Expanding Housing Options: How can we improve housing diversity in our cities?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Flipping the narrative
Toronto’s Chief Planner Gregg Lintern notes that, “the City of Toronto’s Official Plan contains areas that we call Neighbourhoods. They take up a large portion of our city. This is a real opportunity, I believe, for gradual evolutionary change.” The Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) initiative aims to guide that change. Lintern says EHON is about adding, not taking away. More housing choice means more opportunities for families to remain in the neighbourhoods they grew up in and for employees to live close to work. Moving forward on progressive change will require flipping the narrative on neighbourhood character, focusing more on people and less on physical change.
2. Pre-pandemic & post-pandemic cities
According to Michael Lane of SPUR, the pandemic has created a moment where we have become more attentive to climate change, sustainability, housing crises and the impacts of systemic racism. Conversations around density and neighbourhood character are tough but necessary to have for Canadian cities to truly become places of diversity and opportunity. Toronto’s Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão foresees a pre-pandemic and a post-pandemic Toronto. As the city attracts people, investment and economic growth will have long lasting social impacts.
3. Dig into the worry
Adding density has spurred polarizing conversations across Canada’s major metropoles, but climate change has revealed we cannot avoid it. Amanda Gibbs, Engagement Advisor with the City of Vancouver, calls on city-builders not to be dismissive of the concerns and fears of low-density neighbourhood residents and to dig into the worry. City-builders must listen with empathy to determine the overlapping interests between residents and incoming populations. This will be essential to shift attitudes around neighbourhood change in a way that mitigates residents’ worries.
4. Mapping joy
Gibbs and the City of Vancouver have begun to map joy. Dubbed “joy data,” city planners are using it to get a sense of where people connect to each other and their environment. Gibbs calls this non-traditional form of data absolute gold. Neighbourhoods consist of complex webs of social relations and physical features. Joy data will allow city-builders to develop a better sense of the common ground that different segments of the population enjoy, whether they are newcomers or multigenerational Canadians.
5. Tying in equity
At the core of expanding housing options in Canadian cities is the moral imperative to improve equitable outcomes for entire communities. There was consensus among the panel on the need for leadership as well as grassroots engagement. “Leadership matters on this and moral clarity for people who are willing to stand up on this to bring our community together,” says Lane. Lintern speaks to the importance of bringing in historically marginalized voices. Community organizations are already tackling issues of housing at the ground level. Equity can be improved by tapping into this leadership and their existing initiatives. Lintern calls for having those champions at the table in order to build a city for all.
Opticos Design, Inc – Missing Middle Housing: https://missingmiddlehousing.com/
Urbanarium – The Missing Middle Competition: https://urbanarium.org/missing-middle-competition-completed
Uytae Lee’s About Here: https://www.abouthere.ca/
Toronto’s Pro-Housing Movement: https://www.moreneighbours.ca/