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  #21  
Old Posted Sep 16, 2021, 5:38 PM
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I think you are asking a lot for urban planning to be the cure for mental illness, drug abuse, and alienation from societal norms.
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  #22  
Old Posted Sep 16, 2021, 8:47 PM
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Nah, it's more than that. Those things have always been around, though drug abuse seems to be more prevalent than in the past. However, we've never seen homeless tent parks like this before, so there's something more going on.

So what's happening here?
- Housing shortage? Sure, it's real.
- Economic and mental health fallout from the pandemic? Absolutely.
- Stronger street drugs? Probably.
- Etc.

I'm sure all of the above and many other socioeconomic factors are part of the problem, but it has to be more than that.

From a planning perspective, what could be done better? I think this is the question we have to ask ourselves. 'Affordable housing' is really only a temporary band-aid but not a solution. How do communities form? It's more than tall buildings and bicycle lanes...

Something to think about when we are entertaining the concept of good urban planning in Halifax. I don't have the answers but there are some great minds here at skyscraper... hopefully this discussion continues.
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  #23  
Old Posted Sep 16, 2021, 9:39 PM
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I don't actually think it's within the scope of urban planning to solve some of the societal-level social ills such as inequality and drug abuse. Yes there are ways in which communities can be designed to avoid exasperating such issues but the root causes such as the decades long descent into neoliberalism must be addressed.

It's like, if you have a building such as a school or library with major structural issues that require renovation and you're not even willing to consider addressing them. So you tell the general maintenance staff who do things like change light bulbs and oil squeaky doors that they're not doing a good enough job maintaining the building, and plead with them to find new ways to be more effective within the existing budget. Well, I'm sure they'll do their best to help...
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  #24  
Old Posted Sep 16, 2021, 10:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Nouvellecosse View Post
I don't actually think it's within the scope of urban planning to solve some of the societal-level social ills such as inequality and drug abuse. Yes there are ways in which communities can be designed to avoid exasperating such issues but the root causes such as the decades long descent into neoliberalism must be addressed.

It's like, if you have a building such as a school or library with major structural issues that require renovation and you're not even willing to consider addressing them. So you tell the general maintenance staff who do things like change light bulbs and oil squeaky doors that they're not doing a good enough job maintaining the building, and plead with them to find new ways to be more effective within the existing budget. Well, I'm sure they'll do their best to help...
Blaming this on neoliberalism (whatever that is) is a stretch. The problem is that there are increasingly unrealistic expectations by a large segment of the population for govt to solve all their problems, whatever those may be. Politicians being politicians, they are loathe to ever say no, so they foolishly pay lip service to these requests by passing regulations and legislation and establishing various programs and agencies. But there is not enough money in the world to fund these things even halfway adequately, let alone in little old Nova Scotia's meager fiscal cupboard, so you get an office and a sign and some letterhead and an Exec Director and a Comms person and not much else. We would be far better off carving off about 30% of govt and tossing it over the side to focus adequate funding on the important priorities.
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  #25  
Old Posted Sep 17, 2021, 3:28 AM
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Originally Posted by OldDartmouthMark View Post
IMHO, good urban planning should involve some work to prevent situations like this:
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-...ople-1.6177376

Although I believe there isn't a complete solution in our current iteration of society (and there will probably always be those who are left out, either by choice or by circumstance), we have to be better than this.
Honestly yes. Touting “Vibrancy” is a cruel joke in the face of this issue.

While it’s obviously not just a planning issue, planners did play a role in creating this mess and therefore have the ability but most importantly the responsibility to assist in fixing it. Planners helped create this mess by influencing areas ripe for investment through public provision, without accounting for who was displaced or made to seem out of place. When planners talk about how retrofitting a park with all the latest urban design features will benefit everyone, they/we really mean everyone who doesn’t live there. “How many people will go homeless along this new light rail line?” is a question ignored by municipalities.

How could planners help? Or at least not be as bad? One would be to gather better data on these effects, or to at least devote a section of the economic analysis on the predicted negative effects. Two would involve waiving fees and prioritizing approvals for non-profit supportive housing, which are run by cash strapped organizations. Non profit-housing helps but expecting non-profits to solve the housing crisis is like expecting philanthropy to solve poverty. Non-profits have a shaky record when it comes to sustaining themselves and avoiding being sold off to developers, especially if they have to balance repayments to creditors and the needs of residents.

