Alkarim Devani

Fellow, Gentle Density

Alkarim’s vision is to help others deliver middle housing and gentle density at scale in our established neighborhoods across Canada. The emphasis is placed on living, access, and creating sustainable homes where people can make it all fit. He wants to connect more people to the simple pleasure of living in walkable neighborhoods full of vibrant local businesses and existing infrastructure. Seeded in his hometown of Calgary, he is committed to improving urban life and the connection of people everywhere.

As the President of RNDSQR and a Doctorate of Design candidate at the University of Calgary, his ideas are rooted in his work and everyday life. In addition, Alkarim is a proud board member of the Calgary Housing Corporation, the city’s largest housing affordability provider, and D.Talks, an organization committed to furthering discussions on all things design.

In his spare time, Alkarim spends time with his family, plays golf, and is a partner at NHBR Coffee and Business & Pleasure—places to connect with his community and maintain a pulse on the culture of everyday people.

CUI’s Mary W. Rowe sat down with Alkarim for a quick interview to discuss their work. Here’s what Alkarim had to say.

The North American way: Tall and Sprawl

The history of housing in North America is super important to understanding the tall and sprawl development forms we are seeing today. This history goes back hundreds of years, but was significantly shaped in the aftermath of World War II when people migrated en-masse out of city centers and into the suburbs. This transition was motivated by a number of factors including affordable land, government incentives, racial segregation, and the growing appeal of a suburban life. The result has been cities like Calgary that are surrounded by sprawl and dependent on automobile transport, creating a culture where single family homes are the only choices for citizens. What we are trying to do is encourage alternatives to this kind of one-dimensional development, supporting housing that meets a greater diversity of needs and comes as a more sustainable growth plan than simply just producing and preserving single-detached homes. Canada has evidently recognized the need for more diverse housing to fill this missing middle, and programs such as the fast track pilot program in the City of Kelowna are already showing that housing diversity is creating more affordable and accessible options. So consider, the alternatives where multi generational families can live side by side in privacy while still supporting of each-other, and communities where people are connected to the simple pleasure of living in a walkable neighborhood full of vibrant, local businesses and modern spaces. I fully believe that this kind of urban life can be achieved through design and innovation in urban built form, and am excited and committed to improving the urban experiences while focusing on access and affordability.   

Citizens first model

The Middle Housing movement is gaining momentum in several cities across Canada. Many cities are ending the practice of exclusionary zoning as part of the solution to the housing crisis. With over 15 years of experience in established area redevelopment, I strongly believe that for Middle Housing to work effectively, we need more small-scale developers in every neighborhood. Additionally, we need to create a system that empowers existing homeowners so that they can not only help solve the housing crisis but also take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime generational opportunity. Middle Housing is for the people, and I have met countless Canadians across the country who cannot age in place or whose needs have changed, and they feel like they have no other options but to move out. MDDL is a citizen-led platform that will provide the tools needed for everyday citizens to understand their options, and know each step required to build, and finance a middle housing project. 

Coming to terms with crisis and creating opportunities

We are living through a massive period of change, it is a polycrisis! Climate is colliding with the affordability crisis, and housing is at the centre of this issue. Middle housing is a great opportunity to tackle this. It creates diversity giving people alternative choices, in where and how they can live. The challenge in getting to this future; is mindset. When I think about MDDL, sometimes I wonder who is the target audience? Will current owners change their housing behaviors, or do they want to sell because their entire retirement plan was built on housing, or is it the children that are coming of age that may inherit this housing, and see the real opportunity of MDDL shifting this culture. There is still a lot of polarization out there on both sides, and COVID-19 has made it worse. People see values going up and fear the change in their neighborhoods will reduce property values. What it really takes is conversations, and tools that support how people can truly understand the real opportunity that middle housing presents. This is what I am passionate about and want to support in communities across Canada.