May I present to you: Radisson Station?
|Radisson in the Montréal Metro map|
|Northern entry point|
|Southern entry point|
|The two entry points in green, parking lots in red, the small bus terminal in orange|
|North-west of the station, the station is the green dot|
|Point 1: single-family houses on large lots (15 units per hectare, 6 per acre)|
|Point 2: semi-detached houses and duplexes (35 units per hectare, 14 per acre)|
|Point 3: condo towers in park(ing lots) (about 200 units per hectare, 80 per acre)|
How it came aboutThere is a logic to the madness here. The single-family houses at point 1 were built in the 1950s, at the time, there was no subway and plenty of space available for development in the region. It was actually considered a relatively far suburb, in fact it was farther from the downtown area than the official suburb of Longueuil. So in that context, single-family houses do make some sense.
The duplexes seen at point 2 were built at about the same time as the subway station in the 1970s. At the time, such buildings (semi-detached and duplexes with parking in the basement and the living area built above) were all the rage in Montréal as they were able to get some density yet still have enough parking according to the paradigm of automobile-focused development. As Montréal had little land to develop and the border of suburbanization had long gone even farther, some higher density was warranted.
The condos seen at point 3 were largely built in the 1990s and the 2000s. Places left to develop in Montréal had grown exceptionally rare (in fact, this whole area is part of an ancient suburb called Anjou that was merged to Montréal in the late 1990s). So the land was very expensive, and the suburban growth now extended to areas twice as far as this. The idea of building higher densities had now become more popular.
So if you look at the chronology, every "layer" of residential density actually made perfect sense when they were built.
The issue then becomes: why are we keeping these areas as-is when the context has changed so much? If 15-story condo towers are justified 2 kilometers away from the subway station, why wouldn't they be justified 100 meters away?
Well, because of zoning of course. The area is zoned as sector 14-06:
|map of zoning sectors for the Mercier borough|
|Here is the original in French|
|This is the English translation I made|
Still, as the zoning stands, it ought to be possible to slightly densify the area, but you would need to buy and destroy the existing building which has value as a house, around 400 000 to 500 000$ in the area. So that means that if you allow density to double at most, the houses that will be built will have to absorb an additional 200 000$ to 250 000$ in construction cost, likely making them too expensive, unless they are luxury housing.
This is where an approach that allows for much higher density and piecemeal replacement would work much, much better.
Other examples: recent condos in QuébecIn Montréal, all cities of the metropolitan area accepted a plan to supposedly create a sustainable metropolitan area, to increase density and concentrate development in TOD areas. This sounds good, but in practice, in many, many cases, what this resulted in is municipalities deciding to allow low-rise condo buildings on the outskirts
We always used to have a few condos and apartment blocs near commercial areas in our suburbs, but with this plan now in place, we have seen something happen which was rare before. In order to satisfy density goals, cities started requiring higher density developments from developers who develop on the outskirts of existing cities. The result was pretty poor: condos with 40 to 60 units per hectare (16 to 24 units per acre) built on the edge of field, or near highways, where there was nothing in close proximity. In order to save on costs and since land is cheap, these residential-only developments are generally surrounded by big parking lots.
You can see this in real estate listings on centris.ca, which shows the WalkScore of each listing. The WalkScore is a way to account for "walkability" depending on proximity to services and businesses. The score goes from 0 to 100. From 0 to 49, locations are car-dependent, from 50-69 they are considered somewhat walkable, from 70 to 89, they are very walkable, and from 90 to 100, they are considered walkers' paradise. All the following listings are thus considered to be in car-dependent locations.
Most suburbs do have locations that have 70-80 WalkScore, so it's not like all the suburbs are car-dependent deserts.
There are still some legit TOD going on, condos being built in areas with 70+ WalkScore, but the amount of car-dependent condos is very high. The one advantage I can see is that these mostly 1000+-square-foot condos are pretty affordable, ranging from 180 000 to 250 000$, allowing the new generation to have affordable housing without going too far into the exurbs. Indeed, most people I know of my own age who have bought a home have bought, at least initially, a condo like these ones. Some have gone on to houses, others are still in condos. It's also an interesting tale of what happens when developers have to try to build density with at least 2 parking spots per unit because of suburban parking requirements and because that's what their clients will need (they are in car-dependent areas after all). And all that while trying to avoid underground parking since it's too expensive to build while land is cheap. Note that alleyways in back are very rare in Québec.
|Parking lots behind condo buildings, a classic solution sacrificing the back yard|
|...and the denser and taller the buildings, the bigger the parking lots|
|A rare case of parking lot in front, sacrificing the front yard but preserving the back yard. Results in houses facing the parking lot instead of the street|
|This is almost Japanese in design... driveways in front for condos, with the driveways being long enough for two small cars. It looks bad from the front, but it is an extremely space-efficient way to cram parking spots for a multi-family home|
|Massive parking lots AND parking garages under building.... that's what you get when you try to build 6-story condo buildings in a car-dependent area where you need 2 parking spots per unit|
Again, this is due to the zoning which makes it near impossible to densify places that are currently walkable in most instances, as they're often currently occupied by low-density housing which are about the only thing that can be built in the area. Many old houses exist that are quite cheap but on big lots in the walkable areas of suburbs, which would be ripe for replacement. Here are some images that I got from searches on centris.ca for single-family houses for less than 300 000$ in areas where the WalkScore is between 60 and 85:
ConclusionThese are just demonstrations of how the mentality of urban development that dominates in North America that "once an area is built, it should remain that way" is deleterious to actually having rational, efficient cities. Building dense areas on the outskirts of metropolitan regions is not an answer, these areas are generally transit-poor and unwalkable, which results in denser areas which need as much parking space as regular car-dependent suburbs, but the density means that parking lots dominate and make for a very poor looking area that is unlikely to draw people in or keep them there (except through low prices). Essentially, you have streets, parking lots and buildings, and not much else.
This is also why zoning has to be reformed. Zoning needs to allow higher densities and piecemeal densification in order to allow cities to evolve and to respond to higher demand for desirable areas.