Policy in brief
Without pitting new neighbourhoods against old, it is time for Edmonton to make adjustments so that it can meet the growing demand for infill housing. Building a more compact and more efficient city means high-rises in a few areas — like downtown and around LRT stations like Century Park and Strathearn — but in other areas, it means narrow-lot houses, semi-detached homes and brownstones for families of all shapes and sizes, as well as more seniors’ housing. This kind of density is critical in making the cost of land more affordable, increasing the efficiency of the infrastructure already in place, and supporting community schools and niche businesses in mature areas.
What we’ll do in the short term
Revise the zoning bylaw so that infill is easier for everyone — from one-off private projects to boutique builders — to build. Meanwhile, the permitting process needs to be reformed to reduce the hassle and cost that turns so many people off building infill projects.
Communities where infill is likely need to be engaged in meaningful discussions about what it will look like, including how and when infill will occur. The city can rally support by providing infrastructure and amenities to push development and help those communities adjust with the effects of taking on more families.
Where we need to be a generation from now
The infill market will have matured and different housing options should be more common in mature areas of the city. No citizen should be forced to leave one area for another because the type of housing they need is not available.
More thoughts from Don
Since the first days of my 2007 City Council campaign, I’ve advocated for greater housing options throughout Edmonton, particularly in established neighbourhoods. I campaigned on “Smart Growth for Ward 5” and, specifically, for accommodating a greater share of Edmonton’s growth within our current footprint.
However, the way to increase housing choice in the mature areas of the city is not by pitting new neighbourhood against old, or by artificially constraining building opportunities in new neighbourhoods, but by broadening opportunity to build in those more mature areas and helping people get through the process more speedily.
Building a more compact and more efficient city means high-rises in a few areas — like downtown and around LRT stations like Century Park and Strathearn — but in other areas it means narrow-lot houses, semi-detached homes, and brownstones for families of all shapes and sizes, as well as more seniors’ housing. And the city-centre airport redevelopment, or Blatchford as it’s been named, can be our Brooklyn — if we do it right.
All of this creates choice for residents, because these are lifestyle options Edmonton needs to offer to attract and retain people seeking a more urban lifestyle.
Further, smart density is critical to making the cost of land more affordable for homebuyers, critical to increasing the efficiency of the infrastructure we already have in place, and critical to supporting community schools and niche businesses in mature areas.
In the past six years, we have made a bit of progress, but not enough. Some of this progress has come from leadership at the City Council level. The Way We Grow plan sets out a more ambitious target, aiming for a minimum 25% share for infill development — a goal I pushed to include in the plan.
In terms of how we get there, in 2009 I initiated a Council inquiry on how we could improve RF5 zoning to better facilitate street-oriented town houses and emerging housing trends. More recently, Council adopted modest changes to the RF1, RF2, RF3, and RF4 zones, plus the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, that were designed to enhance opportunities for good infill under the conventional zones.
Now, it’s time for Edmonton to build on this trend and reach our potential. There is a growing market for infill housing, and the City must do more to facilitate meeting that demand. Aspects of the zoning bylaw still produce unnecessary procedures and barriers — for example, some restrictions put in place under the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay to curtain “monster houses” that were being built in the early 1990s are now making it harder to build good duplexes. Further work is needed on the zoning bylaw to ensure that it better balances opportunity for renewal while still ensuring design quality control.
As mayor, one of my top priorities will be to make building infill easier and more cost-effective, while still ensuring that the outcome is quality and variety, not cheap-looking, cookie-cutter housing. Our zoning bylaw needs to be reviewed to make it easier for everyone — from the young couple redeveloping an infill lot in anticipation of their growing family, to “mom and pop” builders doing a few dozen builds a year, to build good-quality but still affordable housing. Meanwhile, getting through the permit process still takes too long and represents cost and hassle that makes infill less feasible and less competitive — and that requires immediate Council intervention to fix.
More broadly speaking, all communities in transition need to be meaningfully engaged in discussions about what they want their communities to look like, and about when and where infill might occur. Where infill demand is likely, communities need to help shape the conditions so landowners and families have more clarity about which amenities — such as schools, infrastructure renewal, or space for local business — they can count on into the future. This involves working with school boards, and coordinating among our transportation, parks, and drainage groups, to make sure the right infrastructure is in place to support growth.
For those communities that are more open to infill, the City can rally support with infrastructure and amenities to help catalyze redevelopment, and to ensure the neighbourhood sees benefits and upside to taking on more families. In good faith, the City should put incentives on the table to move the infill conversation beyond fear and NIMBYism.
By the time my children graduate university, different housing options should be more common in mature area of the city. No citizen should be forced to leave one area for another because the type of housing they need is not available. In the next four years, we can take big steps towards achieving that.