Moving beyond compatible intensification and infill (part ii)

Neighborhoods come and go in trendiness. A trendy location in Copenhagen is the “potato fields” area, Kartoffelraekkerne. The former working housing, consisting of three storey flats, is now very popular with those whom Richard Florida would label the “creative class” (including architects, professors, planners). Of course, 1880’s worker housing doesn’t meet modern needs, so the creative types have kit bashed the three flats per building into three storey townhouses.

photo by Cris Kap or Chris Benton; from the internet

While this is 1880’s style, and not what we expect to find in Ottawa, I am impressed by the attractiveness of the long uniform rows along the streets. There are no garages or front yard parking. The back yards remain green. Similar European housing estates, whether built for working classes or upper classes, have a history of succeeding as urban planning.

In Germany, I came across mid-19th century low-income housing that was way to dense and cramped for modern living. Removing select clusters of the housing opened up the neighborhood, now with pleasant squares and public spaces; cars which formerly over-ran everything that wasn’t made of stone or brick, were also banished.

A nearby urban redevelopment that I can think of that adopts some of these principles is the Woodbine development in Toronto, which has the nice continuous streetscape, albeit with very expensive houses, mostly singles and semis, but alas, no green back yards — just tiny patios — as most of the space is given over to a rear lane, garages, and parking.

I wonder if we can achieve a similar effect — but with the parking problem corrected — through infill in Ottawa?

Fortunately, we have some good clues that we can. Here are some pictures of the Byward Market neighborhood, where there is lots of gentrification and infill of various qualities.

20th century apartment building inserted into an existing street of 19th C houses
new construction, in “historic” style. There is a parking garage entrance under the taller building; and the two storey one has forward front doors for streetfront units and recessed front doors for other units
creative infill that appears to go pretty much from one side lot line to the other, containing several units all accessed from front doors on the street. In addition to the street frontage, there is a back — I wonder if it is green?

 (above) new infill that hides it’s third storey, butts right up to its neighbor, and eliminates the nearly-useless side yard setback, hopefully transferring some of that space to the front or rear greenspace.


It isn’t my argument here to focus on the style of the housing, whether its modern or “faux historic”. The point is that even in Ottawa we actually have some infill that works toward creating a continuous street front.

If the lot available is big enough, there may be room enough for an infill apartment building. The City has a very low threshold for parking garages before requiring a two-lane entry ramp (I think it may be as low as 10 cars in the garage). This totally auto-centric rule makes for interrupted sidewalks, an ugly streetscape, reduces the ground-level housing along the street, etc. This particular apartment got away with a single ramp that is very discreet. We need rules to encourage this type of infill:

The By Ward Market area is pretty special. But at the same time, a lot of the oldest housing appears pretty marginal. It is often not a question of “Can it be saved” since anything can be “saved” if enough money is thrown at it. And some neighborhoods are very desirable due to location or the historic ambience that drives some individuals to fix what would be considered “not worth fixing” elsewhere.

There is a question of whether it is economically desirable to save the old stuff or replace it with new. The new usually commands higher returns, and often a better quality of life, so replacement of older housing is primarily an economic question outside of select historic neighborhoods. The next post will look at a west side neighborhood that is unlikely to ever be designated historic, and has been severely gutted by non-residential land uses, has lots of land assemblies and speculation going on.

Back to our premise: We currently encourage infills that are compatible with the existing area (with side yards) and permitting back yard surface parking (which pushes out all the trees and promotes overheating and flooding). What if, instead, we require infills to build toward a new urban streetscape that encourages continuous urban frontages and green back yards, without surface parking on any of the new fills or majorly renovated old stock?

More next post.

5 thoughts on “Moving beyond compatible intensification and infill (part ii)

  1. With so many houses so close together but made of stone how would it stand in a fire? Our houses seem to go up and spread to the next if close but not even attached…

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