Neil Dawe, Tract Consulting: Sustainable Planning for Healthy Communities (2011), Work In Progress panel presentation from Building Healthy Communities: Bringing Health & Wellness to the Community Planning Table conference.
1. How about a 10 minute walk to neighbourhood pub?
Residential neighbourhoods in a well planned community should be serviced with neighbourhood commercial uses and related services within a comfortable walking distance so that local residents do not always need to rely on the automobile. Each municipality should define ‘Neighbourhood Commercial’ to identify the types and intensity of permitted commercial uses. Typically these uses include local commercial businesses such as neighbourhood level grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaning, bank outlet, small shop retail, coffee shop, restaurant and perhaps through a separate zone category within the neighbourhood precinct for a neighbourhood pub. The size of neighbourhood commercial uses should be capped by a maximum square footage floor space area amount (i.e. say 40,000sf) to prevent a shopping center type of commercial development overwhelming a residential neighbour area.
2. n your presentation you focused on new developments, what can we do now in non-sustainable; non-health; ugly areas that have already been developed? (e.g., big box Stavenger Drive development in St. John’s).
Where existing developments such as a big box commercial development already exist and are viewed as non-sustainable, what can be done? The Municipality can play a role by adopting a streetscape improvement program of greening and softening the edge of the development through street tree plantings, grassed areas adjacent to sidewalks, shade, public art and rest benches. The Municipality can also adopt development design guidelines for new developments and redevelopments so that when the existing site comes forward for expansion or renovation, certain improvements to the existing site would apply such as landscaping the large asphalt parking area and reducing impermeable area surfaces, improving visual appearance of storefront facades. More effective management of commercial signage may also be introduced to improve the visual quality of large commercial sites. The Municipality may further discuss with the Big Box developer the sustainable building and site design objectives that the local government encourages.
3. At a provincial conference for municipalities each year, your skills and talents on planning needs to be heard there. Have you been invited there?- awesome presentation- I like the cut of your jib.
We are very grateful for the comments. In fact, Robert Ross and I presented a model for Sustainable Community Planning at this years MNL conference. MNL has indeed identified sustainable planning as one of its priorities. A copy of our presentation is being posted on the MNL site. As well, visitors to the Tract website can download a copy of our White Paper on Sustainable Community Planning.
4. Could you please explain what the Grand Concourse is?
For approximately 12 years I worked with Mr. Paul Johnson to create, plan, design, negotiate access for, fund and maintain an integrated network of parks and trails know as the Grand Concourse. This walkway network is an exemplary example of community support planning lead by a visionary, Mr. Paul Johnson. I worked very closely in my work with Ms Heddy Peddle, and folks like Gerhard Weiland, Senior Landscape Architect and Marc Poirier, Planning Assistant. At one time we had eight landscape architect working on design projects. The system has won national and international awards and is to this day extremely well used. It has changed the use and enjoyment of St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Paradise. Making them more attractive and inviting places to live, work, raise a family and recreate. Tract staff have also been engaged in the development of a Master Plan for second walkway system, Corner Brook Stream. It is another terrific example of a community organization, supported by the City, that has changed the use and enjoyment of Corner Brook for the benefit of all. With the dedicated leadership of Mr. Brent Humphries, Executive Director much has been accomplished. Why more municipalities do not have a walkway system – an appreciating asset that do so much to support quality of life, addressing childhood obesity, improving environmental health, leaving a legacy for future generations, supporting community economic investment, etc, etc , etc frankly escapes me.
5. How can you deal with private contractors to develop more affordable housing subdivisions?
The Municipality is in the driver’s seat when it comes to encouraging more affordable housing with private contractors and developers. For example, create a new affordable housing residential zone category that reduces the minimum parcel size for newly subdivided single family residential lots. Smaller lot sizes will create more density for the developer and less purchase cost to the consumer. Similar changes to the Town’s Development Regulations can encourage new zone categories for higher density and well designed condominium and apartment buildings, for accessory residential uses in commercial zones, for second homes on large acreage area properties, for flexibility in developing existing sites such as church properties to develop small footprint residential projects for user groups such as seniors, etc. There are a myriad of ways each municipality may make adjustments to their existing residential policies and zone requirements to encourage and achieve more affordable housing.
6) What are first steps local residents can take to get walking trails and green spaces on the local municipal agenda and compete with other uses?
This challenge will take an ongoing and dedicated effort of letters to Mayor and Council, delegation presentations to Council, support from local schools, seniors and youth, and community organizations such as service clubs, and requesting that the Municipal Plan be amended to provide for pedestrain mobility considerations and designated routes and areas, to have developers provide for walking trails as part of site development adjacent to watercourses and to connect significant community amenities, and to receive commitment through Council’s capital planning budget for a walking trail to be built.
7) Why are developers permitted to remove all natural vegetation (trees) from building lots in new subdivisions?
Trees are routinely removed because Council through its Municipal Plan and Development Regulations, and Subdivision requirements, does not have a tree retention policy in place, nor has the Municipality adpted a tree cutting bylaw. If the Municipality wants to control the extent of tree removal on development sites, they have the tools to do something, but often lack the will. Best practices in other communities identify how much natural vegetation can be managed and retained on a land development site.
8) What is the best opportunity to increase densification where there is no availability to connect to municipal water and sewer?
If no municipal water or sewer services are available, increasing density can only occur if the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land can handle an increased number of residential units. That is can the soil profile accept an increased load of septic effluent and will this be compatible with a continued safe drinking water supply and source. Looking at the current minimum lot size for subdivision may be also adjusted to increase density.The other potential alternative is to review the potential of a new ‘reed based – natural’ sewer system as utilized in the Towns of Appleton and Stephenville.
9) What sustainable adaptions may work in more rural communities?
Rural communities may become more sustainable is so many ways. It will firstly take the will and commitment of Council to adopt more sustainable development policies within the Municipal Plan. These may include adjusting the residential strategy to focus more on infill residential development, smaller lot sizes, developing more connective street patterns, planting street trees, promoting pedestrian mobility trails and safe bicycling routes, creating additional public spaces, pursuing more effective community signage, thinking about the effects of climate change, minimizing the extent of asphalt with new commercial developments, etc. The Town’s Building permit process may also be adjusted to require more energy efficiency systems and initaitives such as water conservation. Each community is different and presents varying sustainable challenges and opportunities.