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Assessed land value of Canadian neighbourhoods - an IHS Alumni project

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

Dustin and Michael are IHS alumni who graduated from the Urban Management and Development Master’s in 2018. They specialised in 'Infrastructure and Green Cities' and 'Urban Economic Development and Resilience'. After graduation, Dustin and Michael went back to Canada, their home country, where they now work in the urban field. Michael is a planning consultant for Brown and Associates Consulting Inc., in Edmonton, Alberta, while Dustin is a community planner at Dillon Consulting, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.


Recently, Dustin and Michael have been involved in a project in which they created calculation maps of the assessed land value of each neighbourhood in Edmonton, Canada.

Through these maps, they tried to point out how the development pattern is threatening Edmonton’s financial sustainability and what can be done about it.

Photo taken on Feb 25, 2019, in Edmonton by Greg Southam, Post Media. Source: Edmonton Journal

“Skills I learned helped in opening doors to teach an introductory economic development course in Edmonton.” - Michael can see a connection between lessons learned at IHS and his career path. He shared that his educational background in economic development helped him develop skills, material and confidence to offer consulting services and contribute towards local economic development efforts.


Also for Dustin, the master's at IHS and his specialisation, "Infrastructure and Green Cities", helped him understand the connections between land-use, energy, and transportation. Nowadays, cities and communities worldwide face different challenges related to energy security, transportation infrastructure and land use.


“Working as a Community Planner in Northern Canada, there are major challenges around climate change, energy security, accessible and affordable transportation, affordable housing and sustainable land use. My study helped me better understand these challenges and work towards solutions for them." Dustin


Motivations for the project


Michael: Edmonton is a fairly typical sprawling prairie city which means that every budget cycle, there seems to be endless pressure to close down older facilities in the urban core to develop new amenities in the suburbs. Dustin pitched the idea of calculating assessed property value by neighbourhood and by square kilometre, in order to highlight the share of city budget coming from urban core neighbourhoods.”


Dustin: I lived in a very dense inner-city neighbourhood in Edmonton. Despite the density, there was a shortage of amenities, such as green space and recreational facilities, compared to other neighbourhoods. However, the government (municipal and provincial) is investing significant amounts of money in new amenities in newer neighbourhoods on the fringes of the city. I wanted to know what the data showed in terms of the land value of different neighbourhoods.


The land value maps contribute to describing situations where land is undervalued or overvalued, causing a non-optimal land use mix. Michael also shared that he was excited to work with Dustin on this project, as well as to illustrate the disconnect between how much tax revenue is coming out of these neighbourhoods versus the investment going in, which had been sorely lacking despite the surprising amount that inner-city neighbourhoods contribute towards the public purse.


Land value assessment


Before picking the project, Dustin and Michael had a desire to create a tool that would better explain and show the land value of different neighbourhoods in Edmonton. They came up with the idea to create a map that allowed the land value of each residential neighbourhood, the density, the area, and the land value per square km.


Dustin: I was able to extract all of the data for this project from the City of Edmonton’s Open Data Portal. Edmonton has made an effort to make a lot of their data open and accessible to everyone to make data analysis easier. There is a big drive in Canada right now to make municipal data more open to helping cities innovate and solve major challenges. This project would have been extremely difficult without access to open data.

After extracting the data and calculating the land value per square km, I gave the data to Michael to create the land value map.”


Michael: I used Carto, an online mapping software, to render the data into an interactive choropleth map of neighbourhoods with total assessed values per square km”


The assessed value map per square km in Edmonton. The average assessed value per km was $375M. Source: Confessedemu.carto

The maps were embedded online, which attracted significant public attention. Both of them were interviewed by the editor of Edmonton’s most popular newspaper about the map findings. One of the surprising fact, from Michael’s point of view, is the map revealed how some of the poorest neighbourhoods contribute the wealthiest communities on a per square kilometer basis, yet the impression is that these same neighbourhoods get overlooked for amenities and infrastructure because they are thought to be poor.


WalkScore


After creating the land value they started thinking about which factors influenced the land values. There was an obvious correlation between neighbourhood population density and land value, as Dustin said. As densities rose, so did the land values.


Dustin: We also wanted to know what other factors might be influencing land values. I knew from my research at IHS that there was often a link between walkability, transit accessibility and land values. We decided to look at the WalkScoretm data for Edmonton as well as the TransitScoretm using data from WalkScore.


WalkScore is a website where people can evaluate walkability and transportation when choosing where to live. Walkable neighbourhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, people’s health and the economy (Walk Score, 2019).

One interesting finding that Dustin and Michael found out was that the newest neighbourhoods on the urban fringe were considerably more dense than neighbourhoods built in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s but they weren’t very walkable and they had low transit accessibility compared to inner-city neighbourhoods.

Edmonton Walkscore map. Source: Confessedemu.carto

Open data is a valuable resource for citizens to participate in making their city better. Many cities have maps showing residents assessed values. It is a good tool for encouraging people to pay their taxes and enables more fluid real estate transactions when people know the land value. Dustin and Michael were able to use pivot tables to generate combined values for each neighbourhood and then divide that sum by the area in square km to find a useful comparison.


Michael: Since infrastructure is primarily costed by $ per m or square m, our analysis has plenty of applicability. It is a great way to demonstrate the value proposition and moral case for investing in poor neighbourhoods.”


Ideas for future industrial and other mapping types


Michael: Industrial lands are often sought after by cities since they generate a high tax rate and use very few municipal services compared with residential communities and Edmonton is no exception. Industrial areas, however, also draw residential development to house the workers.


He also shared that in Edmonton this has created a multi-node city that has several advantages and some disadvantages. Due to the polluting nature of petrochemical industry, the multiple nodes have caused the city to sprawl in several directions and have created a far richer South West compared to the North East, which hosts many of the industrial lands. It has also made public transportation more difficult to service all the nodes well. On the other hand, the multi-nodal nature also reduces the pressure on anyone corridor making the city fairly easy to navigate by car within a reasonable amount of time.

Having access to this data in an open and available format allows citizens to participate more effectively in an informed dialogue about how cities get developed, what equitable distribution of budget items actually looks like.


Dustin shared that a lot of major cities are seeing industrial uses pushed out to the urban fringe or neighbouring municipalities because the cost of land has gotten so expensive. The heavy industry also typically requires a lot of lands. He also wondered whether that was the best use of land in a major city. To answer this question, more research needs to be carried out, in his opinion.


Regarding mapping other types of data, Dustin would like to see a comparison of residential land values with different cities in Canada and perhaps globally as well. Getting access to useful data, from his point of view, is a key for this type of comparison.


Dustin: If there are other people that want to try mapping their city in this way and have access to data, I would be happy to work with them.


References:


Walk Score. (2019). Retrieved from Walk Score: https://www.walkscore.com/about.shtml

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