Thursday, May 18, 2017

A recap of Metro Conversations #3: The Sacred Single Family Home. What are we trying to protect?

Last night's Metro Conversations was hosted at the Lynn Valley Village Community Room. Select image to enlarge.

Since the fall of last year, I have been working with a team of other municipal councillors in the region on Metro Conversations. So far, we have hosted a conversation in New Westminster about short-term rentals, and a conversation in Langley City about affordable housing and renewing old apartment buildings.

Earlier this year, we received financial and logistical support from SFU Public Square to continue this series of conversations for another year. With their support and the support of North Vancouver District Public Library, we hosted our third conversation in the District of North Vancouver last night.

For more information about the format of Metro Conversations, and the panel members, please check out an earlier post.

What are we trying to protect when in comes to single family zoned areas? According to the four panel members, most people are trying to preserve neighbourhood character. When people think of neighbourhood character, the panellist noted that most people think about density in an area. They discussed that density, or the lack of density, doesn’t define neighbourhood character. What defines neighbourhood character is the scale of a neighbourhood and the design of its public realm.

For example, the height of buildings, and how they are set back from the street and each other defines character. Downtown Langley and Downtown New Westminster both have a different character because of scale and setback.

Also, the design of the public realm defines neighbourhood character. A tree-lined street or a street with a green boulevard defines neighbourhoods.

Finally, the panel members noted that people also create the character of a neighbourhood.

After talking about neighbourhood character, the topic of housing affordability came up in the conversation. The panellist agreed that neighbourhood character can be preserved while increasing density to provide more affordable housing options.

Great examples were given about laneway houses, three-level stack apartments, row houses, carriage houses, and other unique housing types that can be built to provide more housing options in neighbourhoods while preserving character. For a good read on in-fill housing, please view a recent report from the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association.

In most municipalities, panel members stated that building these types of in-fill housing options is difficult. They said that local governments need to update their policies and bylaws to allow more housing flexibility.

Some people that attended the conversation asked about aging-in-place, and how to build walkable single-family/in-fill housing areas. One of the panel members noted that people need to be in walking distance of place(s) that sell these four fluids: milk, beer, coffee, and gas. Panel members talked about the importance of the corner store in creating more walkable areas.

One of the panel members also brought up the need for providing small-scale daycare facilities in single-family/in-fill areas. In Langley City, we have this today.

The topic of parking came up. Based on panel members’ experience, they noted that as areas become more walkable, the amount of parking required becomes less even as density increases.

There were other topics discussed by panel members and other people that attended the conversation. We are working on putting together a podcast series, so people can listen to these conversations in whole.

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