Tag Archives: Community

A Different Kind of Home-Buyer

My husband and I are house-hunting in one of the most expensive housing markets in North America – Vancouver. We moved here two and a half years ago from London, UK – where my husband grew up and where I had been living for the preceding 12 years.

The first 18 months or so in Vancouver we spent many of our weekends walking around neighbourhoods – exploring, acclimatizing, and learning about our new city. We have been on our house search, on and off, for a year. More recently we’ve started to widen our search to neighbouring suburbs and cities, Port Moody and New Westminster in particular, and have talked to local real estate agents. What they’ve advised us is insightful about the residential real estate market and the attitude of the “average buyer”. I’m paraphrasing, but here are some of things agents as well as friends are saying about the suburbs:

  • “New Westminster has poor amenities. It’s not close to stores like Costco, Walmart and retail parks. That’s bad for resale value.”
  • “If I were to choose between Port Moody and New Westminster, I’d choose Port Moody. It stands a better chance of growth in values. It’s a development hot spot and it’s going to get the new Skytrain line.”
  • “New Westminster’s problem is that it’s not Vancouver and it’s not Surrey. Cross the bridge and you get a significant drop in price in Surrey so people would rather buy in Surrey than in New West.”
  • “I’ve been in New Westminster for over thirty years. New Westminster is about community. For example, my eldest son’s oldest friends are people he met when he was three years old.”
  • “Port Moody has a strong artist community.”
  • “Port Moody isn’t planning to develop quickly. It’s being thoughtful about development and isn’t going to be crowded with a lot of high-rise towers.”
  • “Homes in Port Moody cost more (than homes in Coquitlam) because it’s closer to the water. There are places for people to park their boats.”

A Different Way of Looking at Home-Buying

To be honest, all of the real estate agents’ talk of resale value and potential rises in prices puts me off Port Moody and other similar areas. My husband and I didn’t move to Vancouver to make a buck on the housing market. We moved here because we wanted to build a life, enjoy the lifestyle, and make our livelihoods here (the three “Ls”, I call it). I like events and festivals that celebrate art, music, and food rather than shopping malls where the art, music, and food is mass-produced and mass consumed. I like neighbourhoods that feel safe enough to walk through at night from the Skytrain station or bus stop to my front door rather than neighbourhoods divided by busy roads and motorways that are unwelcoming to pedestrians. I like walking through, running through and picnicking in parks and amongst nature over walking through or next to parking lots. My husband and I prefer farmers’ markets, vintage stores, and locally-owned shops over retail parks and big box stores.  I want good schools and community amenities over condos and construction sites.

If we buy a home somewhere in Metro Vancouver, we hope our house value doesn’t go down and we might be better off in the long-run if its value doesn’t go up. Rising house prices keep out the artists, teachers, key workers and other great people who could be great neighbours if only they could afford to live there. I’d be perfectly happy if my house price went up by the same percentage I’m paying in mortgage interest – if I ever sold my house, I will have essentially lived there for free. Even if my house price stayed the same as when I bought it, I’m perfectly happy paying something for my housing costs (essentially the interest cost on my mortgage, plus maintenance costs, property taxes, and the opportunity cost of the money locked up in the house) because I’m getting use value out of living in my house in the first (a place to call our own, safe and secure shelter, our little patch that can be decorated any which way we want).

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to live in a neighbourhood where there is culture and community. It’s not how much cash I can sell my house for sometime in the future, but the other “Cs” that will be the deciding factors in our house hunt.

The Battle for Broadway Market (Nov 2005 – Feb 2006)

I went to a screening last night as part of the Reveal Kings Cross festival. Programmed and presented in collaboration with Birkbeck Film Society, the Building Cultures Film screening and discussion reflect and question the relationship between art, activism, urban regeneration and gentrification.

The highlight of the screening was the Battle for Broadway Market, a film produced and directed by Emily James.  The film recounts events that took place between November 2005 and February 2006 on Broadway Market in Hackney.  Broadway Market is a street lined with shops, cafés, pubs, and flats above the shops.  Many of these buildings used to be owned by Hackney Council and were let to local residents and shop owners.  The market street was suffering from decline in the 1990s, but in 2004, volunteers from the Broadway Market Traders’ and Residents’ Association revived the Saturday market.  The street started to show signs of gentrification and attracted property developers.  Many of the council-owned properties were sold to developers rather than to the business owners that had invested significant amounts of time, energy, and spirit into providing goods and services to the local community.  The Battle for Broadway Market details the ousting of one such business owner, Tony Platia and the Francesca’s Café at 34 Broadway Market.

