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Urbanism is all the rage

The laneway housing bylaw passed by Vancouver city council in July 2009 sparked a heated debate that is still raging concerning…

By Shannon Dooling , in Designs for Life , on January 18, 2011 Tags: , , ,

The laneway housing bylaw passed by Vancouver city council in July 2009 sparked a heated debate that is still raging concerning Vancouver’s need for more affordable housing and the entire concept of “EcoDensity.”

Many residents of Vancouver are asking where, exactly, the city hopes to find the balance between “eco” and “density” in a housing market that appears ready to burst at the seams.

Kaid Benfield, the director of Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth at the National Resource Defense Council in Washington, D.C., posed a similar question in a recent blog post.

Benfield shared some basic urban development logic, saying that in order to reduce overall impacts of growth it’s invariably necessary to apply a degree of impact to certain areas. He refers to this as the “environmental paradox of urban growth” and confessed that he and his colleagues “generally don’t talk about that in smart growth and urbanist circles, but it absolutely (and literally) comes with the territory.”

Residents of the famed 4600 block of West 11th Avenue in Point Grey would likely identify with Benfield’s paradox.

This block currently boasts the highest concentration of laneway homes anywhere in Vancouver with five under construction in one lane.

Community members have complained that some of the laneway homes, originally aimed at providing more affordable housing options, create invasions of privacy, with porches that hover over fences and peer into backyards and neighbouring windows. They also worry about parking issues caused by the increase in density.

Their vocal complaints prompted the city to revisit the policies surrounding laneway home construction later this year.

Benfield suggests that urbanism and densification are the right answers in terms of limiting environmental impacts to the planet in the long run. That said, he also admits that far too often smart design tends to be heavy on the density at the risk of overlooking the natural, human craving for the occasional respite into solitude from time to time.

So, what’s the solution in a city of 2 million and counting? How does Vancouver continue to grow, and densify, while still aspiring to that greenest city in the world title in the next 10 years?

The answer likely rests in the colour scheme: green.

According to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation website, there are over 200 parks (1,298 hectares) in metro Vancouver. Not a bad start.

An emphasis on green spaces that welcome quiet, solitude and physical activity is a huge part of the equation when balancing the crowded, concrete reality of city life with a human being’s need to just be.