Wanted: Visionary Development

The real estate market is all the buzz again, this time (here in Southern Ontario) because scarce inventory, low interest rates, and other factors have combined to fuel unprecedented price increases. Realtors are cold-calling for listings, advertising reducedhouse-price-for-sale-sign-realtor commission rates, and scrambling to help buyers strategically navigate the landscape of bidding wars. This post, however, is not about the real estate market. It’s about the precursor to listings and open houses – the design and development of communities.

Cohousing, like other living models born of the desire for intentional living, requires that architects, planners, developers, builders, and local governments support these designs. Everything from land use guidelines and building codes to tax structures and zoning must align in order to encourage and realize these alternatives. It is troubling that many decades have elapsed without progress since early champions of intentional living and

Habitat 67
Habitat 67 in Montreal

social architecture first offered (and even completed) designs and concepts with tremendous potential. Canadian communities have been slow to embrace these models – something that must change in order for those communities to prosper in an age of growing urbanization, intensification, and surging numbers of older residents.

For example, this article from the Montreal Gazette features Moshe Safdie’s design from Habitat ’67 – heralded 50 years ago as density with personality, an alternative to concrete highrise living.

The winding and modular Habitat space gives neighbours many opportunities to meet and interact with one another, but they also get to maintain some measure of privacy and uniqueness.

Savvy developers, planners and architects recognize the impact aging boomers, the so-called grey tsunami, can have on housing and communities. Whether decades-old concepts like Habitat, or more rNew-Agingecent projects like Morningside Heights in New York City (more here), today’s urban design field can’t afford to ignore the needs and preferences of the senior demographic. Most cities and towns lack the diversity of choices those seniors are seeking, and this presents tremendous opportunity. Early adopters already recognize the benefits inherent in this housing diversification (to individuals, neighbourhoods, whole communities) and are among those lobbying municipalities to halt sprawl and encourage the development of inspired alternatives to single family houses. Architect Matthias Hollwich is one such champi


on, with a recent book (New Aging) and a growing following (check out another new concept from Hollwich, Skyler: A New Aging Tower).

Designing buildings and cities to better accommodate the eldest among us helps us all by creating communities that are more socially connected and accessible.

It’s a stretch to call this “visionary” development in 2017, and there are indeed progressives in the field whose forward-looking philosophy offers both hope and example. The housing development field in general, however, must wake up to the realities facing communities with aging demographics, space restrictions, and socially informed goals for living well. Squeezing every possible dollar from a building lot may benefit one developer, but it does little for a community. Entire subdivisions that offer not a single one-floor plan, or other alternative to the 2-story, 3+-bedroom box with garage, are the price we pay for allowing builders and developers (and those who more-of-the-sameapprove their work) to determine how and where we will live.

Where are today’s visionary development professionals? Who wants to design for people, for thriving communities, and where are the locales that support them? Stay tuned.


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