Another chapter in the culture wars is unfolding in Hamilton over housing. Decision time is approaching on a staff recommendation to increase the Hamilton urban boundary by roughly 1300 hectares to accommodate a population growth of more than 200,000 people by 2051, necessitating over 100,000 housing units.
While developers are often seen as the villain in the issue of urban sprawl, the real conflict is between people’s stubborn aspirations to own a house, and those who feel future generations should all live in apartments. The provincial government is also a player, having established growth targets for Ontario Municipalities, along with intensification targets, but when it comes to advice on how to achieve those targets.er…not so much. For those who think the solution is to build more apartment towers and somehow force people to live in them, the province has provided another wrinkle—you can’t just build apartments—there has to be a mix of housing types. As the staff report explains, The government “requires municipalities to plan for a range of housing units in accordance with Provincial forecasts, including single, semi-detached units, townhouses, apartments and accessory units. The required 15-year residential supply cannot be met through intensification alone because it would result in a unit mix comprised primarily of apartments, and would not meet the provincial requirement for a market-based housing supply.” Hence the need to expand the boundary. Under the plan only a quarter of the 110,000 new housing units will be single detached homes–half will be apartments, and the remaining quarter row housing. Supporters of the plan believe it strikes a balance between intensification and urban boundary expansion by minimizing the amount of expansion.
There’s another problem too. Even though Hamilton planning staff, are recommending the plan described as “Ambitious Density,” nobody believes it is actually achievable, but it is the best they think they can get away with given the amount of pressure being placed on council by the 100-odd delegations and written submissions and their like-minded supporters. So we have the irony of the majority of the citizen presenters opposing a plan that they see as too lenient towards development, but which planners say is likely unachievable in the real world.
As one planner told the Bay Observer, “the same people who oppose urban boundary expansion are the same ones who will object to a 10-story apartment building next to their house.” The issue is on visual display in Hamilton with the placement of so far, more than 1300 lawn signs opposing the staff recommendation which, as mentioned previously, staff think will be very difficult to achieve. An admittedly informal drive-around by the Bay Observer reveals Sprawl opponents are apparently unaware of the external constraints faced by the city in curbing sprawl. So far all of the signs seen by us are on the lawns of single-family homes, some of them very large homes. The message appears to be, “we have our dream home but future generations will have to settle for high-rise apartment life.”