News / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: Why Larry Uteck showcases the worst kind of development

Density without walkability, transit, and job access mean areas like this are destined for failure, and can only hold back the people who live there.

Apartment buildings on Larry Uteck Boulevard.

Yvette d'Entremont / Metro

Apartment buildings on Larry Uteck Boulevard.

The new apartment buildings on Larry Uteck may be the worst kind of development there is - one day soon, they will create problems.

Driving up Larry Uteck is bewildering. Everywhere are these downtown-sized buildings — some as tall as 12 storeys — but without the downtown. It’s a world of flat grass, asphalt, empty sidewalks, and buildings scattered like bricks from a toppled wheelbarrow.

But who am I to criticize? Apartments there go for over $1,400 a month, and I hear they are in high demand. The units are new, large, and only a half-an-hour drive downtown during rush hour.

But being new is by definition temporary. Once they lose that sheen, these apartments will compete with every other within a half-an-hour drive of the core, and they will compete poorly.

Living in high-density buildings is supposed to come with benefits as well as costs. Residents have to give up a backyard and put up with an elevator, but that’s worth it when shops, jobs, entertainment, and food are conveniently nearby.

But there is almost nothing to walk to from the towers on Larry Uteck. The website Walk Score gives the street an abysmal rating of 33 out of 100, meaning almost nothing can be accomplished on foot.

And if there were anything to walk to, few people would walk. The street is like a list of what the evidence says discourages walking: blank walls, large empty spaces with little to look at, no street-level activity, and buildings too big for human scale.

And while I am picking on Larry Uteck, the street is just one example of much bigger pattern. From Washmill Lake Drive all along the 102 to Bedford, apartment buildings of exactly this type have been springing up all over, and more will soon appear.

My problem with these buildings is not that I do not want to live there — to each their own. My problem is that their prices will necessarily plummet because they offer no long-term intrinsic value. When they do, they will likely become home to low-income people, and they will be a terrible place to be poor.

According to Richard Florida’s 2017 book, The New Urban Crisis, those with lower incomes are much less likely to pull themselves out of poverty when they have little access to jobs, services and transit near home. Since wealthy people increasingly want to also live in places with that kind of mix, low-income people are getting pushed out of the core of cities across North America.

The 2016 census shows the Halifax peninsula is becoming substantially less affordable. If our low-income residents are pushed further out to such towers, access to jobs, food, social services, transit, and everything else will get worse.

In Arrival City, Douglas Saunders looks at the differences between neighbourhoods where low-income immigrants have integrated and succeeded economically, and where they do not. Apartment towers found in places like the suburbs of Paris (and now, Halifax), where there are few jobs and nowhere to start a business, are exactly the kind of places that breed intergenerational poverty and long-term social strife.

We can do better. Southwest Properties is proposing a totally different kind of apartment in their Clayton Park project, Seton Ridge. All the density they propose will be along a traditional main street. When, over decades, those units become more affordable, they will continue to offer residents a great life with plenty of opportunity.

It is said that today’s luxury units are tomorrow’s affordable housing. We should never build apartments that will offer tomorrow’s residents a precarious life, and little hope.

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