Tactical Taxation: Designing our City to Reduce Taxes

Joe Minicozzi explains how the creation of dense vibrant downtowns through good policy creates an economic engine for the City that help to reduce residents' tax burdens.

By Graham McNally
Published April 28, 2014

For Architecture Week 2014, and as a kick-off event for Doors Open Hamilton 2014, the Hamilton/Burlington Society of Architects (HBSA) is pleased to present Joe Minicozzi, an architect and urban planner, who will present his work focusing on the true cost of current city planning design and growth.

Tactical Taxation: Designing our City for Lower Taxes
Tactical Taxation: Designing our City for Lower Taxes

Our current development policies and practises shape our city and have created the physical form of the City we live in. This has a direct relationship with the taxes we pay to maintain roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Also, the built form and density affect the tax revenue that the City earns from the land that makes up our City.

Currently, Hamilton residents own 6,200 kilometers of road - the equivalent of driving from Halifax to Vancouver, or about 12 m per person. As the city continues to grow out, the length of road, sewers and other infrastructure increases, raising the costs of maintenance - which in turn raises taxes.

For a more in-depth look at Hamilton's infrastructure and its cost, see HBSA member and local architect David Premi's article [PDF] in the Hamilton Spectator.

When we look at tax revenue per hectare, we quickly see that our built-up areas provide much higher tax revenues to the City than our lower density areas. Higher density development is a more efficient use of the land the City occupies.

When we intensify existing built-up areas, we leverage existing infrastructure rather than expanding it. More intensive development makes more efficient use of land, and the density leads to significantly higher tax revenue from residents and businesses.

Dense cities are more walkable, which lowers health costs while boosting economies and creating animated streets.

In other words, the creation of dense vibrant downtowns through intensification and good policy will create an economic engine for the City that help to maintain and/or possibly lower residents' tax burdens.

Event Details

Following Joe's presentation, the HBSA has invited all registered mayoral candidates to be part of a panel discussion about the future of the City and their vision for the next five, 10 and 20 years. The panel will be moderated by Laura Babcock.

Joe Minicozzi Talks

To get a sense of what Joe Minicozzi will say, here are some recent talk he has given:

The Math of Smart Growth:

TEDx Asheville:

NashvilleNext Speakers Series:

Graham is a partner in the firm, Toms + McNally Design. In addition to his firm's work, he has a particular interest in Hamilton's urban design and issues.


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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2014 at 08:29:30

Since this is on Concession Street, I'm assuming that some of the Mountain Councillors will be in attendance, right?


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By Ain't No Mountain High Enough (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2014 at 19:34:31 in reply to Comment 100683

Will there be free parking?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2014 at 09:24:50

So how does our roadway-to-citizen ratio compare to other cities? Also, since they're exponentially more expensive, our bridges-to-citizen ratio?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2014 at 21:31:39 in reply to Comment 100685

City of Mississauga: 292.4 km² area containing 5,500 lane kilometres & 713,443 residents (7.7m per)

City of Ottawa: 2,778 km² area, 11,950 lane kilometers & 883,391 residents (13.5m per) y%20of%20Ottawa%20Thin%20Lift%20Asphalt%20Overlays.pdf

City of Hamilton: 1,138 km² area containing 6,200 lane kilometers & 519,949 residents (11.9m per)
City of Hamilton: 1,138 km² area containing 16,500 lane kilometers of roads & 519,949 residents (31.7m per)

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By Jon (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2014 at 17:20:24 in reply to Comment 100685

It's the 2nd highest in Ontario after Ottawa, which is only slightly higher. Toronto has roughly half the lane km per capita.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted April 28, 2014 at 19:51:45

Just watched the first video and it was amazing. Asheville, N.C. and Hamilton, Ont have a lot in common (e.g. "Don't try that here, it won't work here").

Thanks for writing this, Graham. Do you know if he is going to personalize any of the data for Hamilton?

