Too Much Paving? Low-Density Housing Means Tree Loss and Rise of ‘Impervious’ Surfaces

Published October 1, 2019 by Real Estate Leads

The construction of each and every home that all together make up the entirety of a city’s real estate is part of the greater umbrella that is the development and construction industries. As such, there’s much that comes along with the building of homes – and communities – that is beyond the scope of immediate understanding for people. This is especially true in major urban areas, where the extent of development often has far-reaching influences on the tertiary parts of what makes up a living space for hundreds if not thousands of families.

As a realtors, having more of a big-picture wherewithal of real estate as it relates to housing and urban development is always going to beneficial. This can be true when it comes to your ability to impress individuals and turn them into prospective real estate clients. All of which is increasingly important these days given how there’s seemingly fewer slices of the pie to go around. Here at Real Estate leads, our online real estate lead generation system for Canada is an excellent way to put your more directly in touch folks who are genuinely considering selling or buying a home near you.

But now to today’s topic related to all of this; with development comes paving, and a lot of it. We may have seen the decision to put down concrete and asphalt on earth as ‘no big thing’ – but apparently civic planners may need to rethink this.

So what exactly are we discussing here, and how is it related to real estate? Read on.

With their gardens and landscaped yards, low-density housing, particularly the single-family home, is often seen as green.

Low-Density Housing Development & The ‘Concrete Jungle’

Building low-density housing has been the norm for many different tangible and intangible reasons, and has been equally agreeable to developers, city planners, municipal zoning regulators, and – perhaps most importantly – the buying preferences of people buying real estate in major urban centres.

As much as that’s true, it’s also a fact that low-density housing contributes to urban sprawl very emphatically, and a very relevant trend that comes along with this is a decrease in the number of trees in the area and a loss of what they call ‘impervious’ surfaces – meaning natural earth that’s not covered in anything.

It’s true that the low-density housing trend appears to have shifted from a housing model that accommodated many trees to one that now accommodates increasingly fewer trees and more impervious surface due to expanding home sizes and the splitting of lots that occurs much more frequently these days.


The problem with this – and one of the growing list of them that can be attached to the low-density housing predominance seen in the Lower Mainland of BC most notably – is that tree cover and impervious surfaces are measures of the ecological health of the region. Trees give shade, suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and absorb storm water.

We can now add to that the fact that impervious surfaces like driveways and parking spots no longer take in rainwater for natural dispersal elsewhere in the local topsoil, and are associated with excessive heat in the summertime.

We read a report entitled ‘Regional Tree Canopy Cover and Impervious Surfaces: Analysis of Tree Canopy Cover and Impervious Surfaces in Metro Vancouver’ and it was such an eye opener to how popular development trends can have unintended and unfavourable consequences that we thought it would make an excellent ‘knowledge base’ topic for today.

It points out the decline in average percentage of tree cover seen for such developments being very consistent over 30 years, at 36% for those built in 1970 to 18%for those constructed in 2000. We can safely assume the trend has increased since that time.

Alternately, the expert consensus is that high-density housing development in recent years have greater tree canopy. The report also points to data indicating that there has been an overall increase in the number of trees planted or retained for high density housing over time.

Realities of Rapid Urbanization

With average tree canopy cover decreasing over time as a result of increasing low density housing builds there has been a resulting increase in impervious surfaces. Up until recently, most did not have an understanding of how more impervious surfaces equals hotter temperatures in the immediate areas. This is a negative, and for many economic reasons as much as for personal ones for residents living there.

The report also indicated the building types chosen also played a role, but that newer builds seen in the last 5 years or so seem to be taking all of this into account. Many new buildings are tall and slender, and use up little lot coverage while keeping abundant greenspace.

We’ll conclude here by saying that it’s worth noting that Vancouver’s climate committee anticipates growth in Metro Vancouver may likely reduce tree canopy from 32 percent of the urban containment boundary of the region to 28 percent over the next 20-30 years. This is going to necessitate wholesale changes at the municipal zoning level.

If you’re a realtor and you are friends with anyone in the development industry or in related offices at City Hall, this is definitely an excellent topic of discussion. It will have major ramifications for the types of homes that make up the bulk of the market stock, and especially in dense urban areas of the country.

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