EDITORIAL: A small solution to a big problem

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Our downtown is in trouble.

Vacancy rates are high, the number of businesses on Franklin is dwindling and the homelessness problem is out of control.

Wayne Guy, founder of Yellowknife-based Guy Architects, is proposing a small solution for this big problem.

With the idea of reviving the downtown core and offering lower and middle income people a chance to live there, Guy is proposing to build a 12-unit micro-condo building on 54 Street.

Individual units would be roughly 320 square feet, which is about as large as the interior of a standard school bus. Residents would have access to a ride-share program, which would give them access to a vehicle without having to own one.

He needs council to amend the city’s parking bylaw to make this vision a reality but all signs indicate that the municipal government is behind him.

He has based the new development on the principle of “new urbanism” which is defined by walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity and accessible public spaces.

The type of housing he is proposing is becoming popular for people seeking affordable ways to live in teeming southern cities where outrageous property prices have made the dream of owning a single-family detached home in the suburbs just about unattainable.

New urbanism sounds suspiciously like the traditional urbanism that dominated many cities in the time before the plague of urban sprawl.

Back then, it was only natural to live in a self-contained neighbourhood where you could walk to the grocery store.

It’ll be interesting to see how Guy’s proposal will impact the city.

Living in a school-bus sized condo might not be for everyone. One assumes hoarding lots of clothes, or big pieces of furniture or large cooking appliances would be a no-no. Having a porta-potty-sized bathroom with little storage will force residents to make tough choices about what kind of home amenities to invest in. Couples might find it difficult to find their own spaces to unwind after a long day.

Additionally, Guy seems confident that at least a dozen residents will be able to comfortably split two vehicles but what happens when Carol – our hypothetical condo-car hog from down the hall – makes her fourth trip to Walmart that week, leaving you without?
On the other hand, some residents have been living happily in Old Town’s iconic shacks and cabins for many years now, and they are far from spacious.

And some people will be able to own property without breaking the bank, which will allow them to invest in business ventures and travel plans.

Whether you can imagine yourself living in a tiny space or not, Guy’s proposal is an interesting one and we should be exploring these types of proposals because one thing’s for sure: Yellowknife has an affordability problem.

In fact, the cost of rent here is the highest in the country, according to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission.

In 2016, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Yellowknife was $1,636 per month. In Vancouver, the same unit cost $1,450 and in Toronto the rent would have been $1,327, states the report.

The fact that Yellowknifers need to spend a high percentage of their income on rent sharply curtails their ability to spend money on food, health care and other needs.

It means that many citizens cannot afford to live in the neighbourhoods where children are most likely to thrive, or in the parts of the community where jobs are concentrated.
Our high rents contribute to Yellowknife’s tremendous cost of living problem, which excludes people who might want to come and live here from taking that leap.

Guy’s vision of creating sustainable, human-scaled places where people can live healthy and happy lives could be our saving grace. It’s definitely worth trying.