By Ben Bull
Published January 25, 2008
More examples of crappy planning hit the press today.
First, we read about the new "mixed residential subdivision" going up on the west mountain. How, exactly, is it "mixed"? Well, it includes "single family homes, semi-detached homes and freehold townhouses" laid out across 24.3 hectares (60 acres) on Rymal Rd. east of Garth St.
Then we switch over to the Spectator to hear about another spate of school closures, this time in the Catholic board.
There's plenty to consider here, but let's start with the Mountain.
Single family homes, semi detached homes and freehold townhouses does not constitute a "mixed" neighbourhood. Mixed neighbourhoods are supposed to attract a wide demographic. Who do you think is going to flock to these new mountain homes?
Demographic indicators are broad; they are like life itself, almost infinitely diverse. Indicators include income types, employment or student status, family type and family sizes, age groups, singles, couples, able bodied, disabled, black, white, brown, yellow, blue collar and white collar - and on and on.
The primary aim of a true mixed neighbourhood is to attract as big a cross section of the world around us as possible. Why? Because it creates healthy neighbourhoods.
How does it create healthy neighbourhoods? There are lots of reasons, but I'll give you two to start with:
With a mixed neighbourhood, you maintain a healthy mix of children in the area and avoid school closures (see below). Without effective mixed accommodation and amenities, a neighbourhood is beholden to population migration patterns such as happened in the 1960s and '70s, when Hamilton's downtownies moved lock stock and barrel to the mountain.The same thing happens in all cities over time. Yesterday's retirement village is tomorrow's nuclear family neighbourhood and vice versa. With a wide choice of housing options and well placed amenities, you can go a long way to insulating your neighbourhood against these expensive and unfortunate events.
Toronto's Regents Park and Flemington Park, Hamilton's North End, Yorkville - Whenever you get a concentration of one type of housing and amenities, you get a proliferation of a certain demographic. Regents Park residents are poor. Yorkvillians are rich.
In the case of Regents Park in Toronto, we know that poverty breeds hopelessness and crime. Head south of Aberdeen Avenue in Hamilton or into Yorkville in Toronto and you see the negative consequences of gentrification, where rich white folks live in delirious clusters pricing other incomes out of the area and creating an insular community detached from reality.
As neighbourhoods homogenize and the number of children at small neighbourhood schools drops, the school board can see quick profit from selling the land to home developers. This, of courrse, further reduces the neighbourhood mix.
The problem is that the process is one-way. The neighbourhood cannot gentrify again or attract new families with young children, because there's no longer a local school and there's no land left to build a new one.
Let's be clear about one thing: mixed neighbourhoods are not just about the choice of housing; they're about amenities, too. What's the proximity to transit? What's the proximity to different paying jobs? What about park space and civic services?
Bringing these various things into proximity creates healthy, sustainable neighbourhoods. Segregating them creates car-dependent single use subdivisions, reduced quality of life, and ghettoes.
Guaranteed - if you build low-end apartments next to a drug treatment centre and the central welfare office, you'll get residents to match. Same goes for three story mansions planted next to a 50 acre park. You get what you build for.
Frankly, calling single family homes, semi-detached abodes and lines and lines of row houses a "mixed neighbourhood" is just not going to cut it.
(With files from Jason Leach and Trevor Shaw)