Increase residential density to achieve efficient land use and high walking/cycling/transit mobility
Our high dependence on gasoline for transportation is largely due to our lifestyle of single-family dwellings. When density is increased, we would be reducing long-distance commutes and automatically encouraging people to walk and bike. Public transportation would also see more riders and be used more effectively. Higher residential density also means more efficient land use. The greenest city would need to protect its forests and restrict the area of urban development. This density is best accomplished by zoning schemes that discourage single-family dwellings and encourage mixed-use high-density developments. Ideally, there would be one day when some of our low density neighbourhoods could be turned back into natural forest lands.
As the City reviews land use policy and development bylaws through Community, Central Area, and City-Wide planning programs, opportunities for increased residential density (particularly in walkable neighbourhoods with good transit connections) are actively pursued (in balance with concerns for neighbourhood character and community involvement in city building decisions at the neighbourhood level).
Note: ripley's idea "Increase Residential and Commercial Density by Eliminating Regulatory Barriers" this idea has been merged with this one.
"High-density, walkable development is clearly better for the environment and more affordable than suburban low-density layouts. Why, then, do Vancouver zoning bylaws mandate freestanding houses in most of Vancouver?
Eliminating maximum building heights and other artificial limits to density would allow for a more vibrant, environmentally friendly, and affordable Vancouver - at **** cost! Limiting high-rise development to the downtown core (and only a few small pockets outside this area) reduces housing supply, increases the cost of living in Vancouver, and ultimately forces many people into low-density suburbia.
The current zoning map of Vancouver can be found at http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/currentplanning/coloured_zoning_map.htm
Note that almost all of Vancouver is still zoned like the ***** of Surrey or Coquitlam: freestanding, low-density suburbia. This is unacceptable for a city that prides itself on being eco-friendly.
Further reading: Harvard professor Ed Glaeser has studied the link between low-density zoning and housing unaffordability, and his paper "The Impact of Zoning on Housing Affordability" can be found at http://www.economics.harvard.edu/pub/hier/2002/HIER1948.pdf"
"Many European cities have densities much higher than downtown Vancouver without having any high-rises at all. Height limits exist for a reason; high-rises done poorly can have very dramatic livability impacts."
I completely disagree about the negative externalities of high-rises (Can you quantify them? Unlikely.), but putting that aside I agree that high-rises are not the only way to densify. 4-5 story apartments with minimal setbacks would be great, but zoning for most of Vancouver is nowhere near that.
"Being strategic about where we target higher densities is also important. (around rapid transit stations, near high concentrations of jobs, etc.) Putting a bunch of highrises out in the middle of nowhere won’t have any environmental benefits since their residents will still end up driving everywhere."
1) You're assuming that planners at City Hall are better able to plan where density is desired than market actors. I would question that assumption.
2) Also, this is Vancouver, a relatively small city in land area. There simply isn't anywhere that is too far from the city centre to benefit from increased density.
3) You're assuming that Vancouver exists in a vacuum. Not so, dense housing in Vancouver will likely accommodate people who would otherwise be living elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. Even if someone drives from their condo in South Van, they'll be driving less than they would from a condo in Richmond.
Adam Hyslop commented
The environmental and social benefits of higher density development can be achieved through a variety of building forms (townhouses, mid-rise apartments, laneway housing, etc) that don't drastically change the character of a neighbourhood. Equating density directly with height is a common misconception. Many European cities have densities much higher than downtown Vancouver without having any high-rises at all. Height limits exist for a reason; high-rises done poorly can have very dramatic livability impacts. There are also diminishing returns (in terms of environmental and social benefits) as you go higher. For example, wood-framed construction can now go as high as 6 storeys, avoiding GHG-intensive concrete.
The City’s current zoning bylaw allows them to get community amenities (parks, schools, community centres, etc) partially funded by development through the rezoning process and through density bonusing. This is an important funding source that would be lost if all restrictions were lifted. The City’s EcoDensity program and land use policies do advocate for increased densities and a lot has been done already. All single family zoned areas, for example, can now legally include basement suites or separate laneway housing for rent.
Being strategic about where we target higher densities is also important. (around rapid transit stations, near high concentrations of jobs, etc.) Putting a bunch of highrises out in the middle of nowhere won’t have any environmental benefits since their residents will still end up driving everywhere.
Ensuring a mix of housing types and tenures in all neighbourhoods, with a focus on higher-density affordable housing and rental suites should be the focus, not just opening the flood gates on high-rise construction.