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No room for single-family zoning in Vancouver's future: panel

Vancouver could halve its greenhouse gas emissions simply through rezoning laws, said one of the city's leading green building architects today.

Peter Busby, of the firm Busby, Perkins + Will, joined Mayor Gregor Robertson and former mayor Michael Harcourt for a panel discussion of the future of cities, part of the GLOBE conference on business and the environment.

Rest assured, said Busby, there is no room for single-family zoning in cities of the future.

"We have this vast area of single-family residents. These are the models that emerged out of city planning post-war, when planning departments were set up," Busby said. "They largely thought this was the right thing to do. . . put all the officers together. . . you live out there in your houses, and over there is where you shop.

"But it's the wrong model today."

By creating 'nodes' around the city of dense, multi-use buildings clustered around major transit stations, the average Vancouver citizen could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from five to 2.5 tonnes, said Busby.

While all panelists agree that public education and outreach is key, they acknowledged that rezoning is a contentious issue and political hot potato. Mayor Sullivan's plan to brand and sell 'EcoDensity' was also a focal point for resident backlash against city-wide rezoning efforts.

Robertson said 'EcoDensity' was really just a bundling of existing city practices and planning, and said residential groups felt left out of the process.

"My approach has been, let's embrace this all together," Robertson said. "Keep them in the dialogue."

He pointed to city council's recent approval of laneway housing as a positive for density and individual property values.

Although it will take a "Herculean" effort to change zoning patterns, not just here but around the Western world, Busby said two trends offer a great opportunity for densification: Single-family homes passing from one generation to the next, and growing immigrant populations from countries like Asia where high-rise apartments, walking and public transit are typical.

"Single-family ownership of a place to live is incredibly important in this society," said Busby. "But there can be many forms of that."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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