On November 22 and 23, Small Housing hosted over 80 gentle density advocates from across BC at our Gentle Density Local Leaders’ Summit. Small Housing hosted the event on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations.
With Premier Eby’s November 21st Housing Supply Act announcement as a backdrop, delegates were keen to explore implementing gentle density in their communities. The two-day program was facilitated by representatives from Small Housing, WCS Planning + Engagement (WCS), and Urban Matters, and featured guest speakers from BC, Oregon and California. Participants and presenters returned to their communities feeling inspired, engaged and optimistic about the future of gentle density housing in B.C.
Forty municipal planners gathered for the day program and were later joined by 40+ elected officials, industry members and community leaders for the evening program. Staff from Small Housing, WCS Engagement + Planning, and Urban Matters facilitated the busy agenda, featuring guest speakers Tyler Bump (OR), Ethan Stuckmayer (OR), Renee Schomp (CA), and Mark Masongsong (BC).
In total, 26 municipalities and 20 local, provincial and national organizations were represented at the #GenDenSummit.
In addition, we were joined by gentle density supporters and housing advocates from organizations such as Canadian Homebuilders Association of BC, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Union of BC Municipalities, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, MetroVancouver, Renewable Cities, and Tofino Housing Corporation, to name just a few.
Sharing lessons learned and the opportunities ahead
On November 22, delegates explored the results of the province-wide planners’ survey, which was conducted earlier in the fall and received over 50 responses. Planners from Kelowna, Nelson, and Victoria presented overviews of gentle density and missing middle initiatives.
Tyler Bump (ECO Northwest), Ethan Stuckmayer (Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development) and Renee Schomp (Napa Sonoma ADU Center) highlighted leading practices in Oregon and California, including public engagement, making a business case for gentle density housing and supporting staff capacity. A Peer Input Process, led by expert panellists, tackled the question: “How can Local Governments support the private sector to strengthen the business case to more rapidly scale up new Gentle Density products?” Planners explored answers to their pressing questions about gentle density, including balancing stormwater management, form and character, and setting housing targets during the Open Space session.
Mark Masongsong of Urban Logiq presented an overview of the interactive Webtool they are developing with Small Housing, which is a reference tool for planners that will be designed as a scalable and extensible platform and includes georeferenced data integrations and a user forum function.
The evening program began with a panel discussion about implementing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in Oregon and California, featuring Tyler Bump, Ethan Stuckmayer, and Renee Schomp. The reception that followed offered opportunities to continue conversations and create new connections.
On November 23, approximately 20 delegates convened to kick off the first Affordability and Community of Practice advisory roundtable discussions. Both groups will continue meeting over the next 18 months. Another 20 toured Vancouver’s Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood, exploring gentle density infill projects in the area, expertly led by civic historian John Atkin.
Looking ahead: implementing gentle density in British Columbia and beyond
Four key themes and learnings were identified over the course of the Summit:
- Gentle density is not a ‘silver bullet’; rather, it is one intervention to help address housing needs in B.C. communities.
- In the face of complex issues surrounding densification, decision-makers and planners need helpful tools and concrete examples of the potential impacts of gentle density.
- There is an emerging need to prepare and grow capacity in the developer community specifically about gentle density, as density is increasingly mandated, and the approaches to implementation are diverse.
- The transition to gentle density can occur only with equitable representation of the diversity of voices in our communities. Meaningful, inclusive engagement with residents is essential to success.
Moving forward, Small Housing will continue to spark conversation amongst our budding Community of Practice by listening, learning, and working together to realize the role of gentle density in contributing to more affordable, vibrant and climate-friendly communities.
A big thank you to our partners and supporters
With gratitude, Small Housing acknowledges the support of the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for the funding to produce this multijurisdictional dialogue.
Thanks to Galen Aker, John Atkin, Brie Collins, Elora Dulac, Kristen Elkow, Shannon Gordon, Cheeying Ho, Mark Masongsong, Kim Slater, Matt Thomson, Jenn To, Jordan Wade, Dan Wilson and David Yeung for their support in producing the event.
We also thank Strong Towns, Journal of Commerce, and Vancouver Sun for their coverage of the event.