FEATURE – LANGFORD – Economic Forum 2017

ECONOMIC FORUM 2017 ~ LANGFORD

WEST SHORE VOICE NEWS FEATURE ARTICLE – July 16, 2017


 

A new live-work multi-family development in Langford. [Photo: West Shore Voice News, July 2017]

Sunday, July 16 ~ LANGFORD. HOUSING INNOVATION FEATURE ~ WEST SHORE VOICE NEWS  by Mary P Brooke

Another stride forward for Langford took place this weekend. A seminar on community innovation and sustainability through a focus on housing was held on a sunny summer Saturday morning, July 15, at which the enthusiasm for action was palpable.

The presenter for this Economic Forum 2017 was Avi Friedman, Ph.D., a world-renowned Montreal-based Canadian architect whose ideas in housing and design are applied in many cities in a range of development projects. Housing innovation is often the backbone for cities to take the next step forward for improving livability and economic sustainability.

Such is the case for Langford. Friedman had been invited back to Langford this week to once again feed some ideas into the municipal leadership process and development community. In the west shore area of south Vancouver Island, Langford is a fast-growing city with now over 40,000 residents. It is one of 13 municipalities in the Capital Regional District (CRD).

 

Architect Dr Avi Friedman, speaking in Langford, July 15 [Photo: West Shore Voice News]

Friedman speaks highly of Langford, its municipal leadership under Mayor Stew Young, and the degree of uptake that developers have done with leading-edge housing options. Housing supply is lagging behind in BC overall (particularly in urban areas), and in the west shore area (both Langford and Sooke) there is high demand for places to live. Affordably.

The 1.5 hour presentation followed by questions was an opportunity for learning and exploration for a broad-spectrum audience of elected officials, developers, school board reps, business people and the general public. The gathering of over 100 people viewed a slide show of innovative housing examples from Friedman’s travels around the world, dressed around the edges with Friedman’s missives of inspiration about the changes in today’s society and economy.

Changes in today’s society and economy – notably demographics of people living longer and the upcoming power-surge of the Millennial generation — are driving progressive communities to rethink how people live in increasingly densified communities. And more specifically, about types of housing design that work in a multi-family development framework.

Without exactly specifying this domino effect, Friedman was essentially outlining how design informs function, function informs action, and action is taken by community leaders and ultimately the people. Ultimately, it’s not just about lifestyle options, but that when clustered in larger cities there is a supportive tax base for other services that enrich the region, such as enhanced transportation networks.

In response to the affordable housing challenge, Dr Friedman has written much and designed a lot. The author of 18 books on housing and community design, he is known for concepts like the ‘Grow Home’ concept (offering about 1,000 sqft living area) and the live-work housing style.

In recent years, live-work housing has popped up in Langford. One example is workshop or office space on the full main, with loft-style condo above.  As well, there are several apartment buildings going up in the Langford core area, slightly set back to help keep a human-scale walkability in the downtown core along Goldstream Avenue and sidestreets immediately off that main avenue.

So after seeing Friedman invited back to reinspire Langford to the next level – he led a meeting with the City of Langford and west shore developers ahead of presenting to the public – it was important to ask: How much of what you spoke about or recommended five or six years ago have you seen come to pass in Langford on your revisit this week?

Said Friedman to West Shore Voice (WSV): “Many of the ideas and the direction that I suggested in the area of affordable housing have been followed. Langford is one of the most affordable communities in the region. Ideas regarding the urban renewal of the core have also been followed such as maintaining good urban scale, having a strong mixed use aspect, and attractive streetscaping.”

And some other questions for the effusive architect with the showman style (you can almost see the ideas spinning in his head!):

  • WSV: Will you be providing specific design ideas to developers in the Langford area, in-line with the concepts you spoke about today (and showed on the slides from other cities)? Friedman: In the past few day I demonstrated several points of reference.  I regard these as a “menu” of ideas from which the developers can select the ones most relevant to their sites and capacity to build.
  • WSV: When you met with developers yesterday, what sort of designs or other community concepts did they seem most interested in? Friedman: They were very interested in the “green” concepts such as net-zero buildings. We had a long discussion about adopting these ideas and bringing them to Langford.
  • WSV: Some of the new live-work homes in Langford are vertically-oriented, i.e. with lots of stairs. In your overall live-work concept, how does that jive with the long-living aging generation … with people still working toward or past the traditional retirement age?  Friedman: That’s a good point. All projects can be build with ground floor accessible units for seniors. They may have a ground level floor units without stairs.

Langford Mayor Stew Young [Photo: West Shore Voice News, 2017]

And here’s why Avi Friedman speaks so highly of Mayor Stew Young and the progress made in Langford. It’s a mutual playing field of respect and innovation:

In this region, people know that Stew Young is about getting stuff done. “We as politicians and bureaucrats will be able to do more for our community than wasting more money on studies, regional strategy documents, cumbersome regulations that every municipality does and for the most part collect dust on a shelf,” said Young.

“What Avi provides is innovative ideas for the many different housing types required for  the residents that fit their needs based on income, family size, environment /sustainability and proximity to work,” says Mayor Young. “What I like is that we can use his knowledge from his teachings and actual visits around the world to bring actual physical proof of what may work for the City of Langford.”

