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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preserving our neighbourhoods: sensitive infill housing as a development option Murphy, David


Current residential zoning by-laws often discourage alternative housing forms, by strictly regulating development in single family areas. Despite the social, demographic and economic changes over the last two decades, our cities have not experienced a similar level of physical change. In the Vancouver region, the amount of residential land zoned for single family use is not indicative of present household formation. For many, the single-family zone reduces access to people and activities. Significant pressures are emerging for change in the pattern of urban residential development and urban land use in general. Continued low density fringe development is costly and inefficient, for both the individual and society. Yet, increasing residential densities in already developed areas presents serious regulatory and political problems, particularly in single-family areas. Higher residential densities contravene many existing building codes, zoning by-laws and official plans, and are often resisted by local residents. This thesis explores some of the opportunities and constraints for infill housing, using the City of Vancouver as a case study. While various forms of infill are discussed, encompassing a range of scale and meaning, the focus of the study is on small scale infill development that encourages retention of existing houses and is capable of being built by small builders. The evolution of infill as a retention strategy in Vancouver’s inner city conversion areas is closely examined, as is the growing pressure to intensify in Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods. The potential of using infill to encourage housing and streetscape retention in other zones, including single-family districts, is also explored. Pressures to intensify in single family areas are likely to increase, because of high land costs and because they are convenient to downtown workplaces and activities. Each year, over 1000 single-family houses are demolished in Vancouver and replaced with larger homes. Most cities, including Vancouver, have regulatory environments that favour new construction over preservation. Retention opportunities by way of additions and infihl are achievable if some consideration is given to a review of zoning by-law constraints, with a view to modifying them to the extent necessary to encourage these activities, while at the same time maintaining adequate standards of safety, service and access. Because of the special difficulties of rehabilitation and infill, a successful solution is more likely to be of finer grain, more responsive and proper to a particular place. Much of the anticipated demand for ground-oriented housing could also be created through intensification activities such as conversion and infihl. The incremental nature of these activities is often viewed as the least disruptive form of neighbourhood change because it can result in a scale of building which is smaller and more in keeping with a single-family neighbourhood, while still increasing density in a sensitive manner. Alternative housing forms such as infill may be expected to encounter opposition. It may take the form of local opposition or inflexibility on the part of administrative authorities. By definition, innovative projects do not operate within the existing boundaries of administrative or political control, and are thus vulnerable to opportunistic attack. If there is to be innovation, then politicians and bureaucrats will have to eliminate many existing hurdles, and acquire a sense of experimentation themselves. Effective approaches to urban infill can help unlock land located near working areas that are already fully serviced, and may provide lower priced ground-oriented housing in a market that is currently beyond the financial reach of many households. The variety of household forms that are emerging will require a variety of solutions. Alternative housing must be affordable, accessible, and provide opportunities for sharing and support. A more flexible zoning policy may help alleviate current housing pressures, create a more interesting urban form, and promote equality of opportunity and service.

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