Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Predicting the future

On Saturday night I was pleased to speak at the 'End of Year' party of the graduating class at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC. The theme was The Future and I was asked to offer my thoughts on what planners could expect over the coming decade

In preparing my PowerPoint slide presentation, I was reminded of Yogi Berra's famous comment "The future ain't what it used to be!" In fact, I'm not sure this is the case. While it is easy to be seduced by wonderful 'futuristic' images, like that above, and the new developments in Dubai, I think our future might well be surprisingly similar to the past... streets with trams, lined with three to eight storey buildings with shops at grade and offices and housing above...not too many cars, cyclists. Behind the main streets, one would find a mix of single family homes with coach houses in the back, rows of terraced housing for those who cannot afford a house 'sitting on its own grounds'....you get the picture.

I suggested to the students that to predict the future, it is necessary to review the past...so I ran through highlights of the past four decades during which I have been working:

The 70's: the redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek, the start on the redevelopment of Fairview Slopes, Champlain Heights and new attitudes towards inner city living, and lots of government programs.

The 80's: redevelopment of the North Vancouver and New Westminster waterfronts, the start on the North Shore of False Creek, new housing options for seniors, mixed use developments, a renewed interest in heritage renovation, Andre Molnar's California styled condominium projects, public private partnerships as governments withdraw from programs.

The 90's: Hampton Place at UBC, high end housing at Bayshore and Coal Harbour, live/work and lofts in Yaletown, redevelopment of the north shore of False Creek, proliferation of congregate housing for seniors, expanded rapid transit, the beginning of the 'leaky condos' phenomenon.

The 00's: the tower and podium condo's, smaller units, the sustainable master planned communities: UniverCity at SFU, Dockside Green in Victoria, South East False Creek, the LEED decade.

So what can we expect over the next twenty years? Here' the list of 20 ideas I presented, ( in no particular order):

1. Reduced parking requirements
2. Laneway Housing/small infill developments
3. Alternative forms of tenure: shared equity, life-lease, co-ops
4. Innovative partnerships, public, private, institutional and non-profit sectors
5. Smaller homes on smaller lots
6. Fee simple row-housing
7. Flexible housing
8. Legalized secondary suites in multi-family housing
9. Modular housing
10. Alternative to wood and concrete-steel construction
11. High Density single family developments
12. More interesting and varied high rise buildings
13. Bigger apartment buildings with bigger balconies
14. Vancouverism copied around the world
15. More contemporary looking single family subdivisions
16. Renewed interest in triplexes, quadraplexes, six-plexes
17. Housing affordability will continue to be a problem
18. The Regeneration of older Public Housing projects
19. Factory produced relocatable housing
20. Continuation of the 'sustainability lens'

In the interest of time...(They kept the bar closed until after my presentation) I skipped over a few things, but I do expect to see continued interest in creating smaller housing units, advances in construction technology, a more 'European' approach to community planning and design, and an increased interest in the integration of housing and transit.

I also expect an increased interest in the correlation between good planning and good health. This is the topic for my presentation this morning at Vancouver General Hospital:

How Community Planners can help us live longer

More on this in a future post.


Tom said...

I couldn't agree with you more Michael on the innovations in housing and human settlements you predict for the next 20 years. However, if all Metro Vancouver municipalities are not on side - and I mean ALL - some will be holding up their end of the sustainability equation more than others. I fear that parochial municipal governments, well organized NIMBY groups and self-interested community groups will put a damper on innovation; that municipal planners who are taught and love process (sometimes for process' sake) are also an impediment to innovation.
These impediments will only be overcome by mandated growth-accommodation targets by the senior levels of government.
Hate to say it, but there cannot be progress in sustainable and hopefully affordable forms of housing any other way.

Michael Geller said...

Thanks Tom...I too agree that planners have to give direction, and not just take direction. We need more than 'polsters' in our planning department. cheers