Of course, I’m really starting to seem out of place here when criticizing the negative side-effects of urban development on a site that’s about fetishizing it, not that I can always stop myself from fetishizing such projects either.
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  #26  
Old Posted Sep 17, 2021, 4:19 PM
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Some aspects of housing affordability that go beyond the municipal level, or the ability of the government to control what is happening in the near term or at all:

- Family sizes shrinking. Society is more atomized, social capital is weaker, trust in society is dropping. Some of the people who would have just lived at the family farmhouse in 1920 now have nobody who can help them.
- Low productivity growth in Canada, globalization, now a pandemic disrupting supply chains and changing migration patterns.
- High government debt, low interest rates, cheap credit, and tons of investment flooding real estate markets. Real estate in Canada is now a global commodity and for many people, their equity is their retirement fund or ATM.
- Population growth, primarily through immigration. Canada's population would not be growing much or at all without it. I think immigration is good for Canada but a lot of people don't seem to want to plan for population growth even as the federal government promotes it.

I know people complain a lot about apartments in Halifax because the city has gotten less affordable but it is not as far along the "bitcoin-ization" of real estate than here in Vancouver or Toronto. Around here there is ~0 apartment construction unless the government gets involved. Everything is condo and a lot of it gets snapped up by investors who then operate as amateur landlords. Halifax could easily kill off its vibrant apartment construction industry and make things much worse for tenants as a whole. Building affordable housing, maybe subsidized, is good, but you want the volume of private apartment construction to go up too.
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  #27  
Old Posted Sep 17, 2021, 6:00 PM
OldDartmouthMark OldDartmouthMark is offline
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Originally Posted by Nouvellecosse View Post
I don't actually think it's within the scope of urban planning to solve some of the societal-level social ills such as inequality and drug abuse.
Actually, that's exactly not what I would expect urban planners to deal with, and not the focus of my post. What can planners do that might have a positive outcome and help minimize homelessness for reasons that don't involve drug abuse and mental illness?

Many years ago there were people who were homeless for many reasons, be it alcoholism or drug abuse, mental illness or trauma, etc., but it wasn't at the epidemic level of today. You can't blame it all on planning, obviously, but it would be a falsehood to say that planning has no part in it whatsoever. Even in the much maligned 'slums' of the mid 20th century, people still had places to live, even if they were run down and below standard. Planning of the era changed that forever with a utopian idea that tearing down the slums and compartmentalizing 'poor people' would make things better for everybody, but we now know that they were wrong.

What I am reading here are lots of reasons why we can't do anything, which in my mind exemplifies a lack of creativity in the established fields.

This isn't all aimed at you, I'm just surprised over the lack of imagination being displayed by some (not all) members in this thread. We're not here to solve the world's problems, but we are here to have interesting conversation about them...
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  #28  
Old Posted Sep 17, 2021, 6:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Good Baklava View Post
Honestly yes. Touting “Vibrancy” is a cruel joke in the face of this issue.

While it’s obviously not just a planning issue, planners did play a role in creating this mess and therefore have the ability but most importantly the responsibility to assist in fixing it. Planners helped create this mess by influencing areas ripe for investment through public provision, without accounting for who was displaced or made to seem out of place. When planners talk about how retrofitting a park with all the latest urban design features will benefit everyone, they/we really mean everyone who doesn’t live there. “How many people will go homeless along this new light rail line?” is a question ignored by municipalities.

How could planners help? Or at least not be as bad? One would be to gather better data on these effects, or to at least devote a section of the economic analysis on the predicted negative effects. Two would involve waiving fees and prioritizing approvals for non-profit supportive housing, which are run by cash strapped organizations. Non profit-housing helps but expecting non-profits to solve the housing crisis is like expecting philanthropy to solve poverty. Non-profits have a shaky record when it comes to sustaining themselves and avoiding being sold off to developers, especially if they have to balance repayments to creditors and the needs of residents.

Of course, I’m really starting to seem out of place here when criticizing the negative side-effects of urban development on a site that’s about fetishizing it, not that I can always stop myself from fetishizing such projects either.
Good discussion. it seems like planning in general should be a little more holistic when creating plans for urban (and suburban?) areas. Rather than considering only the benefit to certain members of our population, negative effects should be balanced with the positives.

