Friday, October 29, 2010

Retrofitting Suburbia

Last night, I attended a lecture from Ellen Dunham-Jones on retrofitting suburbia at SFU Surrey. You might know her from the TED Talks of the same name.

I suggest you check out the full talk, but I wanted to point out some of the interest demographics and stats that are pushing us back to the normality of urbanity. Before I get to the information from Dunham-Jones, I found some interesting information from a bulletin from City of St. Albert in Alberta.
New immigrants tend to make up a higher proportion of those living in lower income rental housing, but increasingly more are living in a home owned by relative. Anecdotal evidence suggests new home purchases in many of the outer areas of Edmonton and Calgary are increasingly being made by visible minority, extended families.

While still small, there is a growing trend of young families settling in urban centres in downtowns (Cohen, 2006, Slobodzian, 2007).

With the widening chasm between the poor and the wealthy, greater demands for affordable housing and housing supports will likely increase. This could be tied to increased demand for more compact developments with increased access to transit and other forms of transportation, a key component in improving affordability.

In the same study, projections suggest the demand for attached and small-lot housing will exceed the current supply by 71% while there will be insufficient demand for the amount of large-lot housing available.
Dunham-Jones points out that in the US in 2008 76% of suburban households don't have children. This stat is also valid in Canada.

Not surprising, the vast majority of her case studies show that more sustainable, mixed-use suburban retrofit developments are predicated on high-quality transit being available. One interesting fact is that in Florida, state law automatically allows high density, 25 story towers within a 5min walk and 8 story towers within a 10min walk of rapid transit stations. Could this be something useful for our region? Would it help with 200th Street in Langley?

Finally, mixed-use development provide three to 40 times the tax revenue compared to single-use developments which goes along way to providing sustainable funding for municipal services. No one likes tax increases.

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