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By AP (registered) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 07:32:27

This is AWESOME! But I know I can't be there in person. Possible to livestream or record and share online afterwards?

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By AP (registered) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 07:56:02 in reply to Comment 100707

Joey Coleman has confirmed he will livestream and share video post-event on

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By denigvfs (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 19:11:47

They go back to school to get more specialized skills so they can earn more money.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 21:20:09

I'm afraid that higher density is equivalent to having less geographical space on which to grow food. It'll lead to roof-top, bath-tub, and balcony gardens, instead of raised-bed gardening and gardening, in general, on the horizontal axis. I'm afraid of Hamilton becoming a city of high-rises; can someone disabuse me of the notion that higher density is not equal to more apartment buildings? Thanks.

Comment edited by Joshua on 2014-04-29 21:21:53

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 10:38:30 in reply to Comment 100720

Edit, just scrolled down and saw another reference to the Plateau. I should have read ahead before posting. Another great example is the Plateau neighbourhood in Montreal. It's one of the most dense neighbourhoods in any city in North America, yet is virtually all 3-story stone townhouses with only a handful of taller buildings throughout. Not only is it compact and easy to walk around, it's one of the most inviting, friendly places I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. It has a fantastic reputation both as a place to visit and live.

The key with taller buildings is that you start to lose significant floor space to stairwells, elevator shafts, HVAC/servicing corridors, parking levels, etc. Whereas the townhouses there incorporate the stairs into the small-but-well-kept yards and rely on street parking and a general lack of need for cars. They also plow their sidewalks and extensive bike lane network city-wide to make sure that you can get around without a car all year, helping keep car ownership numbers down a bit(but that's getting into a whole other conversation).

Comment edited by jorvay on 2014-04-30 10:39:18

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 23:57:00 in reply to Comment 100720

Joshua - Density does not equal high rise. For example:

Hamilton - 465.4 people/sqkm. Montreal - 4,517.6 people/sqkm. (2011 census data, links below)

Perhaps a more fair comparison:

A Durand example - L8P 2G2 (census tract 5370038.00) - 10,919.7 people/sqkm.

A Plateau example - H2J 2Z2 (census tract 4620141.00) - 13,396.2 people/sqkm.

A Kirkendall example - L8P 4B2(census tract 5370040.00) - 5,810.9 people/sqkm.

If you go look at the Plateau example, you'll see that while there are some high rise towers in that postal code, the dominate built form is more commonly 3 to 6 storey buildings with 3 to 12 units per building. That is a scale of building that is not very common in Hamilton. It provides an incredibly high density of population for its scale. We are seeing some start to get built (2 projects on Young St, one on James in the North End), but Hamilton is dominated by single family detached houses that don't get the densities possible with other building forms.

(You'll also note the streets are narrower. Montreal has a lot of one way streets, but they're often residential streets which has the effect of reducing traffic and people can get to their houses from the two way streets that form the larger city blocks.)

I think that before these types of projects can take off, we need to give serious thought to the parking requirements in our zoning bylaws. Currently, the bylaw, written in the mid-20th century, doesn't consider the changes that are happening in society. This has to change for the 3-6 storey projects to work. A small scale, 12 unit development typically isn't on a site that can accommodate the 12+ cars required by zoning. We end up with projects like the one at Young and Walnut where an attractive street facade is spoiled by 5 driveway/parking pads. Back at Young and Caroline, the parking is in behind the building and, it appears, down a level. The requirement that every unit gets more than 1 space is out of date and need to be changed.

// Montreal -

Hamilton -

Comment edited by grahamm on 2014-04-29 23:57:39

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 22:20:15 in reply to Comment 100720

Mountain wards 6-8 as they exist today appear to have comparable or better population density compared to areas like Westdale/Ainslie Wood, Strathcona or the North End, which are largely dominated by single detached housing stock.

