The urban infill conversation has enveloped the public and political discourse around the future of residential development in Edmonton. Started in August 2014, the City's Infill Roadmap creates a work plan to advance more and better residential infill in Edmonton's mature and established neighbourhoods. An additional 170,000 people are estimated to call the city home by 2025, and as cities around the world grapple with the impacts of urban sprawl, which produces long commute times and car dependency, infill has the opportunity to revitalize neighbourhoods and contribute to the collective goal of sustainability.
The 23 actions outlined in the Infill Roadmap directly resulted from an eight-month public engagement process, known as Evolving Infill, which gathered input from citizens, builders, and City officials, in order to determine actions that would support infill development. Since its adoption, the City has made significant progress implementing the measures. So far, 15 of the goals have been reached, with the remaining eight well on their way to realization. Among the completed actions are the development of an infill website to alert residents about infill projects, a new rule that mandates informative signage on all infill building sites, the creation of a Good Neighbour Guide to help foster positive community relations, and the establishment of a Community Infill Panel designed to provide feedback to administration. These initiatives are a response to some key lessons learned throughout the engagement process, particularly the need for communication and a flexible approach to infill development.
The City also identified 30 supplementary "detour" actions to support high-quality infill in Edmonton. The formation of an infill compliance team to inspect building sites, approving bylaw amendments requiring lot grading plans for all infill development, setting landscaping prescriptions and incentives for preserving greenery, and increased fines for noise bylaw violations are among the additional measures.
The efforts to encourage infill development are especially pressing now, with a newly released report detailing disappointing numbers. Infill only accounted for 13 percent of all new homes in 2015, a far cry from the 2018 target of 25 percent that was set by Council in 2010. Back then, infill represented 17 percent of new housing, and then went on to gain another two percent the following year. But the figures have been going downhill ever since, a trend that's partially attributed to increased development in the suburbs. While construction in mature neighbourhoods has been strong, it's simply been overshadowed by the number of housing deliveries on the city's fringes.
The push for infill is stimulating changes to legislation and some outside-the-box solutions. Last week, councillors at the urban planning committee passed a motion to reduce the minimum lot width from 7.6 to 7.5 metres. While the tweak may seem inconsequential, Metro News reports that at least one homebuilder had been denied a building permit for a proposed infill house after coming in one centimetre short. The proposed rule follows the City's discovery that archaic survey methods misrepresented the true size of lots, which were actually 14.9 metres wide rather than the believed 15.2 metres.
Citing concerns about affordability, Edmonton architect Sherri Shorten has suggested the City explore "pork-chop" lots, which would divide land horizontally as an alternative to narrow houses. The larger home would front the street, while smaller homes would face the rear alley or laneway. This would allow current homeowners to redevelop the back half of the property while staying put in their house, then move to the smaller house when work is complete. Homeowners looking to downsize would reap the profits while maintaining their roots in the neighbourhood.
The City has indicated it will largely focus its infill efforts on transit nodes and corridors, where development of narrow houses is most likely to be successful and welcomed. Public consultations around this renewed effort, with a vision of calming neighbourhood concerns, will begin in March. "As Edmonton’s population grows, the City needs to provide a broader diversity of housing options," said Kalen Anderson, Director of Planning Coordination. "We're really pleased with the progress to date and excited for what's to come. Edmontonians are looking to the future and working with the City of Edmonton to build that future together. The infill story is a truly Edmonton story and as it continues to evolve, so does the City."
Is the City doing enough to encourage residential infill? What other measures can be put in place to support infill development? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page.