Island Voices: Let’s make it a wonderful day in the neighbourhood

Re: “Victoria’s densification process raises concerns,” comment, June 30.

Michael Bloomfield argues that many Victoria neighbourhoods eyed for densification have done their share of growth and should be left alone.

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His position of “fairness” implies he would like his home to be protected and subsidized by the rest of the city. Bloomfield is advocating for leaving affluent areas alone while densifying less desirable areas; this is the definition of gentrification.

In 1991, the population of Gonzales was 3,879, and in 2011 it was 4,175, a change of 7.6 per cent, not 27 per cent as reported by Bloomfield. Furthermore, between 1971 and 2016, a period of 45 years, Gonzales grew by 85 people.

Why is a neighbourhood that represents nine per cent of the city’s total residential land base, with excellent walkability, transit, retail, schools and parks, allowed to grow at an average rate of 0.05 per cent per year? Conversely, the Capital Regional District grew at an average rate of 1.36 per cent per year over this same period.

If we apply this growth rate to Gonzales, the area has turned away 3,400 people (80 per cent of the current population) to other parts of the CRD.

“Who cares?” you might say. You should, because Victoria as a whole, through a lack of housing, has grown at a rate lower than the CRD average and has therefore potentially displaced thousands of people since 1971 to other areas of the region.

These potential residents could have helped shoulder the load of the new bridge, fire hall, bike lanes and facility upgrades such as the Crystal Pool and the sewage plant, in addition to the economic benefits these residents might have had on commercial services and job creation. There is a net cost to society by displacing growth to the fringes of our region by way of unco-ordinated services, road congestion, school planning and loss of greenspace.

As a developer, I’ve been to many council meetings and community association presentations, and read the abundant letters to the editor. I consistently notice that most people are supportive of diverse housing types and more attainable housing — just somewhere else.

The people who tend to oppose new development in their community often have home security. Furthermore, it becomes generational when you look at the cost of housing relative to incomes. Although there were interest spikes in the 1980s, the monthly payments for a $165,000 mortgage at a 20 per cent interest rate were significantly less than having to save for and make payments on a $950,000 80-year-old home.

The fact is that a hard day’s work does not go as far as it used to. We millennials are often pegged as entitled, distracted or lazy. Out of the several thousand we have engaged through our initiative called Talk to Aryze, we have yet to hear a millennial or Generation Z say they “deserve” a single-family home in the city; they just want something.

We Victorians pride ourselves on being inclusive and open, yet when it comes to change that could welcome new people into our neighbourhood, our inclusiveness seems to have explicit limits. We all seem to agree on a macro scale that something has to be done to improve housing supply, until it affects our ability to find an immediate parking spot or casts a shadow on our property.

Yes, we need to respectfully consider the present, but we ultimately need new neighbourhood plans that lead us decades into the future. Otherwise, we run the risk of using neighbourhood plans and zoning as a tool to create gated communities.

The challenge we face as developers is finding ways to support better transit, more affordable housing, good schools, great parks, vibrant retail and lower greenhouse-gas emissions by reducing urban sprawl. At the same time, we often hear that neighbourhoods need to stay the same in regard to height, fit and density.

What Victoria are we trying to preserve? Victoria in 1910, 1950, 1976, 2000 or the day after the last person arrived?

It’s time for Victorians to view good densification not as a threat to neighbourhood character, but as a tool to strengthen neighbourhoods through diversity and inclusivity.

It’s time for Victorians to welcome young families and renters and to do so fearlessly. It’s time for Victorians to be more like Mr Rogers: Let’s share the neighbourhood.

Luke Mari is a Victoria-based developer and partner in TalktoAryze.ca

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