Popular building low density developments like then pictured above are really bad for the environment. To truly understand how disastrous low density housing is one needs to consider the physical space taken for one household, the need for a car for mobility, the building materials, and obviously the energy used to maintain the house.
The wastefulness of suburban living led to the Net Zero movement with set out to build living and work spaces that had didn’t negatively impact the environment. The first generation of those buildings have been around for years and we’ve learned a lot from them. The first generation might not have been perfect but they have set out a better way to build the future.
Also mentioned: One Brighton in the UK, built in 2009, was the first major development built using the One Planet Living framework. While the development reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent in comparison with the average neighborhood development, that’s not 100 percent. Still, homes there sell for a 10 percent premium over comparable real estate because of their inherent sustainability and resale value. There are also other benefits: residents who move there sell their cars as they can walk and bike everywhere. No cars means much less spent on transportation and fewer carbon emissions.
As for the future of net-zero communities, Downey sees developers now dictating hard energy performance requirements. For example, in a recent RFP for a new building, Hunter College put in a 100 kwh per square meter performance target.
Anybody engaged with civic action knows the prevalence of NIMBYism, those people who say ‘Not in my Backyard’ and try to stop any progress good or bad. This attitude of blocking anything has led to some cities being left behind while other cities leap ahead. Recently Toronto has seen a rise of people who chant the opposite of No. The ‘Yes in my Backyard’ movemnet is rising and YIMBYism is taking off!
YIMBYs as a whole recognize a simple truth: If we want more people to have housing, we need to build more housing. To that end, they campaign for the reduction or removal of various supply constraints—namely, those land use rules that enshrine the sanctity of the single-family, detached home at the cost of what’s recently been dubbed the “missing middle.”
They want to see more housing built. They want to see market prices fall. They want Toronto to be more Tokyo than Manhattan, more Houston than San Francisco.
Ultimately, they want young people to be able to participate in homeownership and to preserve Toronto as a city for all—not merely as a playground for the rich. And they’re gaining steam.
The suburbs are an energy-intensive housing solution that started in North America and has spread worldwide. The appeal of the tract housing the very thing that makes the suburbs detrimental to society: large lots, expansive houses, low density, and that they are reliant on individual use automobiles. With the mounting pressure of rapid climate change and urbanization of civilization what can we do to negate the poor planning of the suburbs? One solution is to rezone the suburbs to allow business to operate to make the neighbourhoods liveable.
It’s not specifically the built form of the suburbs that makes them unappealing; the buildings there—the houses—are perfectly fine. What deadens these areas is the homogeneity of the uses these buildings are put to. But a building that looks like a house can easily be altered and put to another use. Toronto’s two most iconic and walkable neighbourhoods, Yorkville and Kensington Market, were created like this 100 years ago. If the City took away restrictive zoning, suburban areas will change as local people set up stores and services in converted single family homes and these neighbourhoods will develop organically into complete and vibrant communities.
The permit office should parcel out permits to create a situation where you can go six blocks in any direction anywhere in Toronto and find one or two services. For instance, from my house in North York, you have to walk 12 large suburban blocks to get to the only services available, at Bayview Village. Why isn’t there a little ice cream store or cafe on the first floor of one of the brand new townhouses built across from Bayview Village Park, six blocks away? My home has a walk score of 38 out of 100. Gradually, the City should rezone wherever necessary until every home has a walk score of at least 50. The point isn’t to make all of Toronto like downtown or Kensington Market; just add reasonable access to services that will benefit the neighbourhood. The suburbs would still be the quietest neighbourhoods with the most green space, but they would be better off by virtue of a few local amenities. If a neighbourhood wanted to opt out of this scheme, it could cease issuing these permits altogether, or, alternatively, request that the City issue more of them and to try becoming a new Kensington Market.
Affordable housing is a problem for every country and over the years there have been initiatives to lower the cost of being a home, today some of those are efforts in digitization. The WikiHouse project is all about lowering the cost to design a house by providing people the files needed to plan and build their new home. The cost of construction is obviously up to where the house is built. The goal is to lower the capital costs through the digitization of knowledge.
- To put the design solutions for building low-cost, low-energy, high-performance homes into the hands of every citizen and business on earth.
- To use digitisation to make it easier for existing industries to design, invest-in, manufacture and assemble better, more sustainable, more affordable homes for more people.
- To grow a new, distributed housing industry, comprising many citizens, communities and small businesses developing homes and neighbourhoods for themselves, reducing our dependence on top-down, debt-heavy mass housing systems.
Basically every nation has basic housing problems that need to be addressed. Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena won this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize because of his work on community housing. It wasn’t just the buildings that got him the prize, it’s the fact that he and his team worked with locals to bring change to the community in a new way. Instead of centralized planning, they went with talking to the the people who lived in the community housing and brought positive change to the structures incrementally.
Thailand’s Baan Mankong Program also offers lessons in incremental housing through a decentralized, community-led process. Launched in 2003 by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), the program directs small but flexible government subsidies and loans to community-level lending and savings groups, with a strong emphasis on an inclusive, collective process. Receiving input from all members of the community, these resident-led groups decide how they’d like to invest the money—from reconstructing or upgrading individual homes to reblocking or relocating entire neighborhoods. Additionally, the Baan Mankong Program provides technical and financial support from government staff, community architects and planners where needed, enabling residents to address complex tenure security needs, land redistribution, housing improvements, service delivery and more.
Thanks to Delaney!