We know that low-density suburban development is bad news for the atmosphere, for community, for taxpayers, and lots of other things. As I note in my book, Almost Green, I don’t think we’re quite a suburb over here on Bowen Island, though we have some suburban housing forms and neighborhoods, including mine. But thanks to an outdated community plan and land use bylaw—documents designed to preserve and protect rural character, but which have in fact have set us down a path of vehicle dependence and unaffordability–we’re heading more that way all the time.
There’s been a lot of excellent work done on the “rural-urban interface.” I think that description fits this place nicely; we have our farms and wildlife, but the city is very close indeed. Last year’s Snug Cove Master Plan makes the case that we should focus our growth in our village as a way to preserve green open spaces for recreation, ecological health, and carbon sinks.
A commenter on another blog posting on this site drew my attention to the District of Sechelt, her hometown, located on B.C.’s famous Sunshine Coast. She characterizes Sechelt as a prime example of bad community choices:
It used to have a unique character and local products — now it is utterly swamped in big box stores, cineplexes, trinket kiosks and national franchises. I still try to appreciate it but it is so different and less than what it was… People want to enjoy an authentically local experience when they visit. Let’s see how we can achieve that while still providing the convenience of essential and necessary services on-island.
This is absolutely what we need to work toward. Since I haven’t been up that way in a while, out of curiosity I made a few calls to friends in the B.C. planning profession. “Problematic development pattern and terrible town councils made a lot of bad decisions,” explained one. The good news is that the district recently created a comprehensive Community Vision Plan that looks to be the key reference for an upcoming Official Community Plan review.
Here’s one neat bit, describing mixed-use neighborhoods known as the “Rurban Hamlet.” (I haven’t come across the term before — can anyone share its history?) Here’s what the plan says about it:
A rurban hamlet is density neutral and arranges the units in a mixed building type cluster … on only a small portion of the overall site. For example, on a 10 acre site with an allowable density of six units per acre, or 60 units overall, it can locate all 60 units on four to six acres, saving or conserving six to four acres, respectively, in contiguous open space. All with conventional building types using detached, attached and multiplex homes.
The section inclues several sketches to illustrate rurban hamlets, including this one.
Included in the above is “multiplex housing (single-entry with three to five units, a shared front porch and shared garage); single-family detached bungalows, including one with an attached in-law suite; attached cottages; a shared garage; and a studio/potting building. Each unit has a private yard that connects to shared open space.”
For those not still turning up their nose at the idea of four-storey apartments in the cove, perhaps a rurban hamlet like this might be more palatable? Scary thought for the 10-acre brigade: The houses are very close together. Five of them are — shudder — even in the same building!