Philip Mcleod

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Where in the world is this?

altENTRY #850: Innovative housing ideas like those shown above – and you might be surprised where you would find them – will be much of the solution in helping to keep the physical size of a growing London in check. If we don’t, the cost implications are enormous.

Friday, April 26, 2013 – London

The neighbourhood around the condo development where I live in Greater Oakridge is mostly single-family homes built in the snout nose style. Snout nose is the description planners give to homes where the garage pokes out front, becoming the most prominent feature.

Although there are many designs in a fairly wide price range, there is also a depressing sameness about the homes, mostly expressed by the widespread use of subdued beiges and greys in the brickwork, siding and shingles.

A prominent home builder in London told me not long ago the reason most homes in suburbs look like this is because “that’s where the market is, they sell.”

But wouldn’t alternative designs sell too?

You’d certainly think so, given London residents so often express a desire for something truly different, as noted in the results of ReThink London’s survey of more than 9,200 of us as part of its Official Plan update.

Londoners, if you believe the numbers, want choices like the homes featured above – homes with some interesting and unusual design elements. But would they buy them?

Well, these two housing developments are actually in London. Our London. And they are selling very well. In fact, Old Oak Properties, developer of the Nuvo stacked condos on the right which are located on Sugar Creek Trail near the south end of Beaverbrook, applied to city council’s planning committee this week for permission to begin construction of the second phase – ahead of schedule.

The condo development on the left, which looks like something lifted from Europe, is by Johnstone Homes and is located at 1850 Beaverbrook Ave. This project, too, will soon move into a second phase.

In fact innovative housing ideas are beginning to show up in all parts of the city, from downtown to the suburbs.

The truth is – and this should be a lesson both for city council and for those who risk their money to build and sell us homes and lifestyles – Londoners appear to be more than ready to embrace the kind of city they say they want London to become.

“It’s time now to take stock and look at how we do things,” says ReThink London’s third discussion paper, Building a Mixed-Use Compact City, to be released next week. “The decisions we make and actions we take now will have an impact on future generations of our families.”

If the striking new housing offerings don’t encourage London’s power brokers and power makers to change their ways, quite possibly financial realities will. That’s the scary message in this discussion paper.

When London annexed Oakridge, Byron and neighbourhoods north of Huron St. in 1961, the paper notes, it was estimated we had enough land to house a 500,000 people. Well we’ve already surpassed the 1971 boundary in reaching a population of 366,000. “At the densities we’ve been growing at since 1971 London, we estimate we’d need another 6,500 hectares of land to reach that 500,000 population number,” the paper says.

Perhaps 6,500 hectares doesn’t sound like much, but it is equal to the land area of the City of Waterloo.

While there is no suggestion in the discussion paper that London should stop growing – the opposite in fact – it does argue we need to be smart about it. The best way to do that is to increase the number of people who live on each hectare of land inside our borders.

And that has enormous cost implications.

For example, if we continue to grow at our current pace – which the planners call the Spread Model and which includes adding that extra 6,500 hectares – the bill for providing roads, sewers, storm ponds and other services for the newcomers would be $4.2 billion in one-time capital costs over 50 years.

On the other hand, the Compact Model would accommodate all the newcomers and their jobs inside our current borders. Estimated cost over 50 years is $1.5 billion, or $2.7 billion LESS than the Spread Model.

“Every year (with the Spread Model) we would be paying an additional $70 million more than the Compact Model. What could our London of the future do with an additional $70 million each year, every year?

“Simply put, we can’t afford to spread, and this type of growth will certainly affect our tax rates. We need to continue to grow, but in a way that is smart and affordable.”

The problem is city council will face enormous pressure – and probably some legal challenges – not to ratchet down how quickly we use farmland for housing from developers who control much of the land along our borders.

Achieving the kind of smart city we want will require visionary leadership from a smart city council. Something to think about as we begin to prepare for the 2014 civic election.


+7 # requirementsJ. Walker 2013-04-26 02:15
In all seriousness, when was the last time London had 'visionary leadership and a smart city council'?
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-16 # And why again is London's Unemployment HighPhyllis 2013-04-26 02:41
One solution - Pink slips for all city staff...start with the Planning Department. The next election can't come soon enough and if any current council get elected this city is doomed!
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+9 # The Wasted Space CityKeith Risler 2013-04-26 02:51
It is nothing new that low-density landscapes break the urban piggybank. The runaway tax scenarios that many North American cities often experience are frequently caused by low-density low-tax development for which London is a shameless poster boy. We are the Wasted Space City, not the Forest City. Further, compact urban landscapes are mandated by Ontario's Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) on land use planning with which Official Plans must be consistent. London would be inconsistent with that policy if it chooses undisciplined sprawl over wise compact in-boundary development.
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+9 # RE: Where in the world is this?Harriet Brown 2013-04-26 03:24
Quoting Phyllis:
One solution - Pink slips for all city staff...start with the Planning Department. The next election can't come soon enough and if any current council get elected this city is doomed!

How on earth does this make any sense? It is staff which is pointing out the problems but will councillors take note? Not as long as they continue to take their direction and campaign dollars from the develop,emt industry. from the
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+11 # RE: Where in the world is this?concerned 2013-04-26 03:36
Phyllis, it would be instructive to pay some attention as to what is actually coming out of the Planning Department. Which is for the most part thoughtful, forward thinking about how this city should grow.

