Livable Communities

Blog, Housing Affordability, Les Routledge

There is an interesting post at the Grist today about urban development.

the major evidence of the demand for walkable urban places, both center city and in the suburbs, is that the market demands a premium for walkable urban houses, apartments, and office space. These high prices are perversely used by the skeptics to somehow prove this is a small niche market. To the contrary, high prices demonstrate the severe shortage of supply, leading to significant pent-up demand.

I wonder if one could identify examples of affordable and walkable communities that can meet the housing needs of a full spectrum of the population instead of selected demographics?  For example, where are there affordable examples of walkable neighborhoods that offer attractive living conditions for young families, young adults, and empty nesters?

When I lived in Ottawa, the Golden Triangle neighborhood came close to meeting this definition.  A person did not have to be making an above average income to be able to afford housing in the area.  It also offered an attractive combination of family-friendly housing including safe, quiet streets and convenient access to green space, schools and recreation.  One feature that I really appreciated was the local availability of retail services so the use of the car was not required on a daily basis.  I wonder if urban planners have studied that neighborhood to see if its attractiveness could be replicated elsewhere?

To me, an attractive urban community would be one where youth and seniors as well as people with disabilities have access to amenities without having to rely on people who operate cars or waiting around for an infrequently scheduled bus.  Other potential measures of a livable community or neighborhood could look at the following questions:

  • Is it possible for the senior with mobility limitations to do their own shopping when it fits into their schedule instead of some bureaucrat’s master plan?
  • Can the teenage youth get to their sports or other after-school recreation activities on their own instead of calling the parental taxi service?
  • Is there a place where people can play self-organized games such as lawn bowling, cards, or pick-up basketball instead of having to join an organized league?
  • Is there a place where children can set up lemonade stands without city health inspectors shutting them down?
  • Is there a place to walk a dog or let them play off leash for a while?
  • At street corners and cross walks, do pedestrians or people with walkers have the right-of-way?
  • Is there a sunny and sheltered place where people can sit and chat without having to purchase a product or service?
  • Is it possible to grow your own garden?
  • Are people present and visible in the neighborhood throughout the day?
  • Do police walk the beat or patrol on bicycles instead of riding in cars?
  • Is individuality encouraged instead of stifled?