is always nice to discover there is a better way to do things that
is not just better, but also cheaper. For years, we build our cities
and housing developments according to certain rules, then one day
we realize that the rules are all wrong and spend the rest of our
days amazed that we ever could have been so stupid.
comes to mind, hinting scorn and derision, because paying more and
getting more is not stupid; nor is paying less and getting less.
But paying more and getting less is.
"stupid' and "evil" and "wicked" are sprinkled in Patrick Condon's
dissertations on his frustration with the way we build our cities.Condon
is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments
in the Faculty of agricultural Sciences at UBC.
are evil' is one of his dictums, along with 'Development cost charges
punish the virtuous and reward the wicked.'
has taken on the task of helping communities develop in tune with
all the policies so earnestly adopted by governments to save the
environment; reduce traffic; make neighbourhoods lively, affordable
and safe; allow salmon to live; and make transit viable. In spite
of all those widely supported policies, he and other architects,
developers, planners, engineers and politicians still can't walk
through a community that embodies all the principles that prove
quality of life can come at less expense. But they're getting closer.
specialty is the punishing practice of "charrettes." These are closed-door
design binges bringing together people with power to make policy
changes and practical experts, and forcing them to come up with
a community plan before they go home. A few days later, a plan emerges.
"It basically comes down to 'I'11 forget my law if you'll forget
your law,'" explains Condon.
at a conference on sustainable cities in Vancouver earlier this
month, he laid out six simple principles for sustainable communities.
all seem basic and benign, the very thing we all want in neighbourhoods.
There's just one problem: 'These principles are all illegal, in
some way or another, when you try to put them into practice.'
been working with the municipality of Surrey rewriting the rules
for development in East Clayton, a 250-hectare development site
on the city's eastern border along the Fraser Highway.
City Council officially adopted these principles in 1999 to guide
the development of the Clayton plan, but try them anywhere else
and you run afoul of engineering standards and bylaws.
we forbid these practices?
different dwelling types in the same neighbourhood and even on the
same street. This goes against the grain of single-use zoning, allowing
secondary suits, multiple-unit dwellings next to single-family homes
and other infill housing alternatives.
buildings that present a friendly face to the street. Garages go
to the back of the house, accessed by lanes.
and shops should be within a five-minute walking distance. "For
a store, even a small convenience store, to be both viable and within
a five- minute walk, it needs to be surrounded by streets containing
about 10 units, or 25 people, per acre," says Condon. "Interestingly,
this density seems to be the minimum for a viable transit system."
an interconnected street system. This ensures that every trip takes
the shortest possible route, expanding the reach of the five-minute
lighter, greener, cheaper, smarter infrastructure. "This is the
opposite of the heavy, grey, expensive and stupid infrastructure
we have now," he says. "The way to save the environment, and money,
is to pave less, not more.'
natural drainage systems. That means soaking up rainwater into the
soils, not sending it down a storm sewer. "Amblewood Green in South
Surrey proves it can be done and that the marketplace will accept
it. Here, 100 per cent of all of the water that falls on the site
is absorbed by the soil " Condon reports.
this into practice and projections by Condon's team show a development
with narrower streets than a typical suburban neighbourhood, smaller
lots, the same-sized homes, mortgage-helping rental units in every
second home and no storm drains. That adds up to a $90,000 saving
on the price of a home. Those are just the individual homeowners
savings. Now look at the public cost savings.
new neighbourhood were designed like East Clayton, Condon's research
would be 40 per cent fewer cars on the road;
air would be 40 per cent cleaner,
expected doubling of our population could be accommodated without
destroying our environment;
expenditure for maintaining and replacing infrastructure would be
cut in half; and
wage earners could own their own homes and gardens.
says all that's standing in the way of realizing these gains is
inertia, distrust and fear of risk.
watch with interest as Surrey works to expose our expensive, transit-killing,
pollution-promoting development rules as the stupid and wicked alternative
to these six principles. Peter Ladner is president, Business
in Vancouver Media Group.