The majority of Council may not support their proposals and vision but to blame them for the stonewalling and the endless referrals back to staff is to be ignorant of where the problem is.

And to paint the entire Council with one brush is equally ludicrous. Your comments would carry more weight with a little more consideration of the facts.
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+10 # RE: Where in the world is this?Menno Meijer 2013-04-26 03:49
Add a butcher shop, green grocer, cheese shop, small cafes, and a few dry goods stores and bingo, you have a real city. One people want to walk around in and meet neighbours. Oh, and maybe a public school within walking distance.
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-3 # The pictures leave me coldRockinon 2013-04-26 05:19
The pictures at the top of this post leave me cold. I find the one on the right downright ugly. And the remark about the look of new housing -- "there is also a depressing sameness about the homes" -- is odd. There are areas in North London with long rows of cookie-cutter homes. Here's proof: In fact, I've encountered, and documented, some cookie-cutter housing in every place I have ever visited all around the globe. Sameness in housing is not necessarily bad -- nor depressing.
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+11 # RE: Where in the world is this?Vicki Van Linden 2013-04-26 11:13
I agree with Harriet Brown when she says: "It is staff which is pointing out the problems but will councillors take note?"

Pleae don't blame the Planners. During a public participation meeting on the South West Area Plan, (SWAP)the Planning department laid out an interesting plan that took in the better ideas about land use. Then the lobbyists for the land owners told the committee what they wanted, which seemed to be to do anything that they wanted to. And guess who Joe Swan and Joe Fontana supported?

Joe Swan's treatment of the planning department staff on that evening is something that I will never forget. The planners were bullied, dismissed and treated shabbily in my opinion.

And Joni Beachler, who in a world that makes sense would be chairing the Planning Committee instead of Fontana crony Bud Polhill, does not deserve to be painted with the same brush as councillors like Henderson. I wonder if good councillors like Beachler will bother to run again when they get lumped in together with people who behave badly and serve us poorly.
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+2 # Where in the WorldWalter H 2013-04-26 11:21
I was hoping that we needed the Avengers to come and save us (as in Regina) but this time we can save are selves. Its about time alternative styled homes are being built here. The 'standard' styling does not attract who we might be seeking to come to London. We are personally seeking a new design to relocate to. Maybe Thor can save us?
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+2 # Market leadsReality 2013-04-26 12:28
In addition to standards that Planning will try to implement, it will be the market that dictates what the kind of housing we have in London -- and the market is driven by the citizens. It seems a lot of people are happy to have a "snout" style home, as long there is a modern kitchen inside and a certain about of square footage. If we want better standards, we need people to expect more.
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+4 # RE: Where in the world is this?Colin Hendry 2013-04-26 14:05
Some of the new designs in housing, while not revolutionary, are exciting. Are we really still seeking huge backyards, large gardens, pools with change houses the size of our house? Yes, to some it is a recognition of their social success. Unfortunately these attributes are not sustainable and get to be a burden as we age. New concepts are required and being accepted by the marketplace. We have to address our Zoning to ensure that we can accommodate change--parking requirements, setbacks, lot coverage all need to be addressed to ensure we are not undermining the new opportunities.
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+3 # RE: Where in the world is this?Rod Morley 2013-04-26 20:24
Our current landscape is not the fualt of the City planning department nor only the Council. It is in the way we elect our Council. The system is weighed heavily for people or organizations who fund our Council. There are some Councillors who refuse to accept election money from developers. We need to take money out of the equasion both up front during election times and to make sure that people who leave politics haven't just paved the way for them selves to capitalize on their years of "public service" by landing in cushy consultants positions after their time in office is over.
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-3 # Pinks Slips and then someNorm 2013-04-26 21:40
Phyllis is onto something. If city staff do not have a voice and say then why do we pay for non essential services? Pretty reports mean nothing if staff don't speak up afterall most are backed by union. Pink slips for staff and management come next election.

There also needs to be a motion where an elected official must reside in the riding they represent and the mayor must live in city.

This motion would also include clear rules whereby a councillor could not vote on matters where they would be in conflict of interest i.e. accepting developer donations and other related kick backs. This includes committee selections.

No better time to clean up London and vote out each and every sitting council memeber and the mayor. Pink slips to all as you failed to stand up for London.
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+7 # knee-jerk criticism of staffVicki Van Linden 2013-04-27 01:56
I am weary of knee-jerk criticism of staff or the lumping of all councillors in together.

As for staff, there have already been many lay-offs at city hall. There does not appear to be any more of this 'gravy' that some are so fond of talking about. Many departments such as planning appear to have crushing work loads. At committee they often struggle valiantly to defend plans that make sense. They answer sometimes stupid questions from some council members patiently and repeatedly. How is it their fault if some councillors do not listen, have not read their agendas, and do not even understand the planning act or municipal governance?
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+1 # Time to Back Pedal (a little)Rockinon 2013-04-29 23:46
Took a drive over to the Nuvo condos. I must confess, they look much better than I thought they would. I didn't have a good grasp of their appearance based on the posted picture. I thought the condos would feel like a sampler building with the variety in surface veneers. It doesn't. But the neighbourhood is almost solid highrise apartments. If, as they say, it is location, location, location, Nuvo would benefit from a change of location.
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