I’m back in Seattle and the haziness of the Globe Conference (so many conference sessions on giant, world changing ideas!) is finally lifting from my head.
However, I must return to a theme I explored last week in this post about whether Vancouver or Seattle is greener. In that post’s comments, Mhays said Seattle needs to encourage density to really be the greenest it can be. “We’re doing a good job in many ways, but way behind Vancouver,” he said.
After spending some time there and paying particular attention to the density issue, I couldn’t agree more. Sure, Vancouver has its problems. In one session at Globe, Peter Busby explored one of these saying people in Vancouver that live near the center of the city have lower greenhouse gas emissions than those who live further out. To counter this, he proposes creating density nodes throughout the rest of the city that would allow people to live, work and play in their neighborhoods rather than having to go downtown. (More on Vancouver’s stance on density here).
But when you look at the variety of housing types in Vancouver’s downtown, it just blows Seattle out of the park. Basically, in Seattle, you can live downtown if you want to – or can afford – a condo. In Vancouver however, you don’t have to be confined to a condo to live downtown. They have – gasp! – row houses!
Here are a few images of downtown housing types. They are just a small tidbit of the many varieties of styles I saw:
The pictures don’t show the difference as clearly as you would see with your own eyes. But basically, in parts of Vancouver’s downtown, you can live in units that are much more like townhouses than they are condos. This row-housing type is shown in the first image and last image. If you look closely, you can also see this type of housing at the base of the second image.
The variety of housing types is sure to attract different kind of people. Not everyone wants to live downtown in a condo… but if you could live downtown in something resembling a townhouse with a bit more private space, suddenly you attract a whole other market.
So… why can’t Seattle do this? Why can’t we bring other housing types downtown? What stops us from having that variety? And is there anything we could do now to encourage it?
Busby had an interesting observation. As cities grow, he said, many new inhabitants will be immigrants from Africa and other areas that are already used to living densely. Generally, he said they are used to small living areas and to lots of walking. We can take advantage of this influx, he said, to “change the pattern of organization” in cities.
Now, I don’t mean to knock Seattle. We have a great city that is moving forward on a number of fronts. But as far as diversifying housing use in downtown… it seems like the same old same old. (And by diversifying, by the way, I mean doing so for different price points as well as in unit styles).
Even in Vancouver, these things aren’t easy. But the important thing is to keep improving. Mayor Gregor Robertson said, “There’s angst about the transition here and potential political disaster associated with that but in Vancouver, we see huge opportunities for change.”
P.S. Nick Christensen of OregonLive.com has an interesting article from January on a similar topic here.