Edmonton’s infill housing policy is something of a hot topic at the moment, at least to the degree that property zoning bylaws can be considered ‘hot’. This week, the City of Edmonton released a draft Infill Action Plan that aims to encourage more infill by changing zoning policy, in addition to a host of other actions such as improving communication and collaboration. The City’s goal is to have 25 percent of new growth occurring in established neighbourhoods. The changes are sure to spark plenty of debate and consultation, but how do we know if they’re necessary? City zoning data can help make the case that it’s time for new infill housing policy in Edmonton.
To see why we need a change in policy, let’s look at the number of residential buildings in Edmonton that are zoned to encourage infill, versus the number that aren’t. We’ll combine two spatial datasets from the City of Edmonton’s Open Data Catalogue: one contains all City of Edmonton building rooflines, and another has all City property zones. We can then separate residential zoned buildings into those with zoning that isn’t designed to allow for infill, and those with zoning that does allow various types of infill. Here’s a map of the resulting data:
Note: The distinction between zoning types is somewhat subjective, and is based on my reading of City zoning bylaws and a conversation with City of Edmonton staff. Any errors are my own.
At first glance it appears that despite several infill-friendly central neighbourhoods, buildings with zoning not designed for infill significantly outnumber buildings with zoning designed for infill in Edmonton. And indeed that’s the case – according to this data there are just under 231,000 buildings with the former type of zoning, compared to about 64,000 with the latter. Not every property in the city should necessarily be zoned for infill, but clearly there’s an imbalance here. Further, the infill-zoned buildings are heavily concentrated in only a few neighbourhoods.
Of course, there are more than two types of residential zoning, and each type allows for varying degrees of infill development. For example, RF1 – Single Detached Residential can be considered the most restrictive type of zoning with regards to infill (especially combined with the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, which wasn’t considered in this analysis), but it does allow for small scale infill in the form of secondary suites and in some cases duplex housing. Nevertheless, it’s among the older types of property zone and was not explicitly designed for infill – when Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods were zoned the concept of using higher-density infill to limit urban sprawl just wasn’t on the radar.
Some zones, like RSL – Residential Small Lot and RPL – Residential Planned Lot, are designed to achieve more density in single-family housing but still only allow for relatively small scale infill. Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods more frequently have this type zoning. Unfortunately for infill advocates, years of using RF1 zoning means that it’s by far the most common property zone in Edmonton:
So given this data, it clearly appears that the current balance of residential buildings in Edmonton is significantly tipped towards zoning that isn’t designed for infill development, and the buildings that are zoned for infill mostly exist in a handful of neighbourhoods. Finally, given the predominance of RF1 zoned buildings, it looks like if the City wants to bring some appreciable balance to residential zoning the Infill Action Plan’s proposed changes to the RF1 bylaw are the logical place to start.