Zoning for Inconspicuous Density in Vancouver

While many cities throughout the American industrial heartland continue to combat depopulation, coastal cities and mega-regions across the United States  and Canada are facing the challenge of managing accelerating growth.  Preserving the city’s unique character while successfully accommodating new residents is a critical challenge for these communities.  The city of Vancouver has taken a novel approach to the influx of new residents by relaxing zoning standards in order to create opportunities for owners of existing homes to increase the density of their own properties.  Vancouver is geographically bound by the Pacific Ocean, various inlets and a mountain range, making sprawling expansion all but impossible.   In 2004, the city updated its zoning code so that owners of a single family house could create a supplementary rental unit inside their house.  In 2009, the city additionally allowed single family houses with an abutting lane or alleyway to build an additional unit for rent.  Properties previously typified by a single household can now accommodate up to three households.  By incrementally abolishing single unit zoning and increasing the range of housing stock, the city of Vancouver has ensured that its communities are able to easily accommodate new residents and avoid radical aesthetic change.

Washington DC’s Office of Planning has been working for the past four years to update the capital’s zoning codes, parts of which date back to 1958.  Now, it appears that possible revisions might include similar provisions to those in Vancouver and allow for a diversification of the city’s housing stock with supplementary in-house units and the addition of new alley or lane units.  As Washington continues to experience a rapid influx of young professionals, such measures may prove to be an effective way to help alleviate upward pricing pressure on long term residents and stabilize neighborhoods  in transition.

(Picture from The Cambie Rowhouse Project )

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