By Ryan McGreal
Published September 11, 2012
Many signs indicate that the postwar lifestyle consensus of suburban living and long automobile commutes is running out of steam, and we have another data point from the Pembina Institute in a recently-published study titled Live Where You Go.
The key phrase is "location-efficient", which refers to land use that allows people to live, work and play without having to drive everywhere. Location-efficient development combines walkable/cyclable streets, high quality rapid transit, density and a variety of amenities and uses to create complete places that make more efficient use of land and energy than low-density, single-use, car-dependent suburbs.
According to the study, which was produced by the Pembina Institute and the Royal Bank of Canada, Ontario residents increasingly prefer to live in more location-efficient communities, but are stymied by a lack of affordable options:
while the preference for location-efficient living may be increasing, affordable location-efficient options are not. Developers continue to build in sprawling greenfields because it is often cheaper and easier than building developments in walkable, transit-oriented neighbourhoods. Lack of supply means homebuyers are priced out of location-efficient neighbourhoods and literally driven to the urban fringes, where long and stressful auto commutes are required.
Even worse, transportation and other costs can cancel out lower prices for remote homes.
The solution is for cities to get better at encouraging affordable urban living, and the study makes five policy recommendations.
2. Development charges need to reflect the cost of development. Today's one-size-fits-all development charge model charges the same rate to suburban greenfield expansion as it does to infill, even though the actual municipal cost to service those developments is wildly divergent. The current system punishes infill while at the same time providing an artificial subsidy to sprawl.
3. Tax rates for surface parking should be higher to reflect the inefficiency of land use and internalize the negative externality of auto-dependent land use.
4. Minimum parking requirements have to go. Developers should be able to provide parking as the market demands, not as zoning requirements mandate.
5. Metrolinx should make zoning for density and transit-oriented development a requirement for funding of rapit transit projects.