There are undoubtedly many more items which Kingstonians might wish their city council to devote attention to – however I have decided to highlight a few specific items all of which relate to the single most disappointing area of responsibility of this council and city hall- development. Don’t get me wrong – I am in favour of development – just not in the way that is currently being mishandled. [Full disclosure – I am not an urban planner, nor am I politically active at any level].
Clearly the current approach to development approach is failing kingstonians for a variety of reasons, not least of which is a council and city hall addicted to urban development methods which have clearly failed to deliver a livable city. If council and city hall are at all serious about improving the city on behalf of its citizenry then it must focus first on making the city a livable space….
(1) stop making boneheaded development decisions –
exhibit A: kings crossing or whatever it is – sounds a little grandiose for what will in effect be a collection of fairly unremarkable boxes placed around the edges of acres of parking lots. A city council determined to develop retail on this site, but with even a dose of imagination might have at least researched some alternative suburban shopping experiences and held the developers feet to the fire – see Zona Rosa;
exhibit B: locating a seniors residence along one of the busiest corridors in greater Kingston, near one of the largest and busiest intersections has to rank as classic boneheaded move. Does anyone think for a second that the residents of this complex will actually want to walk along Princess Street and across the Gardners Rd intersection? Most likely they will end up using a Shuttle, adding more trips and pollution to our roads. A little bit of imagination might have included reviewing the existing zoning regulations to allow housing to be built on what is now retail property and then give an incentive to the owners of Cataraqui Mall [or similar property] to develop housing, seniors oriented or otherwise.
exhibit C: tim hortons across from Startek on hwy 15? what were you thinking? how does approving this particular blight encourage a livable city? BTW locating it next to an existing bicycle path doesn’t get you any ‘planning’ points.
(2) create and enforce an urban containment boundary – encourage infill projects.
An urban containment boundary (one which is realistic ) creates a number of beneficial knock on effects (1) it forces the city to assess its own land holdings and determine which are surplus to requirements, (2) it raises property values within the boundary which in turn forces idle or derelict properties to be developed, (3) when the amount of available land to be developed is reduced it allows the city to extract concessions from the developer as the increase in value more than offsets the costs of council requirements (say for instance – parking on site, or a set % of low income housing per development site etc) (4) reduces the infrastructure overhead for the city etc
The standard response is that an urban boundary punishes low income families as low value rental properties become subject to re-development – forcing them seek cheaper housing outside the boundary. Fortunately solutions to mitigate the economic effects of an urban containment boundary exist, awaiting an imaginative council;
(3)require that every housing project meet a livable city code to include (this means more than just providing sidewalks and lamp stands on one side of the street BTW):
Start by outlawing strip malls – change your zoning regulations to prevent the proliferation of this particular blight. Instead require that developers include village square or ‘high street’ like features in every development. Ensure that low income housing is built above commercial properties;
Require developers to include x units of low or subsidised income housing per hundred units – fully incorporated into a village design;
Ensure that all high density projects include a combination of high, medium and low value units within the SAME structure);
(4) require that every large or regional retail development incorporate high density housing and space for other services into their design as part of the approval process;
exhibit A: winkelcentrum kronenburg in Arnhem Netherlands. I had the opportunity to stay in Arnhem for three weeks in September 2003 and was blown away by the sheer space saving cleverness on display. The entire kronenburg district is built around the mall, including housing, a public library, banking and so on. Take a look at kronenburg on google mapsand ask yourself, why the Cataraqui Mall is a single use site? Is there any reason why the Cataraqui Mall doesn’t have high density (including a percentage of low income housing) either on site, or integrated directly into the building itself? Now some might say that Canada of all places hardly needs to go to the space saving extremes as the Dutch, but I would argue that the sprawl which we have encouraged in this town and elsewhere not only doesn’t create a livable city, but it [sprawl] contributes indirectly to insecurity, property crime, and of course pollution.
(5) Foster the creation of ‘village‘ areas within the city of Kingston.
Empower neighbourhood associations to make development decisions concerning their particular areas – working with them to create vibrant unique destinations within the city. Start with north of Princess extend the concept to other areas of the city.
(6) Crack down on derelict property owners:
Every derelict property signals to visitors and residents alike that the owner and city simply don’t care about the image of Kingston projected as a result. Find ways – perhaps escalating penalties – to force owners to clean up their properties – this goes for city property too. Anyone disgusted by the number of rusting chainlink fences around various city properties?
(7) Visit Ingolstadt Germany:
Ingolstadt is a city of approximately the same population as Kingston, located about 60km north of Munich in Bavaria. It is home to a substantial Audi factory, it has a compact central core and is surrounded by suburban towns largely built since the end of the second war. It has a walkable downtown core, a bus based rapid transit and a pedestrian high street. Ingolstadt does not represent what Kingston should necessarily aspire to – it has its rough edges as well, but it does show what can be accomplished in a similar sized town.