The density sweet spot probably varies by city, but Durand has the city's highest density and it's still got a variety of housing stock. (To calibrate the remainder of the downtown to the density of the Durand, you would need to roughly double the population within the area framed by Queen, Wentworth, Hunter and the CN line. That'd be around 26,000 new residents.)

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By Asian Man (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 01:45:22

Good luck with dense city! I'm from Asia, and I lived in Toronto for 4 years. I still remember how stress it is in the dense city.

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 03:31:14

I notice how many low rise mixed use buildings are going up in Burlington. Retail on the ground floor and 3 or 4 stories of condo's above, but built really close to the road. They're also very close to the GO stations (Aldershot, Appleby). A pretty compelling argument for economic uplift and increased density around rapid transit corridors.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 13:27:54

What messes up density is cars. Just go to the high-density car-free zones in major European or Japanese cities. Property values tend to soar through the roof, because that is where people want to live and do business.

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By Exactly (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 15:49:54 in reply to Comment 100738

Exactly. If only we could get rid of all those cars! (No more need for all those pesky steel/aluminum/plastics/electronics/management/banking/taxpaying etc. workers.) We could close all the cottages and depopulate the North moving everyone into our high density cities leaving the food to grow without pesticides and fertilizers in the new wilderness (until we starve.)

What messes up density is people. We should just get rid of them while we are at it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2014 at 16:06:45 in reply to Comment 100739

Someone says: "our city needs to be more dense to be economically viable"

Someone hears: "everyone must live in dense areas and we must demolish everything else"

Someone says: "high density car-free zones in major cities prove to be prosperous"

Someone hears: "all cars must be abolished and production of them halted immediately"

I thought the telephone game required way more than one step for this level of message garbling...

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 18:29:19 in reply to Comment 100740

Well put. This phenomenon is one of the most bizarre aspects of this debate, this absolutist hyperbole. The second most bizarre being the perception that wanting a better downtown is elitist or hipster in some way.

Arguments based on pure reflexive emotion, with zero basis in reality; they do the conversation a disservice by being that shockingly stupid.

I can't comprehend why urban centers can't be efficient and well serviced, for the benefit and lives of those who choose or prefer an urban setting, close to people and amenities. Suburbs, lower density neighborhoods exist for those who want a large backyard and spread out a bit. Exurbs and rural areas exist for those who want to live away from it all.

What manner of cancer has woven its' way into the public discourse, that there is a belief these styles must each envelop the others to exclusion? With sprawl suburbia currently winning this "contest", while article after article in MSM bemoans the increasing congestion and externalities of wasting your life in traffic, and any connecting of the dots is met with the same taking of offense you'd expect from a drug addict in denial?

We could close all the cottages and depopulate the North

'Exactly' must have a learning disability, or just be a troll, if they think that advocating for good quality urban cores in any way translates to this stupidity.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-04-30 18:49:55

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2014 at 17:26:16 in reply to Comment 100740

It may be the telephone game. But maybe it's that we live in a huge country.

Economics is a very complex game. The high density of Europe has a lot to do with its size, its demographics, its history, and such. Comparing us to them might be the "apples to oranges" game.

Canada has a relatively small population. Infrastructure as it exists was developed for a myriad of reasons - some good, some bad. Having said that, there is no need for high density car free zones in Hamilton without a major shift in the competing neighborhoods. What I mean by that is that the current market for home buying is not conducive to high density living. One needs to have a lot of faith to invest in a high density low car project. The developer needs some assurance that what he builds will be sold.

I have spoken with developers who buy and sell old buildings, have put tons of money into Locke Street for example, but who will not spend a nickel East of John Street.

I like the "if you build it they will come" mantra to a degree, but the world is full of "white elephants".

"Exactly" may have gone "overboard," but if I "read between the lines" he or she is saying that we need to be careful not to put the "cart before the horse."

If I can think of any other cliches, I will let you know ; )

(Personally, I have never understood why the City allows so much development on new land when they could expropriate the crap land already serviced - except that every time they have tried that, the people being expropriated scream bloody murder.)