“We need to change the old ways if we are to tackle affordability and sustainability,” says Young. “With regular seminars on housing innovation and  planning from world renowned professionals like Avi Friedman, this will bring fresh ideas directly to the people of Langford and to the development community.”

“As politicians we can better provide change at a local level along with support from the provincial government to tackle affordability and sustainability,” Mayor Young told West Shore Voice News after seeing – not surprisingly – the level of interest in the seminar and among developers the day before.

“Langford is looking to the future and this weekend’s session is the start of the new way forward. Innovation with action is our future,” said Young with his trademark visionary energy.

The City of Langford has established a pattern of offering tax breaks to developers who innovate and create housing in a more affordable price-range, including rentals. Construction of new rental apartment buildings had come to a virtual standstill in Greater Victoria area in the past 15 to 20 years. In the last couple of years once that long post-recession period finally settled down apartments are being constructed in Langford as fast as they can go up (including some distinctly developed as affordable housing). There is also a range of other multi-family types of development including duplexes, townhomes and condos.

The application process is handled quickly. And recommendations through the Langford Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee are well-considered then promptly sent on to Langford Council for consideration and approval. By the time proposed zoning and permits have reached Council, all of Council is familiar with the details and benefits to the community based on full reports from planning and engineering staff, and most projects are approved quickly.

Construction of single-family homes and multi-family developments dropped dramatically in Langford during the recession in 2009 and really only started picking up in 2014 (with notable of multi-family in 2011 and 2014, much of that by Keycorp Developments in their various project areas on the west shore). Of the housing built in 2016, over half was single-family homes but a big chunk was multi-family. In terms of volume, construction of new commercial-industrial buildings was fairly consistent during 2009-2016 (with a bit of an uptick in 2011 and 2014).

Architect Avi Friedman and Langford Mayor Stew Young, July 15 at Economic Forum [Photo: West Shore Voice News]

In fact, the word ‘affordability’ may not always be associated with the housing side of development in Langford, said Mayor Young after Avi Friedman’s presentation this weekend.  He proposes that the Langford region can work toward having a range of housing that covers off all price ranges, without having to stigmatize one area of housing or type of housing as ‘affordable’ compared to others.

 

Saturday’s seminar was hosted by Mayor Young. He introduced the presentation both as a followup to Friedman’s last visit to meet with Langford leaders and developers in 2009, and as an energizing force for housing progress in Langford for the next five to 10 years.  He encapsulated his mantra of keeping families in communities, and to do that by providing housing and jobs. An industrial tech park is one project underway in Langford that will attract tech companies and through that future residents to higher-paying jobs. All of it supports a strong tax base.

There was some discussion in the question period following Friedman’s presentation about economic models and how a tax base is structured to provide broader community amenities.  While always trying to lower taxes is a political philosophy subscribed to by some, the new way forward will count on people being willing to pay a bit more taxes in taxes if they can see enhanced services from that.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Young thanked Avi Friedman for the presentation and inspiration. As well, Langford’s long-time mayor really honed in on Premier-designate John Horgan’s promise of 114,000 new housing units in BC through an NDP government over the next 10 years.  On the campaign trail, Horgan said back in April of this year that the new housing initiative would include new rental, co-op, social, and owner-purchase homes. The housing development funding and opportunities would be created through partnerships with business and developers, and other levels of government.

Premier-designate Horgan has already seen the leading edge of that sort of development up close, as he lives in Langford where he’s been the MLA of what is now the Langford-Juan de Fuca electoral area since 2005.

Says Stew Young: “This is a provincial government that Langford can piggy-back on.” Over 60% of jobs in the Langford area are blue-collar jobs that are directly in or associated with the construction industry, he says.

Discussion at Economic Forum, July 15 [Photo: Wst Shore Voice News]

Earlier this year, the BC Rental Housing Coalition released a report saying $1.8 billion per year would be needed to be invested over 10 years to address the provincial housing crisis. In particular, the group’s report suggested that 7,000 rental units per year would be required over the next decade. At the time, the NDP indicated that new revenues to handle big new expenditures from the public purse could include a 1% hike in the corporate tax rate, reinstatement of a high-income surtax that at one time generated $250 million per year, and a 2% speculation tax.

The Economic Forum on Saturday was co-hosted by the City of Langford and the West Shore Developers Association. Among those attending were economic development leaders from Langford (including Langford EDC Chair Hugh MacDonald) as well as from Sooke (including Randy Clarkson, David Evans and Doug Wittich) where Mayor Young sees further growth potential for the broader west shore region.

Attending from Langford city council were long-time Councillors Denise Blackwell, Lanny Seaton, Winnie Sifert, and Lillian Szpak. From the SD62 school board was their new chair Ravi Parmar, and Trustee Dianna Seaton.

There were several business and development community players including Patrick Marshall of Capital EDC and Cathy Noel of Bear Mountain property sales. Several senior staff from the City of Langford attended and helped host the event which was held in the ballroom at the Four Point Sheraton, 10 am to 12 noon.


 

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