How cities grow

North American cities are making bold moves when it comes to development.

Upzoning has emerged from The Twilight Zone. The concept, which permits increased density on a wide scale, has stepped into the spotlight in many cities.

Minneapolis did away with single-family zoning recently. That means it is now legal to build duplexes and triplexes citywide. (City Council set a maximum of three units in new buildings.) A citizens group that advocated for the change was called Neighbors for More Neighbors. It’s a sentiment that flies in the face of NIMBY-ism.

This sweeping move accomplished a lot of things. It addresses the missing middle and a lack of affordable housing. It also responds to changing demographics. Millennials want to live and work in complete communities that offer walkable destinations and green space. 

And Minneapolis is not alone. Across the United States, cities are contemplating zoning changes to  encourage increased density. Calgary, too, has a stated desire of increasing density. The Municipal Development Plan sets the goal of accommodating one-third of new population growth in established areas by 2039. That proportion rises to half by 2069.

The City monitors its progress and there has been some encouraging developments. Between 2006 and 2017 Calgary saw an increase in population density of about 11%. The increase has occurred in both new communities and developed areas, but the process is more involved in the latter. This is because of the presence of neighbours. 

In a recent article, Richard Florida argues that upzoning is becoming at least as controversial as gentrification.
It all means that increasing density is a tough balance to strike. The City of Calgary is attempting to do that in part through its Comprehensive Citywide Growth Strategy. The strategy contains three prongs: New Community Growth Strategy, Established Areas Growth and Change Strategy, and Industrial Growth Strategy.

The focus for 2019 is on Established Areas. The City is working to reduce the costs of redevelopment. It’s also taking a close look at utility infrastructure. The strategy is still in its early days and the City’s timeline calls for recommending strategies to Council in March 2020.

It’s worth keeping an eye on. Maybe even talk to your neighbours about the best way to accommodate new neighbours.

June 28th, 2019

Upzoning is one way of encouraging increased density in established areas.