Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New townhouse projects help build walkable neighbourhood

Before I get into today’s topic, I wanted to clear up some terminology. A rowhouse is a single family unit constructed in a row of attached units separated by property lines. If you live in a rowhouse, you are not part of a strata plan. A townhouse is exactly the same as a rowhouse except that it is part of a strata plan. In the South of Fraser, most rowhouses are townhouses as they are in strata plans.

When most people think of rowhouses, they imagine two- or three-story units that run continually along a street front. Maybe images of Philadelphia come to mind. But, rowhouses can take other forms. For example, they could be single-story duplex units.

During the 1990s many townhouse developments were single-story units that turned their back to the street. They were usually only accessible by a gated private road. For a whole host of reasons, municipalities discouraged these gated developments. At the same time townhouses started to resemble the traditional three-story form, but with a catch.

The townhouse’s front and centre feature was the garage door. Also, most townhouse projects were designed with their backs against the street and private laneways required to access the units.

These designs did very little to improve the public realm. As these units are inward focused, it inhibits “eyes and ears” on the street which is key to improving perceived safety. Also as people’s front yards are driveways in these inward-focused designs and backyards are cut off from the street with large fences, there is very limited pedestrian-friendly mixing space which limits street life and the ability of people to serendipitously encounter their neighourhoods. These design decisions make it harder to build a vibrant and healthy community.

One of the good things about the City of Langley is that many of the townhouse projects built since the early twenty-first century, actually front the street. The one major issue was that the garage was still the most prominent feature.

At the last City of Langley Council Meeting, two new townhouse projects were on the table. The great thing about these projects are that they have small front yards, and the garage is actually accessed via a back laneway. These townshouses will contribute to the creation of a better public realm and should enhance the quality of neighbourhoods.

Street view of proposed townhouse project at 19690-19720 55A Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

Site plan for proposed townhouse project at Michaud Crescent and 201 Street. Select image to enlarge.

Street view of proposed townhouse project at Michaud Crescent and 201 Street. Select image to enlarge.

Going forward, the City of Langley should require that all townhouse projects have some units that must front the street with garages accessed via laneways. This design will create great walkable communities. Of course one of the keys to building walkable townhouse (or rowhouse) communities is that there must be shops, services, jobs, and transit within easy walking distance. The two projects before Langley City Council are within an easy walk of Downtown Langley and frequent transit.

Three-storey townhouses/rowhouses are a great form of “single-family” style housing and can help support the creation of walkable, accessible communities, designed to put people first.


Anonymous said...

These are pretty nice townhouse projects that will enhance that walkability in the City. Do you know why the corner of the project along Michaud is not being developped? Or will it be greenspace? Cheers

Nathan Pachal said...

I'm unsure. There is a building there currently.