Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Death of the Single Family Home Neighbourhood

I've been trying to write this post for two weeks now, ever since Brendon and I attended a presentation hosted by the Dunbar Residents Association (DRA) on the perils of laneway housing. But I've struggled every time with what to write. Partly this is because I'm emotional, I want people to like us and not campaign against giving people like Brendon and I a chance to live here. When I get emotional I get angry and want to write a diatribe against 'the haters'. I've written and deleted content on this post more times than I can count, getting no closer to something I was ready to share. But I'm hopeful that today I've settled on a story that talks honestly (though not unbaisedly) about what's happening in this neighbourhood. So here it goes.

This is a story that started a long time ago and while the events that I'm about to recount happened in the neighbourhod of Dunbar, this is a story that is/has/could happen in countless communities across the country. The city of Vancouver is seen as a leader in the world when it comes to community-based planning and back in the early 1990s, it was one of the first places in North America to formally involve neighbourhoods in the design and planning of their own communities. The policy they created was called CityPlan and in 1998 Dunbar built and formalized a community vision for the neighbourhood. The purpose of the vision was to help provide a framework for future development in Dunbar. The document tackled things like housing style, transit, commercial development and the preservation of green space. Dunbar residents were clear - they wanted to preserve the single family home neighbourhood, and they were interested in density only along the arterials. They were also quite adamant that density take the form of only duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes. The residents were generally against apartment buildings except for limited use to accommodate seniors.

Since the plan was developed almost 15 years ago there have been some physical changes to Dunbar but for the most part this neighbourhood has remained relatively unchanged for decades. However, something unexpected has changed that is threatening the viability of the entire community. Dunbar residents are getting old. Very old. And new families are not replacing them in the numbers necessary to sustain and grow the community. The reason? - the average price of a home here goes for $1.6 million dollars. The big problem is that by following Dunbar's vision for density, the neighbourhood can only supply between 280 - 750 new households over 20 years and none of these are small enough to be afforable. In order to meet the minimum number of people to keep the stores open, the transit running and environmental footprint contained, they need another 2000 dwellings. Most of these need to be apartments or small homes in order to create more affordable housing options.

So Houston, we have a problem. Dunbar residents said in 1998 that they didn't want density and yet their very viability depends on gentle changes to their community like laneway housing. This single family home neighbourhood is in jeopardy (just like the article above states) just not for the reasons that the DRA is suggesting.

With springs arrival there appears to be a renewed fever of dissent and the Dunbar Residents Association (made up almost entirely of well educated, white, seniors) is mounting a campaign against laneway housing in Dunbar. They've lobbied the city, written countless articles and hosted a presentation to educate the residents about the problems with the policy. They are fighting against what I call the 'P.P.P.S' or Parking, Privacy, housing Prices and Shading. Their arguments are not uncommon. Communities across the country have used identical reasons to build cases against density in all its iterations, many times with success.

With the DRA actively proselytizing its opinions, its easy to believe that everyone is against this policy. But we have had nothing but the best kind of experience with our neighbours and this community. Not only have we met more people on our block than I have in the three years we've lived here, we've gotten an incredible amount of support and encouragement from everyone we've talked to. So this one is for you neighbours. We're so excited to get to live on 23rd and its because of people like you that we feel honoured to stay.


  1. HI! what a great article. I have a website called The Green Mama at and I write for the Vancouver Observer. I think this would be a great article for them. Will you let me know if you'd be interested?

  2. I'm definately interested. Feel free to email me at to chat.


  3. Hey, just run across your blog, and going through some past entries.

    This is just typical NIMBYism, regardless of how it is dressed. No matter what the reasons given, there is one and only one "P" these people are interested in: Prices. The neighbourhood will change, and change is not good.

    Well, whether it is peak oil, or rising energy prices due to growing population and demand, the days of the far-flung suburbs are over. As populations grow, even slightly, the city must expand. It can expand either out, or up. Out is just not viable. The commute, the lifestyle, the pollution, the energy footprint.

    Densification and higher utility is the key. And whether these people want to or not, it is coming. If they only opened their shut eyes and narrow minds, they'd realize in the end this benefits them financially. Higher utility brings higher land prices.