September 23, 2022

A Green Party Vision for Our Housing Future

Here’s the Green Party’s housing platform.  Here are three points from it:

  • Implement a simple menu of repeatable building forms, from tiny homes to multifamily buildings, to fast-track permits and reduce costs and building times. 
  • Streamline re-zoning and development permits by making them happen at the same time for the housing we need.
  • Ramp up the development of City-owned housing: acquire more land for housing using right-of-first-refusal and co-locate affordable housing in new public buildings such as libraries, fire halls and community facilities, but excluding park lands.

We’ve been there.  And it worked.  Here’s the Toronto version:

At low-density:

Don Mills

 

And high-density:

St. James Town

Our versions can be found in the Fraserview bungalow, the Vancouver Special, the West End slab tower and the few public housing projects that got built in places like Strathcona.

The 1950s and ’60s produced enough ‘affordable’ owned and rental housing for the demand at that time – albeit in such a way that it triggered a reaction against soulless suburbs and concrete jungles.  Most of it, notably, was market driven and produced because land was abundant enough (thank you, Motordom)  to avoid scarcity and a relentless increase in costs.

Underlying the housing platform like the Greens assumes a replacement of that market by government so that it effectively regulates the cost of land and eliminates ‘market price’ as a determinate of value, replacing it with price determined by income, which in turn would be determined by in-migration and birth rates.  In other words, whoever shows up.  And all done within the boundaries of a 44-square-mile city.

Not said at all is the expectation that in order to achieve a supply at that scale and cost, high-quality custom design of architecture and urban design (associated with the rising costs and scarcity in the time of Vancouverism) will be abandoned in the name streamlining, to be replaced with modular, repeatable forms that express equality.  Very much the intent of the early modernists, particularly in those Corbusian machines for living:

The Greens will object.  ‘We will not accept poor design standards,’ they’ll say.  But they will certainly have to accept bland.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I don’t have a problem in principle with the idea of “pre-approved” designs. The danger is when it becomes “my way or the highway”. So in conjunction with those designs there needs to be a mechanism to accept and approve new designs that can be added to the menu, even if they still have to go through the conventional review process.

  2. I’m not qualified to speak to the questions posed by a possible replacement of the market forces by government – sounds fraught with peril!
    And from a design perspective it certainly could veer into a sterile, bland, and alienating cityscape (Soviet prefab housing?) .
    But – your first image was the earlier much-maligned Vancouver Special – which now holds a cherished place for many people.
    And it’s perfect for further densification studies – I’m sure you could house a lot of people – comfortably- in some sort of middle density Vancouver Special scheme. They are simple, clean (unlike McMansions), economical, and contribute to the street.

  3. While I agree that your pictured examples are undesirable, I think your examples are a little extreme as a complete response. I do not know where your third image is located, but I saw a number of similar communities in Berlin, Vienna and elsewhere where the trees had grown up and results seemed pretty desirable to me. I also think that at the lower level of densities, some pre-approved designs are OK. After all, the “foursquare: house so common in Cascadia is pretty much repeated in many communities, and Portland’s experience with the pre-approved “skinny house” as infill has turned out OK in most settings (again, future trees will help). I like the Vancouver “tower and townhouses” model, but it appears to require a level of detailed planning/reviewing that does not work for small scale building as infill. And the idea of housing combined with public facilities seems worth some further examination (though I admit I can’t think of any really successful examples except in some city centers or transit station areas.)

  4. Considering how many sfh new builds are bland carbon copies this sounds like it might help add something better to the streetscape. Put a little creativity and thought into the pre-approved designs and this could be a big plus.

  5. Toronto has led North America in highrise development for the last eight years, and rental agents are currently fielding multiple offers for downtown rentals with a certified check for a year’s rent up front. The financialization of real estate is the problem, and more unchecked density is the trend and and not the solution.

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