Yes In My Backyard: Growing More Sustainable Cities With Garden Suites

Cities across North America are facing mounting pressure to curb outward expansion, reduce carbon emissions, provide residents with affordable housing, and attract investment; all the while helping to create vibrant walkable communities that foster health and well-being. 

In the Edmonton context, our mature neighbourhoods have experienced a dramatic loss of population over the last 40 years as residents moved out to more suburban neighbourhoods (see Figure 1). To regrow these areas, and turn them into sustainable, healthy and compact communities we must densify. Furthermore, it is well known that inefficient land use patterns are one of the major contributors to climate change. In order to address climate change, land use needs to be one of the first places we look. 

[See Figure 1]

To deal with this challenge, Edmonton (like many other North American cities) has begun to prioritize residential infill development, which can be defined as, “...the development of new housing in established neighbourhoods” (City of Edmonton, 2019). Infill is an alternative to greenfield development which is the development of new housing in new neighbourhoods, typically on former farmland or greenspace on the outskirts of a City. 

Residential infill can take many forms including duplexes, basement suites, row housing, or apartments. In Edmonton, backyard homes, known as garden suites, are becoming an increasingly popular form of homeowner-driven infill development (see Figure 2). Note that garden suites are being built in the areas where density is most needed. Typically, garden suites are located above a garage, but they can also be a single storey, or have living space spread over two floors. They range in size from 400 to 1,400 square feet. 

[See Figure 2]

Whether they are used as a rental unit, or to house a family member or friend, garden suites are a flexible form of housing that offers homeowners a number of benefits including opportunities for: 

  • Downsizing

  • Multi-generational Living 

  • Additional rental income 

  • A mortgage helper

  • Aging-in-community

As a city, garden suites allow us to benefit from:

  • More efficient land use as we capitalize on existing infrastructure and servicing, as opposed to building new roads, sewers, and utility lines to serve new communities. 

  • More demographic diversity as new families and residents move into largely homogenous single-family home neighbourhoods. 

  • Eyes on the lane which contributes to increased safety and security. 

  • Reducing our environmental and carbon footprint by building in, instead of out. 

  • Affordable, high quality rental housing. 

  • Replacing derelict garages with attractive architecture. 

  • A population injection into existing neighbourhoods, which helps keep local schools, businesses, and transit viable. 

  • Increased tax revenue. 

The mutual opportunities for citizens to benefit, while resolving serious challenges facing our city, and civilization, is a compelling reason to support garden suites and infill more generally.

It’s also important to remember that homeowners are the largest landholders in many cities across North America. So, when we think about the challenges cities are facing, and how we must transition towards more sustainable land use patterns, it would be a mistake to overlook homeowners as important agents for change. 

Although, very few homeowners are in a position to demolish the house they live in, and replace it with a higher density development, garden suites are a feasible alternative. They enable homeowners to maintain their current homes while gently add density to our cities, thereby helping us build a more compact urban form.

One problem remains: Typical homeowners do not know about the process to build a garden suite, or the relationships necessary to take a project from idea to completion.

That’s where YEGarden Suites comes in. YEGarden Suites is Edmonton’s only independent, non-profit advocacy and education-based organization that promotes the development of garden suites in our city. We act as a resource to Edmontonian’s by providing them with the knowledge and confidence they need to move forward with their own garden suite projects. 

YEGarden Suites organizes workshops and tours, consults with homeowners and connects them with experienced industry members, all while advocating for better policies to make it easier for citizens to be city builders in their own backyards. 

Although garden suites are just one part of the infill conversation, they are a significant and tangible step everyday homeowners can take in the remaking of their city. To learn more, visit

YEGarden Suites also has a day-long Garden Suite Workshop coming up on November 16th, as well as a Garden Suite Tour on November 23rd

Learn everything you need to know about garden suites: process to build, rules and regulations, design considerations, how to finance a suite, and more. Attendees will also have an opportunity to meet with experienced builders and designers, and hear from current suite owners about their experience building. Cap off the workshop with YEGarden Suites Tour where attendees will have an opportunity to see 5-6 unique suites inside and out!

This Blog post was kindly written for us by Ashley Salvador, Co-founder & President of YEGarden Suites.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2