More People, More Cars, More Gridlock – But Fewer Housing Options

Posted by Alan Zunec on Monday, January 20th, 2014 at 8:52pm.

If you don’t think Calgary is getting crowded then just try and get to work in the morning. The trend to build out, not up, so prevalent in the last few decades has highways and city streets bumper to bumper. Add to this the Trans Canada Highway snaking right through town and you have the inevitable gridlock. Will building more highways solve the problem? Perhaps. Maybe just a little. Having the Trans Canada Highway and all its big rig traffic rerouted to ring the city rather that cut right through Calgary would be smart.

The real problem is the increase in population and the number of cars needed by that population to travel from outlying suburbs to jobs in or near the city center. The other issue is that if you keep extending a city’s borders you must also extend roadways and city services. To draw more interest in the area, you should also offer access to public transit. Then you must set aside land for city operated parks and perhaps acreage for a shopping mall or two.  All of this costs money and none of it, except the public transit, helps to alleviate the traffic issue.

The way Calgary is set up now makes the automobile king. Unless you live in or near the city center the most efficient way to get around is by car. In some cases even those that live in the city core also prefer getting around by car because the public transit system is sometimes sadly lacking. City fathers have accommodated this trend by building more roads, installing more traffic signals and signs and putting up more parking structures.

So how does Calgary get out of this upwardly spiraling situation, where the car rules the population and not the other way around? Improve the transit system and create more affordable living opportunities downtown. One option being considered is the changing of zoning laws to allow secondary suites to be added to existing properties or for new homes to be built with the suites already included. This would increase downtown density and allow homeowners to buy into places that they could not afford without that rental income.

It works in Ontario. Even Edmonton is getting creative with its downtown housing, considering secondary suites in some cases and even experimenting with a “skinny home” project. The latter are homes that are 17 feet wide but built deep. With two stories they afford a great deal of living space. If these two cities can come up with housing solutions, then why can’t Calgary?

The terrible flooding last June has virtually absorbed all the available rental housing in the city. Even before the flood the vacancy rate was only about 1.7 percent. Mayor Nenshi noted in a recent speech that the city is facing a housing crisis. There are plenty of jobs but few affordable places to live. Nenshi is encouraging the city to figure out where new townhomes or other multi-home structures may be built. The Mayor also brought up the secondary suite issue. All, or at least most of these ideas will require some sort of bylaw or zoning change.  

Scott McGillivray from the “Income Property” show on HGTV is in town this weekend for Home Expo and has offered to help. He’s already helped iron out some of the kinks in Ontario’s housing situation. According to Mayor Nenshi the housing situation in Calgary is serious. It may not hurt to pick property guru McGillivray’s brain.

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