BTW, it's refreshing to read a post that's balanced. Yeah, we are all interested in urban design and new buildings or we wouldn't be here, but there's always an elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, it seems. You should not consider yourself to be out of place, but just somebody with a broad point of view...
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  #29  
Old Posted Sep 17, 2021, 6:11 PM
OldDartmouthMark OldDartmouthMark is offline
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Originally Posted by someone123 View Post
Some aspects of housing affordability that go beyond the municipal level, or the ability of the government to control what is happening in the near term or at all:

- Family sizes shrinking. Society is more atomized, social capital is weaker, trust in society is dropping. Some of the people who would have just lived at the family farmhouse in 1920 now have nobody who can help them.
- Low productivity growth in Canada, globalization, now a pandemic disrupting supply chains and changing migration patterns.
- High government debt, low interest rates, cheap credit, and tons of investment flooding real estate markets. Real estate in Canada is now a global commodity and for many people, their equity is their retirement fund or ATM.
- Population growth, primarily through immigration. Canada's population would not be growing much or at all without it. I think immigration is good for Canada but a lot of people don't seem to want to plan for population growth even as the federal government promotes it.

I know people complain a lot about apartments in Halifax because the city has gotten less affordable but it is not as far along the "bitcoin-ization" of real estate than here in Vancouver or Toronto. Around here there is ~0 apartment construction unless the government gets involved. Everything is condo and a lot of it gets snapped up by investors who then operate as amateur landlords. Halifax could easily kill off its vibrant apartment construction industry and make things much worse for tenants as a whole. Building affordable housing, maybe subsidized, is good, but you want the volume of private apartment construction to go up too.
Great points. I suppose the reason I even bring this up is that I have some fear that we could go down the same path currently being suffered in Vancouver.

Maybe the scope of the conversation is too large for this thread alone, but it sure looks like we are headed for some rough times if nothing is done.
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  #30  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 4:30 AM
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A paper on "moving chains" started by the new supply of market-rate housing in Helsinki: https://ideas.repec.org/p/fer/wpaper/146.html

This is neat because it empirically validates the theory of how new expensive housing tends to free up older housing, and moves older housing "down" the affordability ladder. They actually found longer chains than I thought; they follow around to round 6 (household 1 moves into a new unit, household 2 moves to 1's unit, 3 to 2, etc.). They use geographical data and even show how the chains cut across different socio-economically stratified neighbourhoods. A chain can extend from an expensive neighbourhood into the cheaper parts of the metro area.

I think this is just one component of the housing market and it doesn't eliminate the need for specialized varieties of public housing but it shows that market-rate units are important, and in practical terms the new market supply is likely to be much larger than the new supply of public housing.
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  #31  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 12:28 PM
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A paper on "moving chains" started by the new supply of market-rate housing in Helsinki: https://ideas.repec.org/p/fer/wpaper/146.html

This is neat because it empirically validates the theory of how new expensive housing tends to free up older housing, and moves older housing "down" the affordability ladder. They actually found longer chains than I thought; they follow around to round 6 (household 1 moves into a new unit, household 2 moves to 1's unit, 3 to 2, etc.). They use geographical data and even show how the chains cut across different socio-economically stratified neighbourhoods. A chain can extend from an expensive neighbourhood into the cheaper parts of the metro area.

I think this is just one component of the housing market and it doesn't eliminate the need for specialized varieties of public housing but it shows that market-rate units are important, and in practical terms the new market supply is likely to be much larger than the new supply of public housing.
We should keep in mind that this article was written by VATT, whose research focuses on economic development. ARA is the housing agency. These authors come from backgrounds in business, not social work. Their main argument is that the social costs of development aren’t as severe as some reactionaries they seek to counter claim. This is not an article proposing better outcomes for low income residents.

