Density creeps are coming to a city near you, and that's a good thing.
Density is important if you are going to build a green city; you want it high enough that it can support transit systems and walkable communities with local shopping and amenities. But I have made the case that you don't want it too high; that there is a Goldilocks density that's just right. One form of housing that gets close to Goldilocks is the stacked townhouse; Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design calls this the missing middle; "a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living."
In Toronto, there has been much hilarity over the last 24 hours since an article was published about a group called the The Density Creep Neighbourhood Alliance. Members of the group were particularly tone deaf in both the name of the group and their comments to the Toronto Star about their reasons for objecting to a new stacked townhouse project in their neighborhood:
The killer quote that has buzzfeed abuzz was this:
“I’m really concerned about my property value going down,” says Lisa Goodwin, 49, a stay-at-home mother of two who has lived in a four-bedroom dwelling on Keewatin Ave. for 19 years. “Right now all the houses are $1.1 to, say, $2.2 (million) but they’re looking at putting in places that are only $500,000.”
And then there was this:
“We’re not against development,” adds Marcia Visser, founder of the Density Creep Neighborhood Alliance, who is concerned about privacy, traffic and an influx of transient people. “We’re just for planned development that enriches our neighbourhood and maintains and reinforces the physical character of our neighbourhood.”
Let's ignore the question of how many transients can afford half-million dollar townhouses and look at the context. The site of this project is a quarter mile from an existing north/south subway and about the same from an east-west transit line being built now.
The south side of the street via Google Street View/Screen capture
Across the street from the site, there is a vast development of high rises built in the sixties and seventies when this was the vogue in Toronto, to knock down whole blocks of houses for apartment towers. These are rather nice and expensive in this part of town. In the early seventies there was a revolt against this kind of development, a new city council under Mayor David Crombie rewrote the official plan and the hallmark of the new planning regime was that neighborhood preservation came first.
So where the south side of Keewatin is essentially towers in a park, the north side is made of single family houses on very big deep lots. Hence the unfortunate name Density Creep: “the buck stops here,” Goodwin says. “If they get to do this one development there, it’s like there’s a crack in the wall.”
Sherwood park modern towns/Promo image
Now I am a heritage activist and believe strongly in neighbourhood preservation. I suspect that the residents of Keewatin would have done a lot better in the press and with the city planners if they had stuck with that theme instead of getting into property values and the concept of "density creep". They live in the sweet spot for urban intensification, hugely popular with young families who would kill for a half million dollar stacked townhouse in that part of town. Or as was noted in the article:
The simple fact of the matter is that the creation of a more sustainable, equitable, and affordable city requires the development of midrise and other more dense housing options along major roads, subways, and streetcar lines in already built up areas,” says Christopher De Sousa, director of the School of Urban Planning and Regional Planning at Ryerson University.
Call me a density creep if you must, but successful cities like New York, San Francisco and Toronto need a lot more of this.