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Mixed-use developments can reduce affordability & diversity: study


WATERLOO —

Making the buildings in neighbourhoods more diverse through mixed-use residential and commercial developments also makes it too expensive for many people to live in.

A University of Waterloo study of Toronto neighbourhoods found that the increased cost, which was further heightened by the retraction of government support for affordable housing in mixed-use areas, led to the neighbourhoods becoming less diverse. The study also found the cost implications disproportionately impacted people in sales and service occupations.

mixed-use neighbourhoods, University of Waterloo

Aerial 3D view of Toronto’s Regent Park, now in the later stages of being redeveloped as a mixed-use neighbourhood. Image via Google Maps.

“Making mixed-use neighbourhoods was done with the best of intentions for our health, happiness and the environment, but as communities become more attractive places to live, demand to live there increases costs,” said Markus Moos, a professor at Waterloo’s School of Planning. “Walking to a nearby fancy coffee shop is nice, but the premium people pay for that luxury means the barista can’t afford to live near their job.

“While mixed-use areas were intended to make things more affordable, factors such as the shift to a knowledge-based economy reduced social diversity in the absence of policies designed to keep housing affordable.”

The study examined neighbourhoods in Toronto between 1991 and 2006, at a time when mixed-use developments were prescribed following a rethinking of previous planning that led to decades of urban sprawl. It incorporated existing research on mixed-use developments, as well as housing affordability, classified as spending no more than 30 per cent of one’s income on accommodations.

mixed-use neighbourhoods, University of Waterloo

Community housing in Toronto’s Alexandra Park is now also in the midst of a Regent Park-style redevelopment. Photo by SimonP via Wikimedia Commons.

“Mixed-use neighbourhoods aren’t inherently misguided. In fact, they do achieve many of their intended outcomes,” said Tara Vinodrai, a professor at Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. “But, we’re asking who benefits from this? It’s not people in low-income groups or in low wage jobs.

“What’s needed now is good policy to follow good planning. This includes inclusionary zoning, density bonuses linked to affordable housing, affordable housing trusts, and other relevant methods.”

The study, conducted with Waterloo graduate students Nick Revington and Michael Seasons, was recently published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.




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