Kelowna residents should get used to high-density living

The vast majority of Kelowna residents aren’t fans of high density neighbourhoods ...

The vast majority of Kelowna residents aren’t fans of high density neighbourhoods—a point made clear by the opposition mounted every time a highrise proposal goes to city council.

According to some recent UBC Okanagan-driven research, however, a little more education on the benefits of densification could go a long way to swaying the public mindset.

The topic will be touched upon during Urbanizing Okanagan, a day-long event being held at the university today, where speakers from UBC, the University of Victoria, and experts from the City of Kelowna, BC Housing, and the Urban Land Institute will speak on a variety of subjects.

The discussion on Attitudes Towards Urban Density in Kelowna, will be led by UBC Okanagan’s Carey Doberstein and Ross Hickey.

They were interested in whether delivering positive messages to citizens about increasing housing density, influenced attitudes, so they conducted a survey to get to the bottom of things, explained Doberstein.

They sent out a survey to around 3,000 residential addresses in Kelowna that were randomly selected with a computer program and, in turn, they received 200 responses.

Of the 200 respondents, only six said they would be willing to have very high density developments in their neighbourhood.

“So, there was little support for that,” said Doberstein.

With a baseline set, researchers went about figuring out if there was some wiggle room in mindset, if the issue was introduced differently.

“If we were to foreground the positive benefits of residential densification, the potential benefits, not just the cost, would that cause them to adjust their preferences?” he said, pointing out just a couple of the public benefits to increased residential density are reduced emissions and reduced traffic congestion.

When presented with new information, the answer was yes, although they were largely swayed in favour of buildings under six storeys.

“It’s not about manipulation, it’s about telling the whole story,” Doberstein said. “When we are proposing residential densification, we should emphasize the whole story, not just the negative.”

Although there is resistance to some efforts to densify the city, it is already happening.

The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC)released its housing starts data this week, which emphasized the changes.

There were 1,647 housing starts in February which is up from 1,195 in January, according to CMHC, with the surge being attributed to multi-family housing.

It’s a shift that many see as beneficial to Kelowna’s long-term economic health.

It’s not a secret that Kelowna has oftentimes wrestled with housing, in all its forms. It’s most recent rental vacancy numbers were pegged somewhere in the area of under two per cent, while home ownership is equally difficult to attain for many, as prices and wages aren’t exactly on the same page.

“Housing should be viewed as an ecosystem,” said Eric Li, who will be part of the UBC Okanagan panel on Affordable Housing—Regional and International Perspectives.

There needs to be a balance of housing for vulnerable populations, young professionals, families and seniors leaving the housing market. For that, there needs to be a spectrum available and, locally, a rise in the number of multi-unit housing.

“I do believe we will see a major shift to 20 to 30 per cent condo and townhouses in Kelowna,” said Li. “That kind of change will deal with some challenges we face and we will have a very different landscape in the future.”

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