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Can we reimagine residentially zoned areas for exciting mixed uses, better density and greater community spirit? The winning designs of a Vancouver-based competition suggest that not only can we demand that future developments have neighbourhood- and city-building ambitions – there is also a variety of inspiring ways to do so.

Urbanarian’s Mixed Middle, which called for ideas to rejuvenate four key areas across the province – Surrey, Coquitlam, North Vancouver and Vancouver – resulted in prizes in two major categories. Taking first place in the overall category is Lots in Common, by Team Contingent (Nicole Sylvia, Roy Cloutier and Lőrinc Vass of Vancouver). The idea seeks to de-silo individual home-owners and connect them — and their properties — to each other and to the larger neighbourhood. The development would focus on the interstices between houses – laneways, front yards, infrastructure and latent ecological systems —and energize them with a shared network of collective activities.

Lots in Common

For instance, buried streams can be remediated and run through the neighbourhood, laneways and lawns could be joined to create corridors and roofs can be multifunctional gathering spots. Even the spatial devices typically used to block out others – patio screens, fences, barricades – would be reimagined as interfaces bolstering “togetherness and delight.”

Lots in Common

The design would be achieved, the team explains, “via two-lot land assembly (via a land bank or by individual groups of commoners), which maintains neighbourhood continuity while allowing for a significantly more flexible and nuanced approach to how to integrate communities (human and non-human alike) into the projects.”

The scope of the concept resonated with jurors. “Many of the proposals we reviewed were thoughtful in their approach, but what stood out for us about Lots in Common was that it challenged the idea that individually owned land is best,” says Catarina Gomes, a member of the overall prize jury and a Vancouver Park Board planner. “The submission proposed a network of shared spaces and called into question a fundamental tenet of land use in B.C., offering a paradigm shift in the way we look at ownership — not just zoning.”

The two second-place prizes in the overall category were also singled out as winners in the other major category, the Planners’ Prize. One of them is Co-Living Quadplex (Coquitlam site) by Altforma Architecture (Cedric Jacques Yu and River Hughs of Vancouver), and it responds to the sense of creeping isolation that many felt during the pandemic, especially when it came to work from home scenarios. It envisions a type of residential development that includes an office quadplex “to offer a psychological and physical ‘separation’ between ‘home’ and ‘work.’” It would also quadruple occupant density in the residential lot from one family to four, and would allow for co-living and co-housing arrangements. The concept would also call for a “leasehold bargain,” where owners could sell land to municipalities in exchange for bonus density and financing partnerships.

Co-Living Quadplex

The other second-place winner in the overall category and co-winner of the Planners’ Prize is Mixed Modal (Vancouver site) by Team VIARe:Discover (Anne Lissett, Catherine He, Claire Schumacher, Stephanie Coleridge, Bonnie Vahabi of Vancouver). This proposal focuses on reducing and slowing down cars in a car-centric area to foster a walkable, multi-use neighbourhood designed with modest, ground-level commercial spaces topped with residential spaces and complemented by live-work townhouses, all connected with a communal courtyard. “By encouraging locally run commercial nodes and increasing residential density in a bold form that works with the typical Vancouver residential block, the Mixed Modal concept will be a catalyst for friendly neighbourhood intensification,” the team explains.

Mixed Modal
Mixed Modal

The third place in the overall category proposes a more incremental approach to major change. Simple Small Things (Surrey site), by Cr Design (Taylor Castañón-Rumebe and Vince Castañón-Rumebe of Burnaby), would establish a new Neighbourhood Zone “NZ” zone, to allow for mixed-use and new typologies, from which all future modifications can be added. “It enables owners whose primary residence remains in the neighbourhood to rezone their lot from any Residential zone to the Neighbourhood Zone,” the team explains. This would allow them to create a business on their ground level, with a patio spilling out from their driveway, for instance.

Simple Small Things

Overall, the competition and the ideas it has brought forth will have relevance to any city looking to reimagine zoning – which many in North America are. “These designs are coming at a time when many municipalities are in the process of updating their city plans,” competition co-chair Marta Farevaag says. “We hope that the results of The Mixing Middle will not only empower communities to dream big, but also encourage cities to explore new forms of development.”

A Vancouver Competition Explores Solutions for the Missing Middle

Urbanarian’s call for ideas for mixed-use developments has resulted in imaginative concepts for increased density and conviviality.

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