Last night was the May monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group. As usual it was two hours of lively informed comment and discussion on a wide variety of topics. These included upcoming heritage tours and programs, an excellent presentation from a group looking to put together a history of Clark Park, and an exquisite piece of historical detective work by Neville revealing the history of 1906 Grant Street.
We also looked at the plague of demolitions that are this summer’s blight on Grandview. In particular we looked in depth at a single block on Venables where five older houses are being (or have already been) demolished this month. In most cases, stately and adaptable Edwardian buildings are being replaced with cookie-cutter back-and-front duplexes. There are serious issues both with why this is occurring and the effect they will have on the long term social fabric of the neighbourhood.
The houses being demolished generally started life as single family properties. But they were large and spacious and their interior structure allowed them to be configured to suit multiple uses. The single family house often developed into a multi-generational home, then perhaps into a rooming house or complex of individual suites, and many saw further use as a renovated SFH with a basement suite helping the mortgage. Families and neighbour community were encouraged by this kind of architecture.
The replacement duplexes, with their lack of basements and attics and their fixed regular patterns discouraging or inhibiting family growth, are designed for the modern two-person tech couple isolated within their own cells and digital networks. Families and community groups are being replaced by “household units.” This is a fundamental and unwelcome change in the social fabric for a family-friendly residential neighbourhood such as Grandview.
As part of the overall debate, we kicked around ideas about why this happening. A generally accepted view is that the planning and development process has been so damaged in Vancouver (we have all heard of relatively trivial projects taking years to complete through the bureaucracy and with tens of thousands in fees attached) that developers are deciding against innovation and are sticking to templated duplex designs they can get through the process with a minimum of fuss and delay. There still seems to be a market for these at around $1.4 million per half-duplex and a slightly lower profit margin is preferred to the risks of serious delay with any other kind of development proposals.
Should we really be changing the nature of our communities just to suit a failure of competence in the planning process?
Update: see also: “And …”