isolated to busy main streets and transit corridors and while these are logical areas for growth, it hasn't created a large enough land supply to meet the demand for housing while also driving the price of land to astronomical levels.

Think of the development that has occurred in the last 10 years along Cambie Street, Oak Street, Main Street and the False Creek Flats. While the neighbourhood character and price points vary, the common thread between these growth areas is that a proportionately small amount of single-family housing was eliminated to make way for new development.

Looking forward, there has been traction gaining around the idea of introducing growth into more single-family areas of Vancouver. While the development community has been pushing this idea for years, the City of Vancouver has recently introduced new condo and townhome zoning designations along the traditionally single-family side streets in Marpole.

The first project to be built under the city's new zoning is Park&Metro, which my company developed. On the surface, Marcon's four-storey, 73-unit condo development at the corner of 63rd Avenue and Yukon Street would seem unoriginal. But there are host of things that make this project different as a result of the new zoning, and helps define what will become a new wave of gentle densification in Vancouver.

There are height limits in place, and requirements for buildings to be designed with "alphabet" footprints, which essentially means that a conventional box design with only four corners is out of the question.

The fourth floor was set back to give the buildings an appearance of being only three stories, and each home on the ground floor is intended to have direct access from the street or lane.

With all of these considerations, the difference between this type of development and a more conventionally designed project with the same density is huge and is likely the reason no one in the community opposed the project.

It's a big step forward to put condos off arterial roads. It's what Bob Rennie advocated in his recent speech to the Urban Development Institute. In this Globe and Mail story, he said the only option for middle-income families who want to live in Vancouver is for the city to remove some of the increasingly unaffordable housing, whether it is bungalows or mansions and use the space for smaller units they can afford. And for neighbourhood groups to support such changes.

While some single-family homeowners are resistant to new density being introduced in their neighbourhoods, there is no doubt that the great lengths city planners and developers have gone to create a more sensitive form of densification will help to soften the resistance as it is introduced in other neighbourhoods.

This new kind of gentle density on our residential side streets is the key to affordability and growth in Vancouver. The redevelopment of single-family neighbourhoods is the only way that future generations will be able to live and work in the communities where they grew up and where they want to stay.

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