Edmonton Infill: The Missing Middle

Edmonton Infill: The Missing Middle

The City of Edmonton is in the midst of a clever infill design competition called Missing Middle. Five City of Edmonton-owned parcels of land in a centrally-located neighbourhood are up for redevelopment. Instead of selling them off, the City solicited proposals from multidisciplinary teams of architects and builders/developers to design a mid-density, multi-unit housing development on these lots. The winner earns first dibs to buy the lots for their proposed development. The challenge was to submit an innovative design that is not only thoughtful of neighbourhood context, but also economically feasible, responds to local market conditions and advances the design thinking for infill in Edmonton. It’s a smart way for the City to find out what kind of missing middle projects developers and architects are interested in building, so they can set the stage through policy and zoning for more projects like this to come to life across the city.

DIALOG’s entry, in collaboration with Equity Residential, is entitled PATCHWORK. It’s a social ecosystem that stitches together generations, traditions and lifestyles in one sustainable community. Our presentation walks you through the tapestry of units and lifestyles: micro units, one bedroom flats, co-hab flats, two-storey and three-story townhouses. Woven into the tapestry is a community amenity space and a commercial space for a neighbourhood cafe. Each unit type is introduced by the personas of those that could inhabit them, putting people’s diverse lifestyle needs at the centre of the design.

Right now, the top 25 designs are available for viewing, and you can vote for your favourite submission–*cough, DIALOG’s, cough*–for the People’s Choice Award.

Q&A with Tai Ziola, a passionate advocate for infill in Edmonton

Tai Ziola, DIALOG architect and principal, has been leading conversations for years about intelligent infill in our city. She founded Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA) with a group of like-minded advocates for infill. Below, Tai is sharing her thoughts about the Missing Middle competition and infill in Edmonton.

Why did you decide to enter the Missing Middle Competition?

I’ve been watching the evolution of infill in Edmonton with great interest for the past 10 years, and I think this competition was a meaningful step in expanding the discussion to imagine new forms of housing instead of just one-for-one (or two-for-one) replacement of the same typologies.

Are other cities challenged by the same “missing middle” as Edmonton?

I think it’s a range of typologies that many cities are challenged by, but Edmonton’s design palette seems to have been particularly limited until recently. We’re used to seeing only single-family houses, or two-bedroom condos in walkups or towers, but there are so many other options that can contribute to a vibrant community. I’m really glad to see more conversation about how people’s diverse range of housing needs can be met more sustainably and creatively.

What other cities have the right idea when it comes to infill?

I’ve really appreciated the range of interesting options being created in Vancouver, where you see older ‘mansions’ being subdivided into many smaller units, sometimes with a garage and/or garden suite on the same site. And in Seattle, it is common to see 5, 6, or even 7 family-oriented units being built on one typical 50’ x 150’ lot. These are cities where there is a lot more pressure on land values, granted, but they also show a much deeper understanding of how a mix of densities can work together to support more walkable and liveable communities and a more sustainable city in the bigger picture.

What inspired you to start Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA)?

Before IDEA existed, there was not really any voice advocating for the importance of infill in creating a resilient, affordable, and liveable city. Even though it was a goal of the Municipal Development Plan to foster a higher proportion of infill to control infrastructure and maintenance expenditures, there was a real gap in the ability for City Administration to get feedback from people actually trying to build infill. The organization has been instrumental in advancing the conversation around the policy and process barriers to infill, and there have been a lot of wins in the past 5 years.

Tell us about PATCHWORK. What makes it stand out from the rest?

I love that our team was so focused on the wellbeing and interrelationships of the people who might live in the development, and how they would fit in with the surrounding community. Rather than thinking about the units just as real estate–which is a really common way for developers to approach a project–the team was really driven by the personal stories of who might be living in them. By the time we’d written their stories down, we almost felt like we really knew them!

Now that you can see the other entries, what comes to mind as you look through them?

I was really impressed by the calibre of many of the entries, and I saw a lot of common threads: continuity of an active streetscape, shared outdoor areas, and  a range of unit types. I was interested in how some of the entries seemed to assume fairly traditional needs for “family-oriented” housing, and some represented a broader range of resident needs. I think the latter is a better approach for this site in particular, and a more realistic direction for the future of our city in general. I’m excited to see what the jury thinks!

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