Sunday, June 16, 2024
Affordable housingCanadaHousingOntarioPolicyUrban Planning

Drew Dilkens: “We Must Preserve Single Family Zoning At All Costs!”

It’s always interesting to live on an international border. Not only can you get a different perspective from news media, you can also avail yourself of exotic treats like Coffee Crisp or butter tarts. I love going to Windsor (haven’t much recently owing to an obnoxious experience coming back into the United States last fall), but I’m still amazed at how bad the city’s approach to urbanism is. The recent star story out of Windsor was that the mayor, perpetually a feeble attempt at a leader, declared that the city didn’t need to relax zoning requirements in the city of 229,000 people because there were other ways to meet the federal government’s housing target without relaxing zoning. This in the same week when he responded to a CBC inquiry on the impending transit strike by declaring that he didn’t know that there was anything wrong with the beleaguered agency’s depot or its vehicles. What’s going on here?

midjourney ai rendering cities city neighborhoods windsor ontario

Canada’s Housing Plan

1.5 million homes in ten years. Or so they say.

The federal government of Canada has an ambitious plan to address the country’s housing crisis. After years of stagnant budgets, the government majorly stepped up its game starting in 2019, culminating in the current new program offering billions of dollars– $4 billion, specifically- to municipalities across the country to facilitate the development of more housing. The problem? Well, no problem, really, unless you’re a hemming-and-hawing, milquetoast kind of goofball politician from Southwestern Ontario who refuses to agree to the terms of the plan, which stipulate that municipalities have to allow fourplexes by-right (“as of right,” as la canadiense refer to the legal construct) in order to get the money.

To be fair to Dilkens, it was also the Windsor City Council that voted down the plan.

But why?

Well, it’s not clear. The development paradigms in the Windsor-Essex region are pretty appallingly bad. Everything is car-driven. There is little interest in improving the region’s weak transit system (but better than Detroit, certainly (even though Windsor-Essex has around an eighth of the population of Metro Detroit). I’ve written about this in the proposed rezoning of the suburban-rural municipality of LaSalle, and I haven’t even written about the mega hospital being built in a fucking cornfield because it just makes me sad.

But the other thing? Weren’t triplexes already allowed as of right in Windsor? Wasn’t this already part of the federal zoning reform initiative? And didn’t the city of Windsor just have a big push in recent memory to allow accessory dwelling units? I reached out to a couple of my colleagues in the planning and development realm across the river, one of whom referred to the decision as “concerning, to say the least,” but I wasn’t able to get a formal comment for this article. Another Windsorite told me that the mayor “didn’t bat an eyelash when [Ontario Premier Doug] Ford implemented 3 units as of right years ago,” but pointed out that this was a matter of standing firm against a federal policy as a matter of political principles.

I mean, whatever those principles actually are.

Does Drew want the money? Or not? Does Windsor want to allow people to do what they want with private property they own, or does Windsor want to defend at all costs the suburban paradigm of single-family zoning, with all of its many problems, and with the reality that it makes it impossible for us to build sustainable cities that have functional levels of density?

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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