Posted on April 06, 2016

‘Smart growth’ is in demand

As urban densification continues along main arteries and transit hubs, there is growing demand for ‘smart growth’ communities. It is a concept introduced 20 years ago when the American Planning Association began drafting a document now known as the Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook: Model Statutes for Planning and the Management of Change.

That may not sound like a bestseller by any stretch of the imagination, but it remains the cornerstone for what has become known as the smart growth movement: encouraging a range of development and conservation strategies that help our built environment protect our economy, environment and health. In short, smart growth communities enhance our quality of life.

In 2001, an organization known as Smart Growth BC formed to advocate for the movement in our province. Recently, a survey by the Real Estate Foundation of BC found that market demand for smart growth communities is on the rise.

Ten key principles underpin those strategies. These include:

- mixing land uses
- mixing housing types
- designing compact building forms
- creating walkable neighbourhoods
- providing a variety of transportation choices
- fostering communities with a strong sense of place
- preserving open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
- directing development towards existing communities
- inviting community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
- ensuring predictable, fair and cost-effective development processes

So what does this all mean for the average homeowner; what difference does smart growth make?

In the case of mixing land uses, it means there’s more to explore at your doorstep. Many urban developers now do this naturally, placing shops on ground level and condos above. Often, this can also mean adding a public library or some other community service, as well as office space. More than convenience, these additional uses save people time and money, plus create job spaces close to home.

Walkable neighbourhoods and transportation choices create communities that are healthier and easier to get around. Often, transit stops will be right outside the door. These practices, in turn, reduce pressure on green space. With larger areas of green space preserved outside the city, wildlife also has more space.

Once confined to the pages of regional planning documents – with their visions of neighbourhood centres connected by rapid transit – smart growth is increasingly the way developers build regions.

Anthem Properties and Beedie Living's makeover of Station Square adds five residential towers (1,800 homes), plus retail and office space. Once upon a time, the site was simply a low-rise mall in Burnaby. Just steps away is the urban oasis of Central Park. Similarly, PCI Developments' Marine Gateway – the first major development directly integrated with the Canada Line – brings together two residential towers with an office tower, retail podium and an entertainment complex. Just a few years ago, that one-block site was virtually vacant.

The speed at which homes at Station Square and Marine Gateway sold speaks to the demand for smart growth communities. In fact, both projects still hold the record for being among the fastest-selling in the region, according to real estate analyst Michael Ferreira.

And while we often hear the refrain, “Not in my back yard,” the Real Estate Foundation’s survey found the majority of British Columbians surveyed indicating “strong support for smart growth within their neighbourhoods.”