UBC Theses and Dissertations
Responding to future housing needs : residential intensification in single-family neighbourhoods Lee, Janet Mai-Lan
Intensification is the process of creating new housing units within the housing stock. This has become an important issue in recent years as housing costs have risen considerably. Higher densities are theoretically desirable because land and services will be used more efficiently and more housing options can be available to the public. In reality, however, many residents in single-family districts oppose any plans to increase densities in their neighbourhoods. This thesis explores Greater Vancouver's experience with intensification in a broad context. Intensification is viewed as having occurred in two ways: (1) planned, in which local governments have actively promoted and facilitated residential development; and (2) unplanned, where intensification in single-family areas has occurred naturally in response to certain economic and demographic conditions. By examining these two types, a better understanding of the opportunities for and constraints upon intensification can be obtained. Planned initiatives that have been undertaken in the past have resulted in new, large-scale housing developments on vacant or underutilized land. However, attempts to plan for the intensification of low-density, developed residential neighbourhoods have been less successful as people are more resistant to perceived change. Two types of unplanned intensification that have become city-wide issues are illegal secondary suites and extremely large, "monster" houses. Despite the efforts by some residents to preserve the state of their neighbourhoods, many single-family areas are showing signs of change. Some general observations may be drawn from Greater Vancouver's experience. There are competing interests within the community, each with a particular set of views. For instance, new homeowners, tenants and developers would be expected to have economically-motivated reasons for encouraging intensification and variation in housing choice. Established homeowners may have sentimental reasons for opposing change. Politicians, who are sensitive to public opinion, are concerned with preserving the status quo without introducing actions that will draw criticism. The planner, therefore, has the task of reconciling these divergent views. The difficulty is in raising public awareness of the arguments both for and against intensification and the need for additional housing opportunities in the city. Without resident acceptance of the creation of more housing choices in their single-family neighbourhoods, very little political will is generated to take any action. The issue of intensification challenges traditional notions of community, neighbourhood and stability. Public education and a planned approach to dealing with intensification is a slow process while changes created by market forces occur rapidly. In the future, intensification will likely remain controversial. The neighbourhood approach employed in Vancouver to address some of the issues is a method of involving the community in decisions that will affect their neighbourhoods. Continued public participation should be encouraged as it is through the exchange of information that social learning takes place and preconceived ideas are questioned. Higher densities, perhaps, will have to be marketed to neighbourhoods with a substantial commitment by planners to minimize negative impacts and encourage small-scale, incremental change. Planners should, therefore, be familiar with the various aspects of intensification, its past experiences and the groups involved, to arrive at their own personal position on intensification and to make informed, appropriate decisions.
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