White: Unintended Consequences for Urban Planning

While there are benefits to rezoning in older communities, the change can also come with downsides.

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When it comes to urban planning, although most ideas are well intentioned, unfortunately there are often unintended consequences. Today, Calgary and many North American cities are grappling with the unintended consequences of zoning to allow for more infill development in existing neighborhoods that are currently zoned primarily single family homes. Additionally, they grapple with the unforeseen negative impact of LRT stations on the livability of surrounding neighborhoods.

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Superior zoning is really high end zoning

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Today, many planners and urban planners are pushing for a general rezoning of Calgary’s former suburbs to allow faster approval for new duplexes, townhouses (groups of three to eight townhouses) and low-rise apartment buildings. multiple dwellings (less than four stories) or in planning terms, the “missing middle”.

Dan Parolek of Opticos in San Francisco first used the term “missing middle” in 2010 to describe residential buildings between single-family homes and mid-to-large apartment buildings. Buildings should be of a scale comparable to a single-family home, but still include more than one dwelling unit – duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes, courtyard apartments, courtyard bungalows, townhouses, multiplexes and dwelling units /work. They are described as missing because they have not been built for many decades, often because zoning only allows single-family homes.

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Another term for this type of development is “hidden density” because new buildings are not very tall (often not as tall as the canopy of mature trees) so that pedestrians, cyclists or drivers notice at hardly they are not detached single family homes.

Although zoning increases density, it also results in the removal of low-cost housing, replacing it with higher-cost, high-end housing, i.e., land that once housed a small, old detached house. with a lower than average rent or purchase cost. becomes two or more homes with above-average rents or purchase prices.

Yes, unfortunately the most attractive houses to renovate are the old, run-down bungalows. And, in some cases, it even encourages homeowners to let their homes fall into disrepair while waiting for the right time to sell or redevelop the site.

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So the unintended consequences of zoning older suburbs are less affordable housing and neighborhood gentrification for middle-income professionals and young families.

LRT station security issue

While politicians, planners and city planners are all advocating for the benefits of SLR in creating better communities, the public is not so sure they will benefit. Calgary’s downtown LRT stations are now plagued by unwanted activity that was once clustered downtown.

I was surprised recently when I met with community leaders in Fairview about the mega redevelopment of Midtown, just west of the community, which would include a new LRT station, and found that their biggest problem was the proposed new LRT station. They feared that the station would lead to more crime and unwanted activity in their community. Shortly after, I was surprised again when a male friend (young non-white professional) who lives a few minutes from the proposed Midtown station told me that he definitely didn’t want a station near his home.

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Transit-oriented development has been touted for decades as one of the main strategies for diversifying and densifying Calgary’s former suburbs. The conversion of park-and-rides and the sea of ​​detached single-family homes next to LRT stations are ripe for redevelopment of the “missing middle”.

However, the unintended consequence of the LRT has been to bring crime, drug use, and other undesirable activity from downtown to the suburbs, especially since the COVID outbreak, which has drastically reduced ridership.

Although some of the public’s concerns about safety are perceived rather than real, “perception is reality” and if people feel a place is unsafe, they won’t want to live there.

Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of LRT development today is to increase security issues at and near LRT stations, making the area around them a less attractive place to live.

Last word

Calgary politicians and city planners would be wise not to over-promise and over-deliver on the benefits of superior zoning and transit-oriented development. Yes, there are advantages, but like most things, there are also disadvantages.

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