Quote:
The main difference between market-rate and social housing emerges in the first few rounds where the share of moves coming from the bottom- half and bottom-quintile are higher. Thus, social housing buildings loosen the middle- and low-income housing markets more directly, but this comes with considerable costs to taxpayers due to forgone rental income (see Eerola and Saarimaa 2018).
I’ve highlighted a part you may enjoy. It’s simply a question of means, which can partially be fixed by allowing higher income tenants to stay in social housing, or to let low income tenants stay as their incomes increase. That way they become more self-sustaining. For a while RGI has been restricted to the lowest earners in Canada, which is obviously not going to help pay for building maintenance.

While market and non-market housing can gladly coexist, social housing has gone through cuts for decades, partly because of how it conflicts with some people’s free market ideology. There’s nothing revolutionary in asking for more social housing.

I must add a lesson in basic terminology: public housing is a type of social housing, not the other way around.
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  #32  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 3:59 PM
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I don't think many people would argue that a high end unit does more for the low end supply than a low end unit of similar size. The paper is interesting as an illustration of the real-world phenomenon, and a response to people who complain about high end condos driving up prices. To a first order approximation they have the cause and effect backward. I think this is also some food for thought for those scenarios where some small older affordable buildings get replaced by large towers. That scenario may be bad for the people living in the old buildings but it is not necessarily a net loss for the lower end of the housing market. The best approach then may be to help these people into new housing but allow the developments to proceed even if all we care about is affordability.

You won't see me argue that the government should build less affordable housing for people at the bottom of the income distribution who cannot otherwise it, whether we call it public housing or social housing. I think there should be more of that type of construction. But I question if the government capacity and know-how is there since it hasn't been happening. I have watched these projects for many years without much materializing. During this time the sometimes vilified private developers have built thousands of units. I wonder if it really makes sense to point the finger at them and not the publicly-funded entities that seem to do everything except create buildings for people to live in.
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  #33  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 4:57 PM
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This article is interesting too (though paywalled): https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/19/o...ressivism.html

More for the social/political commentary than the economic ideas.
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  #34  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 6:24 PM
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The paper is interesting as an illustration of the real-world phenomenon, and a response to people who complain about high end condos driving up prices.
There is probably some validity to concern about high-priced condos driving up prices in the immediate area. Real estate is all about comparables (with the definition of "comparable" often reallllllly stretched), so more expensive units in the area raise valuations across the board. With enough high-end units you also start to get the critical mass that draws high-end businesses, which draws more high-end units, which pushes people out.

But yeah, on a regional market scale that paper is super interesting.
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  #35  
Old Posted Sep 20, 2021, 6:56 PM
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With enough high-end units you also start to get the critical mass that draws high-end businesses, which draws more high-end units, which pushes people out.
I think this is more of a phenomenon in a place like Manhattan than Halifax. Are there parts of Halifax that have high-end businesses but don't have lower end businesses a block or two away? SGR has some high end stores but it also has Dollarama. There are a bunch of not so high end 70's apartment towers just a few blocks away from the highest end new condos. Halifax geography is relatively small and often people complain about having to move what amounts to a few km away. And this issue relates to transportation infrastructure which is rarely tied back to affordability in public discourse. Halifax even has greenfield sites close to downtown that the municipality decided to take off the table (no Williams-Colpitt lake housing, let us not even speak of a bridge). I guess that is a whole can of worms on its own.

Many inner city parts of Halifax were frankly pretty dire in the early 2000's with empty lots and storefronts, and much lower population densities than 1950. A lot of the new businesses that moved in are basically middle class or even affordable. For example the long empty former Sobeys lot on Gottingen becoming developed with new housing and donut/pizza shops. I doubt it's full of rich people.

Here in Vancouver there are many somewhat dumpy areas with approximately zero construction where the houses sell for $1-2M+. It's somewhat hard to get people to question the low density zoning and not the high end condos on the 10% of land where construction is allowed, though I think it is slowly changing.

Last edited by someone123; Sep 20, 2021 at 7:15 PM.
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  #36  
Old Posted Oct 21, 2021, 1:54 AM
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Lots of info here about the province of NS and its housing initiatives:
https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/provi...ifax-planning/

It's always hard to say how such initiatives will pan out but aside from the usual pledge to build more housing it sounds like they'll be intervening in aspects of HRM planning like housing approval and transportation.

At a very high level I think municipal level building approval and transportation is basically off the rails and there needs to be more focus on effectively adding new housing and transportation capacity at a rate that exceeds population growth since cities are already behind.
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