Tuesday, March 13, 2007

In Street Housing

This is an idea I was first introduced to in 1993 in Vancouver at their Ideas Fair that was part of CityPlan.

In most cities a large part of the land base is given over to streets, parking lots and other impervious surfaces. It is actually amazing the percentage of the land that is owned by local governments when one looks at streets and such. All this publicly owned pavement is not enhancing anything. Run off is intensified, and because it is from road surfaces, contains more pollutants.

What was proposed at the Ideas Fair was something called "In Street Housing". The idea was developed by some UBC students. The idea is that there a lot of side streets that are through roads that do not need to be through roads. They suggested that within a block of a street, that the road be blocked off and that land be then converted to housing.

A typical city lot is between 40 and 60 feet wide and 80 to 100 feet long. A typical city street is 30 feet wide with another 10 to 20 feet total for sidewalks and city owned grass. One could make a 40 wide lot that is 80 feet long on the street area. 3200 sq feet is not a large lot, but not the smallest out there. The 80 foot lot would cover 40 feet in front of each of the houses on either side of the existing street.

This idea brings a number of strong benefits:

  • In the city of Victoria, this building lot would be worth about $250 000 as bare land. This is $250 000 in value that has been liberated.
  • There would be about 1500 sq feet less impervious surfaces
  • The city would get about $3500 a year in taxes more than now
  • Neighbourhood density would be increased with no negative impact on the community - higher density brings benefits in better transit, cheaper services, more local shoppers and higher school populations
  • Traffic is calmed
  • Two new cul-de-sacs are created

I would propose that the value of the lot be divided between the neighbours, 20 each for the four immediate neighbours and 5% for each of the next properties. For the immediate neighbours this would be a $50 000 windfall. I would let them take this in the form of a property tax holiday till it runs out (giving them prime rate as interest on the amount not used) - ideally let them do this to avoid capital gains taxes.

What sort of an overall benefit could this have?

Let us assume that we could find 3000 suitable locations and 1000 are used. This would lead to:
an increased wealth of $250 000 000
An increase of $3 000 000 annually in taxes
34 less acres of impervious surfaces
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