Urban form refers to the physical layout and design of the city. Urban design takes into consideration density, street layout, transportation and employment areas and urban design issues. Growth management issues such as urban sprawl, growth patterns and phasing of developments also heavily influence urban form. DENSITY
Refers to the number of persons, families or dwellings per unit of land. The more persons in an area, the higher the density.
Urban planning involves forecasting future population growth and planning for possible changes. Planners consider: rate of growth, rates of natural increases and migration, age profile of the forecasted population and housing types, employment services required.
The current Policy Plan identifies the Downtown as the dominant retail, financial, professional and personal service centre in Prince Albert and establishes the neighbourhood as the basic urban design concept for land use and development in the city. Subdivisions are planned to provide single and multiple family housing, schools, commercial and community facilities, and park space. The neighbourhood is to be large enough to provide sufficient population to support an elementary school.
Although the model has worked well, many of our underlying assumptions and values may be changing. The time has come to review the basic principles of the concept before establishing new growth strategies.
PAST TRENDS IN DEVELOPMENT DENSITY
In the early part of the 20th century, Prince Albert was a fairly compact city. The areas built upon the river lot system were higher density, meaning that lots were narrow and more housing choice was available. The Downtown was within walking distance and the streets were pedestrian friendly.
Starting in the mid part of the 20th century, Prince Albert began to see lower density growth. This meant that most homes were single family dwellings and the travel to the Downtown was no longer within easy walking distance. The automobile began to dominate development. However, low density development was a response to several factors, such as less expensive land and consumer preference for larger lots. The result of this trend was less efficient transportation and servicing. There is little to no pressure for infill development.
The trend in other cities, and to a certain extent in some newer areas in Prince Albert, has been toward somewhat higher densities. This is the result of increased land costs, changing consumer preferences and the need to better manage servicing. Lots are a bit smaller, rear lanes are being eliminated, streets and boulevards are narrower the proportion of multi-unit apartments have increased.
Other cities in North America are changing their development standards by moving towards higher densities, smaller lots, more variety of housing types, and mixed uses. Interestingly, this resembles the way cities were built in the past. More information on new urban planning ideas is available from the Department of Economic Development and Planning (call 953-4370).
OPTIONS FOR FUTURE RESIDENTIAL GROWTH
One of the main goals of this planning process is to determine what overall locations and densities would be most appropriate for residential expansion and to make sure the Plan is flexible to accommodate changing needs. The Development Plan also needs to address the future distribution of employment and how the city is linked together by the transportation system.
The current Policy Plan has enough land to accommodate a population of 50,000, based on maintaining current development densities of an average of 4.2 units per gross acre and 2.9 persons per unit (single family residential). However, it is essential to examine several options for future growth.
OPTION 1: TOWARDS A MORE SPACIOUS CITY?
The objective of this option would be to lower overall densities in the city, meaning that almost all new housing units would be constructed in new neighbourhoods and that more land would be required to accommodate the same number of people. Also, there would be less opportunity for infill housing in existing neighbourhoods.
Implications of lower densities are:
residential lots would be larger and housing more expensive on average;
new neighbourhoods would feel like they have more space, but they would be less pedestrian friendly and distances to school would be longer;
decreased viability of public transit
less traffic congestion, but reliance on hierarchical street layouts for cars makes it difficult for those without cars to live in those neighbourhoods (seniors and young adults)
no pressure on existing areas for infill development and less choice for housing – limits the range of households;
more community facilities required and more expensive servicing to build and maintain.
OPTION 2: MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO?
This option maintains the assumptions of the current Policy Plan as outlined above. Most, if not all residential development takes place in new neighbourhoods.
Implications of maintaining existing densities are:
a fairly efficient development pattern, based on cost of infrastructure and demand;
some choice in lot size and housing type, but not in all areas;
new neighbourhoods with single-family dwellings may become less viable as they go through their life cycles;
The existing development pattern may not be responsive to the evolving needs of city residents;
encourages reliance on private cars for transportation.
OPTION 3: TOWARDS A MORE COMPACT CITY?
This third option involves a far more compact city, with higher overall densities. Based on the assumptions of the current Policy Plan, a population of 50,000 can be accommodated at current densities of 4.2 units per gross acre. By increasing these densities the city could accommodate even more population on the same amount of land.
Implications of higher density development are:
more housing downtown;
more multiple-unit dwellings in neighbourhoods
infill development in existing neighbourhoods;
increased development density through smaller lots and more housing choices in new neighbourhoods;
increased viability of public transit;
reduced cost of housing;
more efficient provision of utilities;
lower maintenance costs of utilities;
need for improvements of expensive utility systems in older areas;
some traffic congestion in certain area.
There is no one way to determine overall density and form of a city. Densities are determined over time through a combination of land use policy, consumer/market preferences and consultation with local community residents. The main goal of the Development Plan update process is to gain an understanding of the general direction that Prince Albert should follow in terms of residential densities.