Comprehensive history and updates on libcom.org:  Articles and Forum (28 November 2005)

Hackney Gets Ripped Off Again, last updated July 2005, by Arthur Shuter

The Re-Occupation on Mute, 5 January 2006

Paul Kingsnorth, for the Ecologist, March 2006

The Eelzine, Issue 3

East London Local: Tony’s Juice Stall, 10 July 2009

Unfortunately the protest website http://34broadwaymarket.omweb.org/ is no longer operating.

Please share your stories about gentrification in your neighbourhood.  I’d like to hear about the successes and learn from the mistakes.  I have some ideas about how to prevent or reverse this trend.  What are your suggestions?

Odhams Walk

I’m participating in a free online place-making course offered by the Homes & Communities Agency.  One of the case studies we looked at is Odhams Walk (have a look at this video).  I’ve walked past it several times, but hadn’t looked up nor looked around the development.

Images from Academy for Sustainable Communities

Odhams Walk is a development of housing situated over retail premises in the heart of Central London, in Covent Garden. It features an unusual design for its time which allowed for a variety of types of flats, some with outdoor patios and gardens. Housing is connected by walkways and the arrangement of flats permits interaction with other residents, but also sufficient levels of privacy. The design also enables natural surveillance of the estate. Security was further improved with additional lighting in the corridors and CCTV was installed.

The estate is managed by an ALMO, an arm’s length management organisation, with a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) on-site. Having direct management on-site helps ensure that residents needs are met and the estate is well maintained. The TMO also helps manage any issues that may arise in the relationship amongst the shop-owners on the ground floor and the residents (for example, due to hours kept by the shops, noise, buskers in the neighbourhood).

Fifty percent of the original development became home to people from the local area with a housing need. After right-to-buy was introduced, many residents purchased their homes and some are now sublet. A careful mix of residents is needed because not all sub-tenants may have the same connection to and interest in the local community.

Good design, effective management, and consistent community help make Odhams Walk a sustainable community. Its creation was community-led from the start, generations are able to live and sustain there, residents feel safe, and they take an interest in their neighbours and their own neighbourhood. These aspects of good practice should be remembered and built upon when considering the future sustainable communities.

Redefinition: the Pub

I’m starting a new series of posts – REDEFINITION.  Everyday our environments are changing and how we live, work, and play is changing.  And so the way we use space is changing too.

This first post of the series considers how the pub is changing.  Pub is short for public house and historically, it was a gathering place in a community, where patrons could buy and drink alcohol, meet and share news.  Pubs have been evolving over the years – with many closures (demolished or converted into flats or other commercial premises) or conversions into gastropubs with a greater focus on food rather than drink.  Pubs have to compete with cocktail bars, speciality bars, and themed bars, which had become more prominent since the late 1990s.  The smoking ban has also led to the pub losing some of its appeal.  But we still like to have places in the community where we can meet and socialise.  What might a new pub look like?  How might we redefine the pub?  Is it no longer a drink and alcohol-centric place?  Is it a large, open place or something smaller, cosier, more intimate?  Do you sit, do you stand?  Who do you meet in the new pub?  Who do you talk to?  What do you do in the new public house?

No holds barred, please.  I’m interested in creative, innovative ideas as to what a public house of the future, a community gathering place might be.  Please add your comments here.

Communication and Community Have Something in Common

On 19 and 20 September, 700 buildings in the Greater London area open their doors to the general public, free of charge. Open House London is a public programme presented by Open House, a registered charity focused on raising the standard of architecture and the built environment through education. In its 17th year, the 2-day, annual event drew crowds at a wide variety of buildings being showcased ranging from landmark office buildings (Tower 42) to London City Hall to regenerated Victorian theatres (Hackney Empire Theatre) to eco-friendly housing (Carmarthen Place, Shoreditch Prototype House). Future posts will profile and discuss issues that arose in my mind after attending this event – the application of new-build, low impact designs in urban development, the marrying of new build with old to breathe new life into otherwise neglected buildings, the evolution of neighbourhoods and how we can grow with them through good building design and good community planning.

Shoreditch Prototype HouseThis post is about something I saw that went beyond just the buildings. Open House London gave people an opportunity to communicate with the architects that designed these structures or with people that work with or within them. But what I saw, more importantly, was that people were communicating with each other. There was a 20-30 minute queue to visit the Shoreditch Prototype House – designed and built by the architects Cox Bulleid, whose office studio occupies the ground floor and above it their three-storey family home. Strangers in the queue were chatting to each other whilst they waited – there was a brief sense of community created. Open House London only happens once a year. I wondered how this open, shared environment could be generated and promoted more often – and where.

How we get to know people in our community? In what ways can we engage our neighbours in conversation? I often get told its quite normal that people don’t know their neighbours in London. But the sight of people chatting in the Open House London queues makes me think that there are ways of getting people to communicate more within their community. People in the queue were sharing a common passion or interest in the built environment and the particular building they were waiting to visit. It comes as no surprise then that community and communicate have the same origin or root word – commune or common, meaning something shared.