Winnipeg has grown over the past 50 plus years by adding one neighbourhood after another made up predominantly of single-family housing. Today, the trend is to bring more diversity in housing types even to established communities.
“Like most North American cities, Winnipeg is seeing a resurgence of medium-density housing,” said Nigel Furgus, president of Paragon Design Build, one of the city’s most prominent developers of infill housing. “We see a growing demand for duplexes and small apartment buildings, which usually blend beautifully into a mature neighbourhood.”
Known in urban planning and architecture circles as the ‘missing middle’, medium density housing was often forgotten by cities as they grew after World War II. Today, you’ll see newer areas like Bridgwater incorporate quite a few townhouses and apartment buildings. You also see infill developments of duplexes, townhouses and apartments in older neighbourhoods like River Heights, Fort Garry and St. Boniface.
The “missing middle” is a term coined by architect and urban planner Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design Inc. They’ve even created a website devoted to the concept at missingmiddlehousing.com.
This kind of infill housing is usually low-rise and moulds into established neighbourhoods quite easily. This kind of housing typically offers a lower price point than single-family detached homes in the same area, but not always. Sometimes, missing middle housing can be considerably upscale.
Medium-density infill housing appeals to a wide variety of home buyers but is especially attractive to millennials and ageing baby boomers. Millennials are seeking to live affordably, close to urban centres, while many boomers are looking to downsize but remain in the same neighbourhoods. Both groups are drawn by the appeal of being within walking distance to various amenities.
“This kind of housing is unobtrusive partly because it’s built at the same scale as the rest of the neighbourhood,” said Furgus. “There’s a huge range of options that fit mature communities well without introducing high-rises.”
Demand for this kind of housing is rising as more people – from young professionals to retirees – want to live in vibrant, safe and walkable urban environments. Municipalities tend to like ‘missing middle’ infill because denser neighbourhoods are much more cost-efficient to service with roads, parks, transit and other infrastructure. It helps diversify the tax base so established neighbourhoods don’t need to rely entirely on taxes from single-family homeowners.