Revitalization

Pembina-RBC Study Recommends Urban Policy Changes

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 11, 2012

Many signs indicate that the postwar lifestyle consensus of suburban living and long automobile commutes is running out of steam, and we have another data point from the Pembina Institute in a recently-published study titled Live Where You Go.

The key phrase is "location-efficient", which refers to land use that allows people to live, work and play without having to drive everywhere. Location-efficient development combines walkable/cyclable streets, high quality rapid transit, density and a variety of amenities and uses to create complete places that make more efficient use of land and energy than low-density, single-use, car-dependent suburbs.

According to the study, which was produced by the Pembina Institute and the Royal Bank of Canada, Ontario residents increasingly prefer to live in more location-efficient communities, but are stymied by a lack of affordable options:

while the preference for location-efficient living may be increasing, affordable location-efficient options are not. Developers continue to build in sprawling greenfields because it is often cheaper and easier than building developments in walkable, transit-oriented neighbourhoods. Lack of supply means homebuyers are priced out of location-efficient neighbourhoods and literally driven to the urban fringes, where long and stressful auto commutes are required.

Even worse, transportation and other costs can cancel out lower prices for remote homes.

The solution is for cities to get better at encouraging affordable urban living, and the study makes five policy recommendations.

1. A better location cost calculator that takes transportation costs into account so buyers can determine whether higher suburban transport costs offset lower housing prices.

2. Development charges need to reflect the cost of development. Today's one-size-fits-all development charge model charges the same rate to suburban greenfield expansion as it does to infill, even though the actual municipal cost to service those developments is wildly divergent. The current system punishes infill while at the same time providing an artificial subsidy to sprawl.

3. Tax rates for surface parking should be higher to reflect the inefficiency of land use and internalize the negative externality of auto-dependent land use.

4. Minimum parking requirements have to go. Developers should be able to provide parking as the market demands, not as zoning requirements mandate.

5. Metrolinx should make zoning for density and transit-oriented development a requirement for funding of rapit transit projects.

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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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2012 at 08:16:11

#5 needs to be implemented right NOW!

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2012 at 13:48:03 in reply to Comment 80812

I just wish that the goals for jobs and residential density were expressed as independent targets. It seems to me that the City could theoretically satisfy Places To Grow expectations/projections while never adding any real residential density to downtown.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2012 at 08:28:08 in reply to Comment 80812

The good news is that Hamilton has already done excellent work on a land-use study for the B-Line corridor that identifies the zoning and planning issues we need to fix to enable transit-oriented development.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2012 at 10:01:37

The problem with #4 is that we end up with a "tragedy of the commons" with nearby parking - any parking that the city has provided for the convenience of locals is abused. While I agree that parking requirements need to be flexible and consider the the clientele and area, abolishing them altogether isn't a great solution.

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By entitled (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2012 at 10:05:48 in reply to Comment 80816

Why do you think you're entitled to park for free on the street? Parking isn't free, you should have to pay for it. Make nearby street parking paid permit based and the problem goes away.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 11, 2012 at 12:33:15 in reply to Comment 80817

Also, the more expensive and inconvenient parking becomes, the fewer cars people will own.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2012 at 16:38:45

Does this mean "Live where you go" philosophy mean I have to move to Toronto?

:-(

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 12, 2012 at 17:16:35 in reply to Comment 80884

No, it means we need to get better at making complete places.

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By concerned (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2012 at 17:02:19 in reply to Comment 80884

If people are debating honestly, yes.

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