Urban Densification

Creating thriving mixed-use communities.

In our part of the world, where space seems endless, what are the benefits of densification? It turns out there are many. When done right, densification brings economic advantages and lifestyle benefits. Many of us thrive in vibrant places with amenities nearby. And purchasing a home in a dense area can be a great investment because property values are usually highest in urban centres.

Densification is also a healthy way to manage a city’s growth. A compact, efficient city can make the most of its infrastructure and support a wider range of housing choices. Calgary’s population could nearly double by 2041. Densification will help us to build a city that remains vital and liveable. 

Mixed-use communities provide more dwelling diversity, which provides more (and more affordable) options for all of us. Sometimes associated with apartment towers, densification comes in many shapes. Infill houses, stacked apartments, attached houses, townhomes and laneway dwellings mean viable choices for people at different stages of life. They also make for varied streetscapes. 

Businesses benefit when a diverse, multi-generational population lives nearby, and having amenities close to home helps us lead healthier lives. Mixed-use communities can reduce our dependence on automobiles by building in bike lanes, pedestrian-only streets and easy access to rapid transit. These multi-modal transport design elements also help to manage traffic congestion and reduce parking issues. 

"Access to shops and services, to transit, without necessarily always needing to get in a car is something that's becoming more desirable in Calgary and generally in North America.”

 - Paul Donker, coordinator of community planning for the City of Calgary.

University District Image Source

Some mixed-use communities in Calgary are taking this idea a step farther, and are designed as “live/work” districts built around a major employer or business district. Seton Urban District is designed around the South Health Campus. The University District development will transform undeveloped land west of the University of Calgary into a mixed-use live/work community. 

“Neighbourhoods like Seton are not just employment centres, but rich and diverse communities built around a philosophy that recognizes the increase in quality of life that comes from being able to work, live, play and learn in close association with one another.”

- Charron Ungar, president of Avi Urban

Densification isn’t just a way to plan new communities; it’s also a way to renew established ones. Communities must evolve as they mature to avoid population decline. Many of Calgary’s established communities have room to accommodate new development, and new development brings upgrades and additions to neighbourhood amenities like sidewalks, transit and green spaces. 

Transforming aging infrastructure can give an area an economic boost and improve the character of a community. Northland Village, North Hill Centre and Stadium Shopping Centre in Calgary’s northwest will soon be revitalized as urban villages with new housing, shopping and offices. These redesigned shopping districts will include public plazas for community events, parkades instead of surface parking, pedestrian-friendly streets and a “main street” shopping experience. Welcoming more people and providing more spaces where they can interact creates vibrancy, which benefits all of us. 

“Cities fail and succeed at the scale of human interaction.”

- The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a U.S. organization dedicated to the vitalization of public spaces. 

Think of famous cities around the world—most have thriving high-density areas. Healthy urban densification is the key to creating these desirable, exciting and prosperous communities.

February 7th, 2017
Updated: September 1st, 2017

The possibilities and advantages of healthy urban densification.