By Graham McNally
For Architecture Week 2014, and as a kick off event for Doors Open Hamilton 2014, on May 1st, the HBSA welcomed Joe Minicozzi, an architect and urban planner with Urban 3, to Hamilton to present his work that examines the true cost of current city planning, design and growth.
One of Joe’s key points is that “form follows finance’. Our current development policies, practises, plans and taxation shape our city and have created the physical form of the City we live in. This has a direct relationship with the taxes we pay to maintain roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Also, the built form and density affects the tax revenue that the City earns from the land that makes up our City.
Currently, Hamilton residents own 6200 kilometers of road – the equivalent of driving from Halifax to Vancouver and about 12m per person. As the city continues to grow out, the length of road, sewers and other infrastructure increases, raising the costs of maintenance which in turn raises taxes. For comparison, Toronto maintains 4.93m per person while London maintains 9.73m per person1. Underutilized road infrastructure is costly to maintain and if our network continues to grow, our taxes will go up.
When we look at tax revenue per hectare, we see that our built up areas provide much higher tax revenues to the City than lower density areas. Higher density development is a more efficient use of the land the City occupies.
When we intensify existing built up areas, we leverage existing infrastructure rather than expanding it. More intensive development makes more efficient use of land and the density leads to significantly higher tax revenue from residents and businesses. Dense cities are more walkable which lowers health costs while boosting economies and creating lively streets.
In other words, the creation of dense vibrant downtowns through intensification and good policy, will create an economic engine for the City that help to maintain and or possibly lower residents’ tax burdens.
We, all the residents of our city, stand to benefit from a vibrant, economically diverse and robust downtown. We need to get our policies and tax system working for us.
GRAHAM McNALLY is an architect in Hamilton and a partner in the firm, Toms + McNally Design. In addition to his firm’s work, he has a particular interest in Hamilton’s urban design and issues and was a driving force behind bringing Tactical Urbanism to Hamilton.