Cities are organic creatures. They grow, we hope, as cities that decline are not exactly great places. We want growth, and new things, but want them somewhere else — easily accessible but not too close.
I am getting tired of the litany of complaints about intensification. We knew when we adopted the policy that it had certain effects: house prices will rise; infill will occur in both small scale and large scale developments. Those new residents will use transit, and walk sometimes, but mostly will drive cars. Changing population demographics means new housing types are desired to meet new needs. Some people tire of older single houses, their maintenance, their large lots. Many new households do not fit the suburban cookie cutter three-bedroom + family room model. Starting households cannot afford $350-500,000 singles — new housing types, such as apartments, stacked townhouses, mini-homes on small lots, will meet some of that need. Did everyone dream intensification would occur only many blocks away on disused lots?
The whingeing and complaining goes on and on. Don’t build on the parking lot, it’s valuable public space! Don’t build on that vacant parcel of land, it’s heritage! Or, if isn’t heritage, it has valuable trees. Don’t cut those trees! The empty school site … don’t build there, it’s “traditional” open space. Don’t build bland beige box low rise apartments. Don’t build tall ugly apartment towers, they are tomorrow’s slums. Or as one (now de-elected) councillor whined, why can’t the high rises be built out in Greely?
Well, where will that intensification go if it doesn’t go in existing neighborhoods? In places where it is off to the edge of the existing neighborhood, with minimal over-looking or traffic problems, intensification is still opposed by neighbours as “inappropriate” for here. It can’t go in existing neighborhoods, it will change them (what a sin to change what is obviously perfection). It can’t go on the periphery of adjacent neighborhoods. Nor on now-unused industrial lands.
What about on parking lots? No way, those outsiders will have to clutter up our streets getting to and from their new slums-of-tomorrow. They’ll want new types of retail on the mainstreets. Man the barricades! Why, the head of a downtown BIA even spoke out against condos on downtown parking lots because it would displace the parking spaces used by commuting motorists. Does he really think 35 parked cars contributes more to the city than 135 people living there full-time?
Now the sad truth is that NIMBY-ism lives. It lives on in every community association that says “we support intensification but just not here…” It lives on in every commentator that claims “intensification is good, but ours is the wrong type…”, or “intensification is good but only AFTER the city is laced with a tight network of rapid transit on separate rights of ways”. Or some such other never-realizable condition. Or business people that can’t see beyond the never-satisfiable demand for “more parking” because, after all, they live miles away and depend on (business-expensed) cars for everything they do so doesn’t everyone??
So what to do? I have a modest proposal. Everyone that lives in Ottawa now gets to stay here. But to prevent neighborhoods from changing, NO MORE infills, intensification, condos, seniors homes, or anything that “attracts traffic”. To identify these people entitled to live here, we will have to tatoo everyone on their wrist in some sort of un-forge-able biometric ink.
We will start with the heads of community associations. Their children will be tattooed so that when they graduate from school, they will have to move away. To Perth, or Smith’s Falls, or somewhere else that might have them, but they cannot live in the city.
Then we can tatoo the journalists and their breedings. Eighteen?– off you go, exiled. Can’t have you cluttering up our city.
We’ll need some sort of city bureaucracy to track all these people, and everyone’s dwelling unit will need to be meticulously documented to prevent additions, especially of secondary apartment units. If someone moves out of the city, someone can be permitted to move in. To prevent favoritism, such as affluent retiring journalists giving up their single homes to their children, who might now be breeding too, or to prevent seniors from trading apartments-for-houses with younger couples, the City will establish priorities and allocate units based on “fairness” and perhaps a lottery element, but definitely we’ve got to prevent city-permits being allocated on the basis of initiative and wealth. What a better city we will have when bureaucrats allocate housing rights based on race, gender, income, age, and other measures of “equity”. The need for quality municipal civil servants will be priority of course, and they will get first dibs on that house in Westboro that used to belong to some whiner.
I think we will also need some regulatory action to prevent people from sneaking in and violating the new social order. If your daughter still lives at home, but her boyfriend doesn’t, we can’t have him sleeping over with her, as he would become a serial visitor cum resident. The police can’t track everyone, but we can convert community associations into neighborhood watch groups ensuring that residents and visitors are monitored at all times.
Divorce may have to be banned, as it means one household becomes two, taking up more valuable housing units. How unfair. No, one divorcee of the pair will have to accept exile to Arnprior. Can’t have these people changing the neighborhood now, can we? The opportunities to build a better society are wonderous to behold …
I think the more we regulate city growth, the more conditions we put on things, the more hoops we put on development applications, the more we restrict infills and intensification to a tiny fraction of the urban area… the more we get, via the law of unintended consequences, developers who try to bust through the burden of rules. Our planning rules don’t so much guide development as try to prevent it. NIMBY-ness codified.
People generally like the oldest areas of the city, the ones that were built when there were … fewer rules. So here’s my modest proposal: rezone most of the urban area to a single “general residential-compatible mixed use” zoning, with zero lot lines, zero setbacks, a five storey height limit. Any house, any building, any lot, any where, can be redeveloped. This would take a lot of the pressure off those valuable-because-they-are-scarce sites. Neighborhoods would change gradually. No one would be duped into thinking their 1950’s 1100 sq ft house is the highest and best land use in perpetuity.