Urban densification: fan or pan?
I have mixed feelings about growing up. I’m not talking about my emotional state or my height but about cities. Like it or not, our cities are expanding upwards.
As a childfree woman with few ties besides a partner and a cactus, I can live anywhere. I’ve loved and not loved aspects of each house, high-rise and pastureland. My preference today is to live stacked on top of other like-minded folk. I’m partial to my urban amenities, all within a walk or bike ride, and I enjoy my friendly, welcoming community. Others need their wide open spaces. A common thread is that people have varying opinions about how their cities are being developed.
Take Calgary, a city with historically outward growth. This pattern has begun to shift; a different kind of growth plan is heading towards a “compact city.” Jeremy Klaszus in Alberta Views writes that the aim is to swing one-third of new growth into existing neighbourhoods by 2039 and one-half by 2069.
Why a compact city? Densification will attempt to curb sprawl and shift growth into established neighbourhoods. In his article, Klaszus highlights Calgary’s chief planner Rollin Stanley who implements Plan It Calgary. Stanley believes that “resources can be cobbled together in a different way,” and rather than tearing down abandoned buildings for parking lots, “we could turn around and make them something.”
Another proponent of densification is Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi. He sees firsthand the unsustainable costs rising from growth costs: new communities cost more to service than they generate in taxes for sewer pipes, buses and fire stations.
Some are opposed, convinced that densification plans make no sense.
“Singapore, often held up as a role model for densification, has seen growing concern about the destruction of historic structures, ever-more crowded subways, escalating house prices, and lack of open space,” writes Joel Kotkin in New Geography. “Similarly in Los Angeles, neighbourhood councils have rallied against attempts to build denser buildings, which generate more congestion and erode local character.”
Kotkin adds that not everyone is a fan of living in ever-increasing close proximity: “Most urban residents aren’t crazy about it. In the United States and elsewhere, people, when asked, generally say they prefer less dense, less congested places to live. The grandiose vision of high-rise, high-density cities manifestly does not respond to the actual needs and desires of most people, who continue to migrate to the usually less congested, and often less expensive, periphery.” He believes that the urban future is likely to become increasingly contentious.
At the moment it’s easy for me, my partner and my cactus to fit comfortably into a densified world. Then again, if I had children, I might hear the call of the suburbs; if I want a yard full of chickens and goats, watch me go rural.
Finding the right “place” depends on individual needs and budgets. A positive offshoot is that new plans kick-start public dialogue as citizens became more engaged and more vocal in decisions that will affect their future.
What’s your feeling about city growth? Why are you for or against densification?
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