Sprawl

New Developments

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 02, 2005

"New urbanism" is finally starting to take hold among home builders. In a recent Toronto Star article, Mark Salerno, a district manager with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), is quoted as saying that sustainable neighbourhoods "meet homeowners' needs while protecting the environment and leaving an affordable legacy."

The article quotes a number of investors and developers who have been very successful marketing and selling "mixed-used, pedestrian-friendly communit[ies]", undermining the common excuse that developers are only giving consumers what they want.

At the same time, the article notes the chicken-and-egg problem of an industry that has gotten used to sprawling, single-family dwellings and a consumer base that has come to expect the same. Mark Guslits, special advisor to the City of Toronto on residential development, explains that "The growth of sustainable neighbourhoods will depend in part on society giving up its fixation with single family dwellings set out on wide lots, and becoming comfortable with formats that use land in a more efficient way."

Another article, this time in the Globe and Mail, explores the same vein, zinging developers in York Region for "suggesting all they were doing was meeting the demand for new housing of stylish homes."

Cities like Markham are responding to both land pressures (including the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine) and escalating housing prices by changing their zoning laws to allow more townhouses and semi-detached houses with more walkable neighbourhood designs.

According to Valerie Shuttleworth, Markham's director of planning and urban design, "In the beginning, it was a battle with the developers, but now everybody is on the same page. The developers certainly see the market for higher density now."

The mere mention of townhouses and semi-detached houses usually conjures images of ugly, cramped postwar boxes crammed together on winding lanes, but newer designs include "full front porches and large park areas, not just parkettes thrown in as an afterthought."

This is certainly a step in the right direction. As momentum builds, it will become progressively harder for developers to continue hiding from the prospect of variety and sustainability in their designs.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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