I lived in a post-war house on Alder Street in Victoria when I was little. It was a little house with a big front window facing the street, a lawn in front that seemed to reach from one end of the street to the next, one skinny driveway and a fenced backyard with a bit of lawn, a vegetable garden and a laundry line.
It was like all the other houses on the block.
It had three bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, an eat-in kitchen and a small living room with a big window. All the houses were well-cared-for and looked friendly, not like “welcome to my garage door if you can see it behind all the vehicles in the driveway and on the road.” The basements were unfinished and had a huge wood devouring furnace, a wringer washer and a laundry line for bad weather. It was safe and a great place to grow up.
Was it cramped for space? Absolutely—but we not only survived, we thrived: we were the baby boomers. If you go into Victoria or Google it, it is right across Blanshard from Mayfair Mall, which was the brickyard in those days. Being next to the clay brickyards, the ground was a challenge to work into a garden but our parents fed us well from those backyard plots. Mrs. Faraday next door hung over the fence with some potatoes and carrots in her hands, asking my mother to trade as her husband used horse manure but my Dad used kitchen compost.
The houses were small but there was plenty of room and light on both sides—not the unused lightless shoulder to shoulder housing like in subdivisions found in places like the new Westshore developments and creeping into Sooke. No sidewalks as there was no need—no one parked on the street and there were clear sightlines under the street edge trees. Great places to ride a bike, walk or rollerskate.
There was no need to drive to the store regularly. There was the milkman, the bread man and Sam, the delightful man who had the vegetable cart. He was a recent immigrant and started with a wheelbarrow, worked up to a pushcart then had a horse-drawn cart. We little kids had no idea what he was saying but he was kind to us, and let us pet his horse.
If only we could return to those days of “intelligent building” where neighbourhoods lived well and used their land wisely, but now building with new improvements to help fight climate change. Build all houses with south angled roofs and solar panels, metal roofs with rainwater harvesting while keeping the space and features where kids play safely: clear streets, a laundry line and room for a vegetable garden which has the sunlight to support it.
We will only return to that kind of building if we demand it. I have heard talk of “our development community” from local government and wonder how much of that “community” are investors from across the water who never see the cheek by jowl housing here, without sunlit backyards and clear safe streets to walk or bike. The closer together the houses are jammed, the more profit.
Lower cost over quality of life? No, we can demand and get both. Development land is not just about money to be made, it is about using it intelligently to help in the battle against climate change, to provide an affordable good quality of life and to preserve as much non-development land as possible.Lynn Moss