Nov. 20, 2019

Students and world experts explore affordable housing solutions for Canadian cities

Research initiative offers academic contribution to real-world problems
International experts in housing
International experts in housing Alex Mayhew

Lack of affordable housing is a problem in cities everywhere, affecting 1.6 billion people. By 2050, it's estimated that 67 per cent of the world's population will reside in cities. It's incumbent upon city planners, local governments and architects to prioritize density, efficiency and quality now, as we consider affordable housing solutions.

To that end, the University of Calgary’s Dr. Sasha Tsenkova, PhD, a professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL), leads the Future of Affordable Housing Research Initiative. Presenters from London, Amsterdam, Paris and a number of North American cities gathered at SAPL’s downtown City Building Design Lab to present solutions and strategies to create a sustainable and resilient community housing sector, as set out in Canada’s National Housing Strategy. 

Nov. 22 is National Housing Day — an opportunity for cities across Canada to reflect on the need for safe, adequate and affordable housing

The research initiative is a call for action that mobilizes experts, academics, practitioners and community leaders on how to meet housing demand in a way that is financially smart and culturally inclusive.

Several events — a public forum, international research symposium and design exhibition — brought together more than 200 people in an exciting discourse on the future of affordable housing. European architects presented award-winning design projects of social housing with attractive built form, energy-efficient design and high-quality common areas.

The design exhibition features 25 award-winning social housing projects from European capital cities, such as Vienna, where more than 50 per cent of the people live in subsidized housing. Wohnprojekt Wien has 40 apartments organized around a central hub with a community kitchen for everyone to use. As project architect Katharina Bayer explains, “You don’t live just in your apartment, you live in the whole building.”

Inspiration from Vienna, Amsterdam, Paris, and more

Amsterdam’s Osdorp is another acclaimed example of mixed-use design, featuring a daycare centre, community centre and sports hall as well as apartments and single-family homes.

In Paris, architect Christelle Avenier explained, “The city will invest in architecture because they want to keep the quality high.” Paul Karakusevic, presenter and co-curator of the Housing and Inclusive Cities Exhibit currently on display at CBD Lab, agrees. “Although there is a crisis and we need more housing, it is important to view housing as public infrastructure, because without investment, your city starts to fail.”

Says Dr. Tsenkova: “Our research initiative is timely and innovative in its approach. The international symposium provided the first collection of best practices in Canadian and global cities that explore design and planning strategies to create mixed income affordable housing in compact, connected urban development.

Open access knowledge hub

“Global in scope, the initiative has provided rigorous independent results that are available through a knowledge hub to be used as an open access resource for developers, planners, investors, community activists and politicians,” Tsenkova adds. Learn more about the contributions from leading experts.

Going forward, the priorities for Canadian research will be:

  • Understanding how to design and build cost-efficient, culturally appropriate housing that accommodates a variety of households
  • Finding ways to respond to the diverse needs of different people through innovative housing design
  • Uncovering new ways to fund and operate affordable housing, and establishing partnerships between public, private and non-profit sectors while leveraging the resources each entity brings to the table.

Academic contribution to real-world problems

SAPL student Vincent Tong found the initiative ‘‘a good opportunity to think critically about how academic work can contribute to resolve problems and make an impact in the real world.’’

The research initiative is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and a number of city and industry partners.

The multimedia exhibition, Housing and Inclusive Cities, is open to the public until Nov. 24. It features 25 award-winning social housing projects in Europe, complemented by University of Calgary student design research on sustainable housing. It has the potential to inform and inspire Canadian housing researchers grappling with building inclusive cities.

Event: Housing and Inclusive Cities

  • Address: City Building Design Lab, 616 Macleod Trail S.E. 
  • Hours: 12-6 p.m.
  • When: Daily until Nov. 24