Great neighbourhoods are more than infill housing
We must maintain a voice in any discussions regarding bylaws and redevelopment
By BEV ZUBOT, EFCL Planning Advisor
"Buildings alone do not create great neighbourhoods," said Ms. Vespi of Queen Alexandra community. This was a common theme expressed by several community people speaking to Council regarding the Infill Roadmap meeting, August 19.
Community people and housing developers acknowledged that infill housing could be key to bringing more people and life to established neighourhoods. There is no doubt that infill housing has the potential to bring more children to populate schools, more people to support local businesses, use local services and recreation facilities, and bring more volunteers to support the work of community leagues.
Nevertheless, just making it easier to do infill housing will not lead to quality neighbourhoods.
Attracted to what's already established
"Many people are attracted to mature neighbourhoods by the mature trees and landscaping," said Ritchie resident, Cathy Mowat. For aesthetic and environmental reasons, more needs to be done to preserve the mature trees on private property that is being redeveloped.
Dr. Summers from the Westmount community, and head of the new urban planning program at U of A, suggested revamping the low density zones while ensuring historic residential areas are preserved.
The EFCL's position which was presented at the meeting by myself, pointed out the importance of maintaining and enhancing public amenities such as schools, recreation facilities, and aesthetic, pedestrian friendly streets. Private redevelopments should be focused on properties which presently have a negative influence on the neighbourhoods, properties such as derelict housing, vacant lots, dying shopping areas and contaminated gas station sites. Ideally, the redevelopments would be neighbourhood driven. Where there is a slow uptake from private developers, a non-profit redevelopment agency could undertake the development work.
Architect Darell Babuk presented some of his experiences with successful non-profit development corporations in the Chicago area. “Neighbourhood development corporations go about their goals in a myriad of ways, yet all share a common passion to bring and guide development in their neighbourhoods by providing useful services to attract the sort of development they find beneficial. In the end it is a win-win situation.”
Change our way of looking at things
Catholic School Board Trustee Acheson said he realizes that the school board needs to keep some of the small schools in mature neighbourhoods open while the neighbourhoods are in transition. "We, as a school board, have to look at what we mean by a small school. Elsewhere in Alberta, a school of 190 students is not a small school. In mature neighbourhoods, schools with 190 students is not a sign that there are too few students, but rather the buildings are too large."
Both Trustee Acheson and Public School Trustee Chubb agreed that the key to maintaining schools in established neighbourhoods is provincial support.
Queen Alexandra community volunteer, Ms. Vespi, explained the importance of redeveloping safe and aesthetic pedestrian, bike and transit friendly streets in order to create physical and social connections between neighbours. She is one of several volunteers working with their league on the QA Crossroads project. They have engaged the neighbours in developing a new vision for the high traffic streets of 76 Avenue and 106 Street. They want their joint vision brought to life during the city’s rebuilding of the streets in their community. Her group believes that it would not only strengthen the livability and connectedness of the neighbourhood, it would also attract quality infill housing.
Benefits of a compact city
Dr. Jones, Acting Director of the City-Region Studies Centre, encouraged the city to continue to listen to citizens. By continuing this type of engagement, he believes people will have a chance to figure out for themselves the benefits of a more compact city, and enable them to envision how they would accomplish this in their own neighborhoods. By encouraging positive conversation, city residents and city administration can begin to work together to create great neighbourhoods for everyone. In the end, that's what we are all striving for.
Folks, the conversations have just begun, so let's make sure we are all a part of it.
The Infill Roadmap accepted by Council on August 19 focused on improving communications and changing regulations and processes to make it easier to build infill housing. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that the bylaw changes and future redevelopments foster all the elements of a great neighbourhood.