We all have different ideas of what makes a city livable – but let’s sort out what really makes a difference. Is it density that makes a city unsafe, unpleasant, noisy, or is it more complex? Statistics would say so. Paris has around four times the density of Vancouver (according to a study by the Fraser Institute), but few towers. In the Netherlands, where cycling is the norm, room is found for trees, parks, and predominantly “missing middle” housing.
Another resident thought that unchecked infill would make Oak Bay uninhabitable. Quite the opposite. That is known as “gentle density,” and it’s the greatest opportunity to liven up our neighbourhoods without destroying what already exists. Let’s give people affordable homes where they can walk, and cycle-friendly streets for further distances. Less cars means more peace and quiet.
We need to rethink our development approval process, so that the homes we want to see are actually profitable. We might even need to rethink the idea of the real estate market. Whatever happens, people should have the option to stay where they are, forming connections with the neighbourhood. Every time we move, our social fabric is torn apart, and buildings are vulnerable to the same fate.
I was happy growing up in a townhouse in James Bay, where we regularly interacted with our neighbours. Downtown, school, parks, and grocery stores were all a short walk away. It was very livable, but the density did not matter. It was the kind neighbours, the affordability, the walks, and the trees that made it livable.