Barrhaven, The Haven, and Cityview

Recall that we spent the last four days in Barrhaven, specifically around The Haven, a multi-faith housing cluster near Longfields Station. The Haven design removes most “private” space in favour of “shared” spaces, per the model common in social housing ideals. The rest of Barrhaven is dominated by the division of space into individual housing lots; singles and rows dominating in terms of numbers.

“What about us?” writes a reader. We don’t have underground utilities or large parks like them.  A neighbourhood like 1950’s City View (between Baseline Road and Meadowlands Drive, west of Merivale strip) is an interesting hybrid of urban and suburban forms. It keeps its streets mostly on a grid plan, like real cities do, but the houses are on large lots. Originally platted into 25′ w lots, but sold in fours, many of the lots are still 100′ wide by 100′ deep, plus a generous setback from the (pleasantly modest paved) street.

Since 1950’s houses are not what most modern HGTV-trained buyers want,  lot by lot redevelopment is ongoing. Of course, anyone who does want small houses on a large lot has to compete with those who want the large lot onto which they will build a large house(s). The infill group usually wins. Renovators to make monster homes come second.  This is the typical process for pre-1969 neighbourhoods. I even hear that houses in 1970’s neighbourhoods like Ryan Farm (behind Algonquin College) are selling in hours, sight unseen, because contractor-developers are buying the lot, not the house.

And if anyone complains about the house-by-house replacement with bigger homes, I’ll invite myself on your next trip to the USA and we can look at the miles and miles of abandoned and decaying suburbs because new growth there tends to be edge growth, not replacement. Detroit is not unique, it is typical. Revitalizing existing neighbourhoods is better than abandonment. The economic activity in renewing our housing stock is a testament to Ottawa getting planning right; it is not a flaw. Of course, individual residents adjacent construction or renovation sites are inconvenienced. Welcome to urban living.

Here is a typical City View street. Note the (in old language)open ditches. Today I’d call them drainage swales and opportunities for rain gardens. Some residents of the area feel they are ignored by the city given the open ditches. I’d call them blessed.

Sewerizing the rainfall is expensive, hard to maintain, and of finite capacity (when over capacity, it backups into your basement…). Swales, on the other hand, could be broadened with a backhoe in hours to double or triple storage capacity, allowing rain to percolate into the soil and keep the trees alive. All that is needed is an attitude shift to “rain garden = good. Mind, I dont see much appetite for the homeowners to pay the additional steep cost of sewerizing the runoff (underground rain control is paid for directly by homeowners , not from general tax revenues). Barrhaven has underground piping because the city demands it and buyers had to provide it; City View has swales, vive la difference!

Here’s some examples of infills in progress when google flew over the nest:

above: 2 holes on the far side of the street, two new homes on the right side, plus older homes with monster additions

One of the more distressing aspects of large lot suburbia is how much land gets taken over for vehicle parking and storage. Paved driveways get huge-r and huge-r. And then more huge-r. In addition to multi-car driveways, paved side yards, maybe for the RV, are common enough. Despite the proximity to the automotive main commercial street, the distances are just long enough that everyone drives. Pretty much everywhere. There are few facilities for walking, although most residential streets look safe for biking. Just not to the pet shop.

If the new homes are built on the same large lots, the low walkability will continue. If the new houses are intensified, ie lots are subdivided, granny flats are constructed and new homes have accessory dwelling units … then some sidewalks might be more warranted. Walkability doesn’t refer just to the ability to take a hike to a destination (obviously one can physically walk) but to how many actually are willing and actually do walk. A larger variety of housing options helps promote walkability.

Each time I go here to visit friends at the western end of this neighbourhood I feel a bit like I am a outer space alien as I am usually the only person in sight. But maybe that’s just me. This alien would prefer to see buyers replacing one house with two. Or three. Or four. Or a triplex, great for those starting out and those …  ending up.

In some ways, City View suffers the same problem as Barrhaven, where the streetscape is dominated by parked cars and driveways and garage doors. And increasingly in my own west side of the downtown stomping grounds, front yards are replaced by parking pads, even — or especially at — closely regulated infills. The City seems cheerfully compliant with demanding ever more density coupled with turning over all the non-housing space to car movement or car storage.

Our city is turning into housing in a parking lot.

One of the original lots in City View was an estate lot, shown here circled in red:

The owners wish to turn that estate lot into … housing. And not on 100×100′ lots. This is causing consternation amongst the neighbours, many of whom are firmly of the school that all land uses must be segregated and set well apart.  A cluster of homes, let alone linked or row houses, no matter how nice, isn’t in character with the single family residence pattern. People who age or those just starting out are just out of luck. As are those down on their financial luck. It’s big house on a big lot or get out.

In a time honoured pattern, the threat of redevelopment, especially if different, prompts calls for some alternative use of the land. Let’s see now … A Park !

As I have tried to show in the last few days, The Haven has lots of shared spaces, and not much private space. The rest of Barrhaven mostly has lots of (smallish) private spaces, and a larger parks too. City View has few/no parks, but has huge lots. To me, it is merely a matter of how the space is distributed.

But once having divided up all the space into individual lots, it becomes awkward to try to raise the money to buy a development site which will have no financial return. Of course, local residents want the City, or other taxpayers, to buy the lot for them. Or to access the development fees which are supposed to improve parks due to the increased demand generated by the new housing. But the city rarely provides park land, it demands it from developers, who in turn subtracted it from the future residents lots.

In Barrhaven, residents have no choice, the city mandates x amount of land for parks, leaving smaller lots for houses. In City View, the developer opted to allocate all land to individual lots and none to parks. It is hard to have cake and eat it too. The only way the city could fairly buy the land for a park is if the locals support a special tax levy just on themselves to buy the park land they didn’t allocate for in the development days. Good luck with that !

Even in more urban neighbourhoods where there are park funds (collected from developers who paid money into a fund instead of providing land for parks) it is difficult to find land to buy. That’s another reason why in the future I think we will see more parks expanded by taking away space from roads, as detailed here previously when Elm Park expanded onto the road, or Somerset Viaduct was greened with tree planters, or with Pontiac Street being closed to expand Champlain Park. We actually did a lot of this form of park expansion back in the 1970’s.

In City View, they already have road rights of way that are grassy and green, with narrowish pavements. That’s cheaper than covering over a train track or road cut to build a park over top. Maybe the 50’s development pattern is more progressive, more delightful than the over- engineered environment we have insisted on since the 70’s.