In Canadian cities such as Victoria and Vancouver, infill zoning policies are meant to optimize land use by allowing multiple homes on single lots. Infill zoning is key to building cities that reduce our emissions. However, despite initial enthusiasm, restrictive rules have put a damper on new developments. Political pushback and community engagement are needed to overcome the barriers and transform cities throughout the country.
Infill zoning is a planning policy that allows for new construction within existing urban areas, optimizing land use by filling in vacant or underutilized spaces. Cities such as Victoria and Vancouver have considered the concept, which allows multiple homes on single lots. However, despite its promise, infill zoning is often hampered by restrictive regulations. Victoria’s new zoning laws initially allowed up to six homes on a single lot, but rules imposed on building height and parking stalled new developments.
Cities must be built for the generations to come, not just for those who are here today.
The political landscape
In a recent interview, Edmonton city councillor Ashley Salvador emphasized political courage in urban development. “You’re pushing back against a 70-year-old dominant planning paradigm centred around low density, auto-oriented development,” she noted. She also emphasized the need for public engagement, especially from younger people. “Intergenerational inequity is an important piece to bring into this,” she added, emphasizing that cities must be built for the generations to come, not just for those who are here today.
The underlying issue
The crux of the problem lies not in the concept of infill zoning but in its execution. Salvador pointed out that political challenges are a significant barrier. Public hearings and engagement sessions are crucial for bringing diverse voices to the table. Similarly, cities including Victoria and Vancouver have faced challenges in implementing infill zoning because of restrictive regulations and housing market dynamics. “It takes a lot of political courage to see where we need to go and to be willing to make the necessary changes today,” Salvador said.
Public hearings and engagement sessions are crucial for bringing diverse voices to the table.
The triple bottom line
Infill zoning is not just about housing; it’s about creating sustainable cities. “The connection between density and infill and our other goals around climate resilience, affordability, and basic city services are all interconnected,” Salvador said.
She went on to further discuss the discriminatory and exclusionary roots of zoning. “Many zoning ordinances were created to keep racialized folks out of particular neighbourhoods,” she said. “Today, zoning is still exclusionary, and folks are segregated based on income. Discrimination based on tenure is still very common.” Mixed-use development and greater housing choice offer ways way to undo this discriminatory exclusionary work. “Allowing for mixed-use development creates the conditions for more walkable, bikeable 15-minute communities,” she said. Infill zoning also contributes to sustainable urban development by optimizing land use, reducing urban sprawl and preserving natural ecosystems.
Today, zoning is still exclusionary, and folks are segregated based on income. Discrimination based on tenure is still very common.
The way forward
Although infill zoning presents many challenges, it creates even more opportunities. Salvador’s insights emphasize the need for actionable plans that are implemented with thought and care. Cities including Victoria, Vancouver, and Calgary have the potential to spearhead sustainable development if they can navigate the complexities around planning and policy-making.
Ultimately, while infill zoning carves a path to urban sustainability, its effectiveness depends on the skill and intent of those with power. As Salvador said, “Political courage is necessary to make those changes.”
Allowing for mixed-use development creates the conditions for more walkable, bikeable 15-minute communities.
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