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-04-30 17:27:06

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2014 at 18:13:05 in reply to Comment 100741

What I was commenting on was the common yet incorrect take-away from any mention of density or lane reduction. Why does it get automatically summarized as all-highrises-no-cars as if there's no middle ground?

Hamilton used to have a proper, dense, mixed use urban core surrounded by suburbs and farmland - and we will not see a return of the economic success of those days unless we strive to bring that built form back in our core so that it can support the surrounding areas again.

It doesn't by any means translate to an elimination of cars or suburbs, just a better balance. We are pretty close to the all-car-low-density extreme right now. We need to get back to the middle. We don't need to aim for the complete other end of the spectrum, and nobody is advocating for that.

Additionally, we don't have to go as far away as Europe to see the benefits of dense urban neighbourhoods - they exist in Canada. We also don't have to ignore the highest quality European examples simply because they are in a different country.

Comment edited by seancb on 2014-04-30 18:16:43

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By no (registered) | Posted May 01, 2014 at 00:02:59 in reply to Comment 100742

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted May 01, 2014 at 07:05:46 in reply to Comment 100748

Idiot troll is an idiot

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 01, 2014 at 06:18:21 in reply to Comment 100748

Yes, let's return to our agrarian roots and abolish all of our technologies

Reading comprehension as bad as yours is what is in the minority. The rest of your comment is so illogical and stupid it doesn't deserve a reply. Kindly allow people with working brains to have a conversation.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 22:30:14

These are great comments and clarifications. Thank you to all who helped to answer my questions. I was suffering from a misunderstanding of exactly what density entailed in terms of urban planning, so thanks for that.

Even if people live, however, in apartment buildings or low-rise condominiums for the balance of their days, I still wonder whether everyone having their own home and a plot of land upon which to grow food is still best. My concern is that the centralization of people into smaller communes with single power, water, and heating source is that it makes that small community easier to control: don't like what those folks are saying? No problem, just shut off that unit's power and six to twelve units that contain an innumerable amount of people are without those watered, heated, and electrified comforts. What I'm after is a sense of decentralization and moving off-grid, in some fashion. This can be done for apartments and condominiums with the installation and maintenance of solar panels and a concomitant reduction in power usage by the building's tenants. I talked with a friend today who told me that someone in Hamilton had, some years ago, developed a functioning solar panel with aluminium pots and copper wiring; none of the rare-earth metals being consumed by Chinese production needed application in his panel. That was encouraging to hear. But these concerns are coming from someone who was alarmed at the number of data requests given by government agencies to Canadian tele-communication companies, an article featured in today's Hamilton Spectator.

I realise that I'm now moving the discussion away from density toward renewable energy, and I hope that's alright with readers. The question of density seems to have been settled, from the tenor of written comments. However, despite the province's Renewable Energy Facilitation Office, we don't seem to have the push for renewable energy that is required, especially in a province that receives 53% of its energy from nuclear power. Where are those spent nuclear fuel cells going to go? Into the groundwater and aquifers of northern Ontario communities? Please don't tell me that it can't happen here or try to reassure me that it's unlikely given our safeguards and other panaceas of that nature. Solar panels, geo-thermal heating, and other sustainable methods of home construction should be the first element of any purported sub-urban sprawl; I hope Losani Homes and the rest of Hamilton's developers are examining these concepts, though I'm not holding my breath.

Comment edited by Joshua on 2014-04-30 22:37:18

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 00:26:21

Q: If taxes are being tactically lowered, does the spiking graph on the poster chart reduction in taxes or happiness at a fiscally efficient city?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2014 at 08:22:23

“If you're running out of land, then the only way to go is up.... A lot of traditional home builders grew their business in the era of the '50s and '60s when there was a different set of circumstances. Well, everything has changed and I think the era of scraping all the topsoil off a farm and putting up a cookie cutter subdivision is coming to an end.

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