Why you shouldn’t mind a few new neighbours

It’s time we embraced density

Lets try an experiment, take a minute to look at the two pictures below. What words come to mind?

Source: http://calgaryherald.com/business/real-estate/open-house-scheduled-for-currie-barracks-redevelopment-plan

Currie Barracks (Source):


Stephen Avenue (Source)









If you break into a cold sweat and the words panic, traffic and crime rush into your head, then you may be like many Calgarians’ who suffer from a fear of pleasant, walkable, dense places.

What is often referred to as the “D-word” in planning, or density, has long been vilified and associated with traffic, crime and a general assault on our single-family home lifestyles. Its really too bad, as these perceptions of density are not necessarily related to density at all, and instead have been the result of some bad projects with poor design (think 1960’s subsidized housing in America, i.e.,  “the projects” ). Density doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and in fact it usually isn’t, many of nicest places in Calgary have densities equivalent to or higher than the average City density including Sunnyside, Mission, and Inglewood, which was named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood in 2014.

This is because density has some great benefits including:

  • More density means more jobs, shops and entertainment in a single area, which reduces the need for you to travel as far to get to these services. This is the reason why we started living in cities in the first place.
  • And because you don’t have to travel as far in dense neighbourhoods, walking, cycling and transit begin to make sense and can become even more convenient than the car. This can enable you to drive less which has a number of benefits.
  • Densifying old neighbourhoods can increase the choices (and price ranges) of housing, so people’s choice in where they live doesn’t have to limit the type of housing unit that they can buy
  • Dense neighbourhoods are often more sustainable, as less infrastructure is needed per person.
  • Infill density can help keep our neighbourhood schools, hospitals and existing services open, as a neighbourhoods’ population actually tends to decrease over the time as the kids grow up and move out. See this article about the decline and revitalization of Montgomery.

Sounds great right? It’s important to remember though that density in itself is not the end goal, and that people who live in towers in a parking lot are unlikely to realize many of these benefits. The end goal is creating better places that we enjoy and enable us live healthy and happy lives. This is why smart density, or density done well as described by Brent Toderain, needs to be the focus going forward.

Instead of fighting proposed redevelopments, secondary suites or laneway houses, we should allow these new developments to occur but fight to ensure that they are designed right, with all the tools needed to help them succeed and make our communities better. Despite the downturn, Calgary is still forecasted to grow, so our choice lies in how we facilitate this increase in population, not on whether or not the growth happens. It’s fine to dislike the look of large towers or prefer one type of built form over another, but our opposition to redevelopment should focus on the execution of the redevelopment, not the fact that more people want to live in our neighbourhoods and our City.

In the end, you don’t even have to live in an apartment or a townhouse to reap the benefits of density, heck, you may not even need to leave your single-family house at all. All you have to do to enjoy some of the benefits is welcome a few new neighbours to your block by supporting (or at least not fighting) redevelopment and density in your neighbourhood. Your new neighbours will thank you for it, and you might not mind it as much as you think.

Lynn Machacek
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Lynn Machacek

Transportation Analyst at Bunt & Associates
Lynn is a Transportation Analyst at Bunt & Associates where he helps to design communities and transportation systems that are multi-modal and sustainable. He is a passionate urbanist who loves to explore new cities, travel and sample craft beer in his spare time.
Lynn Machacek
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