Let’s say that you live in an urban neighborhood that has less than 15 or 20 dwellings per acre. Let’s say that you live in an urban neighborhood of detached or semi-detached townhouses and single family homes. A neighborhood of bungalows, perhaps like this:
Knowing that the city must become more populous in order to serve our future needs, what would you propose to do to increase density while preserving character?
Reader Mackenzie Keast, an urbanist in Hamilton, Ontario, has encouraged me to look at developments in Vancouver and Toronto aimed at pumping up the density in the very neighborhoods I have just described. And what they are creating is pretty interesting.
In Canada, they are calling for laneway housing. In the US, we call laneways alleys. Vancouver has just approved a pilot plan to build 100 laneway housing units. The city has mandated that they must be quite small, 500 to 700 square feet, and must be for rent, not for sale. Things are popping already. Here’s an example:
Laneway housing in Vancouver.
And here’s one in Toronto:
Don’t have an alley? No problem. Build the unit above, or in lieu of, your garage, and use the driveway as your laneway.
This is not exactly a revolutionary idea. New urbanists have been talking about this for a long time, calling the units ‘mother-in-law apartments,’ or live/work suites.
But cities have been slow to warm to the idea – and even now there is some controversy swirling in Vancouver. Will these units create a “second class” of residents? Will the units affect property values? Will the units simply generate more noise and more strain on local public resources like parks and schools?
Support, though, is strongly in favor of trying this approach, as a part of what Vancouver calls its “EcoDensity” plan. Another part of this plan is focusing on repaving residential streets, providing them with center strips of permeable paving and “vegetated shoulders” coupled with storm water management systems. Vancouverites are pushing hard to prepare their city for a useable, sustainable future – as a body politic they seem to be quite far ahead of the rest of us. You can check out the EcoDensity plan at www.vancouver-ecodensity.ca. Interesting stuff.
I was part of a team that proposed a similar kind of paving for DC – about 5 years ago. Nothing yet. Portland, Oregon, has tried something like it though. It looks like this:
Portland bioswale in the sidewalk zone. Photo sitephocus.
I digress. It’s interesting to troll for strategies for increasing the density of our cities, even in places where density is absent. Something to ponder a bit further. Other ideas?
A postscript: today, 16 months almost to the day after we began A Town Square, we are proud to have welcomed our 10,000th visitor. Our many thanks for your interest, and for joining us in conversations about where we live.