As a grad student, Scott Mackie, now branch manager of the City of Edmonton’s planning division, studied the population numbers of about 300 Calgary communities. He witnessed a trend: Communities built at the same time evolved along with the residents. Kids grew up and moved away, schools closed, empty nesters eventually moved away, then a whole new generation came along and the cycle renewed itself.
But, in recent years, the number of housing options within established communities often hasn’t increased along with the number of people who want to occupy them.
According to Mackie, in the past, the average household size was about five people and now it’s about three. People are having fewer children, but they’re still occupying the same amount of space. Meanwhile, seniors are staying in their homes longer.
What does this mean for the city?
Edmonton is continuing to grow, but outward into outlying areas rather than upward within established communities. That growth, according to Mackie, can mean less opportunity for amenities and schools, and more carbon emissions from longer commute times and fewer public transportation options.
A municipal development plan, The Way We Grow, was created to address the concern, with one section prescribing 25 per cent of new residential units to be built in established areas over the next three decades. “So, by doing that, we’ll hopefully reduce the amount of new infrastructure that gets added to the city that requires maintenance,” explains Mackie.
While some critics say that a 25-per-cent increase is not enough to make a significant impact, Mackie is hopeful.
Don Iveson, city councillor and Top 40 Under 40 alumnus, says that the city is attracting people to mature neighbourhoods by investing in infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks and playgrounds.
When mature neighbourhoods become more attractive, gentrification can drive up prices, but Iveson says the city can help mitigate the rising costs by providing better, more affordable transportation options.
“People can deal with the higher costs if they can go from being a two-car household to a one-car household and re-direct those car payments to cover their housing expenses. It’s what happens over time in most big cities,” he says.
Mackie says he is also seeing plans for housing projects with units that address the needs of residents as they age, providing more options for seniors and younger people planning for the future. Carrington Communities has a plan to build a six-building complex for seniors with the potential for an auxiliary-care facility in Windermere.
While many individuals may still opt to live in their original homes, developments like this one provide options for a different kind of lifestyle. And the upside for established neighbourhoods is a potential increase in the number of homes available for those who want to avoid living on the fringes of the city.
While actual development is normally not within the realm of City Hall, Mackie says councillors play a big role in creating regulatory frameworks for future development. “We’re trying to build a more compact, more efficient city,” he says.