Proponents of ‘smart growth’ and higher density cities usually cite as benefits the smaller ecological footprint and lower cost of servicing higher density mixed use urban areas compared to suburban growth.
I wonder just how true this is. In my neighborhood, on the west side of the urban core, it is possible to walk to multiple employment centres. Shopping is a bit of stretch to the Rideau Centre, and for groceries, well they do call it a ‘grocery desert’ for a reason. However, Loblaws in Westboro does deliver and with a family of teens that is well worth while (I have never had a car).
But over the last decades, noticeable changes have occured in our inner city neighborhood. Some family housing has disappeared, converted by developers, residents, and public agencies into apartments. The population of children evaporated, schools closed, although there seems to be a bit of a mini-boom of kids right now, I hope they stick around to go to school here rather than in suburban portables (schools in the Glebe get renovated, in lower income neighborhoods like mine they get closed). The population of elderly has shrunk drastically, driven out of their homes by high taxes. When retired on a moderate income, $3 – 4k average property taxes takes a huge hit.
But back to densification and smart growth. My question is, do the new residents of these buildings show the same public transit and economic characteristics of the ‘traditional’ residents?
Consider a theoretical urban professional who moved into a downtown condo tower. Has a car in the building garage. Maybe works in Kanata. Has friends in the ‘burbs. Has a cottage/second home/chalet at a ski resort or recreates frequently at up scale resorts, here and abroad. Has a spouse with independent employment characteristics and demands. Hasn’t this household just relocated an energy-intensive suburban lifestyle to the inner city? Are these high income incomers behaving the way traditional inner city residents do? Maybe, location is not the determining factor, but income is. Moving in high income people may just relocate their old lifestyle.
It should be easy to find out. Count the cars leaving the garages of a few buildings that are two to five years old. Count the pedestrians leaving the front door. Survey some residents. If the inhabitants adopt the urban behaviour desired in the smart growth model, good. If they don’t, then why are we disrupting and / or changing the urban neighborhoods that residents like, to make them more suburban by transplanting suburbanites? Isn’t it worth knowing?