Human Space: Density for Community and the Socio-Ecological Neighbourhood

STUDENT Andrew Neuman, University of British Columbia

In an increasingly urban world, density remains at the centre of the housing debate. But in our digital age where human interaction is becoming progressively rare, to what degree can we rely on density and social media to effectively create community? Like digital technology, detached home ownership is partially responsible for social isolation; furthermore, the dominant program of individualism, investment and privacy has resulted in significant environmental damage and a considerable decrease in affordable housing stock.

This project considers how local human networks and new models of ownership might contribute to the ecologically responsible city through community-centred, performance-based lot patterns and housing types, organized around shared energy and resources. These new networks begin with one relationship–the contract between two existing neighbours to collectively subdivide their properties at the side yard or lane while maintaining a share of the equity. This would allow two prospective buyers to each own 30% of 20% of the existing property (2 lots x $1M x 20% subdivision) x 60% share / 2 new owners = $120K. 

With instant capital, and the aid of government incentives, existing residents would be able to jointly invest with new owners in energy- or resource-procurement systems. Each party would then have a defined responsibility to a shared portion of the property, and therefore, a personal investment in the new community–one with four times the ability to make change. Shared equity ownership would help retain the existing and aging population by mitigating foreclosures and increased property taxes with the provision of collective, rather than foreign, investment.

Towards a healthy socio-ecological city, this proposed evolution of the single-family neighbourhood was tested in four architectural interventions, each addressing the social, environmental, economical and infrastructural responsibilities of increased population density. 

DC: A brave manifesto which asks us to consider how a social belief in our neighbourhood might be the one reliable choice we have left by effectively crowdsourcing our built environment’s future. Aggregated share equity is not entirely unrealistic since new leverage is likely required to navigate a future framed by financial and ecological uncertainty. This project reminds us of a fast-approaching reality in which we must reassociate land once more as true equity–from which we recognize the potential of jointly assembling bits of land in a collective, neighbourly effort to decentralize infrastructures for energy, heating/cooling, waste and food.

MCC: The thesis concerns a real and actual problem: the densification of the suburbs. It is a thorough presentation of a formally interesting project with a convincing sustabinability agenda. I appreciate that this project is not strictly a theoretical abstraction but a relevant proposal undertaken with the intention that it can be applicable to the community.

BH: The Vancouver Foundation, a multifaceted charitable endowment clearinghouse, identified loneliness as an overarching social issue in the city of Vancouver. This project provides a model for an intriguingly straightforward infill housing typology embedded in a rigorous, multifaceted strategy for healing the existing city fabric and enhancing connectedness. A passion for sustainability and community overlaps with a humane intelligence.