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The Pros and Cons of High Density Living

Portrait Andrew Schulhof

#303-1338 West Broadway
Vancouver
British Columbia
V6H 1H2

There are many pros and cons to higher density planning and living. It is less relevant to ask, "Is this a good idea?" and more relevant to ask, "How should this look and what is the plan going to be?".

What are the positive and negative implications of creating higher density living in Canada?

With immigration at all-time highs, there has been a great deal of attention on the shortage of housing and the affordable housing crises across Canada. With the public demanding solutions, both Federal and Provincial governments are mandating changes to housing density in attempts to ease the affordability pressure.

The challenge with these various government initiatives is always with implementation to which usually lands on the shoulders of the municipal governments.

Needless to say, it will happen in some way, but the devil will be in the details. What will be the parameters such aspects as Floor Space Ratios, Lot coverage, and height restrictions for property lots where these density changes are being mandated? This subject is not going to go away and the consideration for higher density housing is not unique to Canada but a growing phenomenon in many countries across the globe.

In my book Look Before You Leap, BUT LEAP and past newsletters from even a decade ago, I wrote about this very topic of the cities’ need to grow up, not out (i.e. higher density). I have touched on the idea that there is a point when consideration must be made for higher density options due the cost of land, highest and best use for the land, commuting times, and demand on the various infrastructure components in a region.

Obviously, this can be a politically charged subject. So, to give you some perspective, I have taken a balanced perspective to the subject. The prospect of higher density living in Canada presents a spectrum of both positive and negative implications, encompassing various aspects of social, economic, environmental, and cultural considerations.

Positive Implications of Higher Density

1) Efficient Land Use

Higher density living promotes efficient land utilization. It minimizes urban sprawl, preserves natural landscapes, and protects agricultural land by concentrating development within defined areas. This conservation of land is crucial for sustainable urban planning and environmental preservation.

2) Infrastructure Optimization

Denser communities often allow for more cost-effective infrastructure development and maintenance. Shared services such as transportation, utilities, and public facilities become more viable and economical in densely populated areas, potentially reducing per capita infrastructure costs.

3) Environmental Sustainability

Compact living spaces in higher density areas tend to reduce per capita energy consumption. Proximity to amenities, public transit, and workplaces encourages walking, cycling, and the use of public transportation, thereby reducing reliance on cars and lowering carbon emissions.

Vibrant Communities and Cultural Diversity

Higher density living can foster vibrant and diverse communities. Concentrated populations encourage the development of cultural hubs, diverse businesses, and lively public spaces. This diversity enriches social interactions, promotes cultural exchange, and supports a thriving urban culture.

4) Economic Opportunities

Urban centers with higher density living often offer increased economic opportunities. Proximity to businesses, educational institutions, and a larger labour pool can foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation, attracting talent and investment.

Negative Implications of Higher Density

1) Quality of Life Concerns

Higher density living may raise concerns about quality of life. Issues like noise pollution, overcrowding, lack of green spaces, and limited privacy can affect residents’ well-being and satisfaction with their living environment.

2) Housing Affordability Challenges

As demand for housing increases in densely populated areas, property values and rents tend to rise, potentially leading to housing affordability challenges as being experienced in many regions across Canada and other countries. Ever-evolving housing energy savings measures being mandated for new construction, increasing or changes to municipalities’ Development Cost Charges (DCC) to Amenity Cost Charges (ACC) like in BC, and potentially longer building permit process approval timelines will also add to the affordability challenges unless they too are addressed. This situation can make it difficult for lower-income individuals or families to afford housing in these areas.

3) Strain on Infrastructure and Services

While denser living can optimize infrastructure, rapid population growth in high-density areas might strain existing services like transportation, healthcare, and education. This strain can lead to congestion, longer wait times, and inadequate service provision. In many cities parking and congestion is already an issue where the public transportation does not have adequate coverage.

4) Gentrification and Displacement

Increased demand in high-density areas can trigger gentrification, leading to the displacement of long-term residents due to rising living costs. This can erode the social fabric of communities and create socioeconomic disparities, which we are already experiencing in most if not all major urban centres across the country.

5) Urban Sprawl Trade-Offs

While higher density living aims to curb urban sprawl, it might inadvertently lead to overly dense, poorly planned neighborhoods lacking in green spaces and community amenities, resulting in an imbalanced urban environment.

Is Higher Density Living Better?

There is no easy fix and it requires forethought and complex planning, taking into consideration the various social, economic, environmental, infrastructure, and cultural aspects. While it offers efficiency, sustainability, economic opportunities, and vibrant communities, the challenges related to quality of life, housing affordability, infrastructure strain, and social inequality needs strategic planning and efficient and effective implementation at all levels of Government to ensure equitable and sustainable urban development. Balancing these factors is crucial for creating livable, inclusive, and thriving high-density communities in Canada.

If you’re looking for a balanced approach to buying in a higher density real estate area, either selling or investing, let’s talk [email protected], as I have strong connection in major regional centers across the county.

Because I am licensed in two of the more talked about markets of Greater Vancouver and Edmonton, I have included some Additional Resources for those regions.

Higher Density in Edmonton

Article: https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/edmonton-zoning-bylaw-pass-density-three-storey-apartments

 

Bylaws: https://zoningbylaw.edmonton.ca/part-3-special-area-zones/downtown-special-area/321-hdr-high-density-residential-zone

 

https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/city_vision_and_strategic_plan/city-plan

 

Additional Resources Specific to British Columbia

 

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/housing-and-tenancy/tools-for-government/local-governments-and-housing/ssmuh_provincial_policy_manual.pdf

 

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/local-governments-and-housing/housing-initiatives

 

https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Housing_Tech_Brief_Nov_01_2023.pdf

 

https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Homes_For_People.pdf

 

https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Homes4People.pdf

 

A map showing the location of all announced provincially funded housing projects in B.C. is available online:

https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC

 

For more information about B.C. legislation, visit: https://workingforyou.gov.bc.ca/legislation

Get in Touch

If your are interested in investing in real estate, or looking to list your current home, I can help you form the appropriate strategy and answer any questions you may have. 

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