Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Terraced housing

with 7 comments

There has been quite a lot of interest here recently about terraced housing – what the real estate agents here call “town homes”. Others have been blogging about the need for these to be sold on a fee simple basis rather than the strata title that is currently used in BC.

Place des Vosges panorama

Place des Vosges, Paris – my photo on flickr

When first thought of, in 1613 by Henri IV, these houses were designed to accommodate courtiers in separate accommodations. There was always a crowd hanging around at the palace – even at bedtime! – so I expect they welcomed the idea of their own front door.

By 1880 the pressing need was – as now – how to accommodate the lower income part of the community. The people who actually did all the work, on which the economy and the state depended, but who could not afford – even on several wage packets in a household, much in the way of housing. The Victorian 1% had even developed a bit of conscience about this, and actually legislated minimum standards like the need for each room to have its own window. The way that local taxes (‘the rates’) were then calculated also meant that the frontage onto the street needed to be minimized. So a very standardized home was produced – most constructed by small independent building firms working from a book of plans. This was the sort of London suburb where I grew up, and is one of the reasons why I am still, to this day somewhat reluctant to embrace the idea that a fee simple row house – or what I knew as a freehold terrace house – is much of an answer to our current shortage of affordable housing.

March 1921: Densely packed housing along Kensal Rise, London
Photograph: English Heritage/PA

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Posted in housing

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7 Responses

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  1. Personally I am not a huge fan of row houses but I do like a diversity of housing types and they are very under used in metro Vancouver.


    June 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm

  2. The lack of connectedness is a problem. Those blocks are too long.

    The lack of land use diversity is a problem. Hopefully, the buildings are adaptable at least along the main street.

    The lack of building age diversity is a problem. The buildings will all get old at the same time.

    The density is moderate, given the typical size of a family today. They’re only two storeys, though the front setback is small. The lots are probably about half as wide as a Vancouver lot.

    The parks are missing.

    Do you think the form is itself not desirable? Is it the uniform repetition of the form on this scale that is not desirable?

    The development shown shares many of the flaws of current suburban development in Vancouver, in places like East Clayton, or past suburban development in Vancouver proper, for example near 41st and Clarendon. Allowing for rowhouses in Vancouver will allow it to become incrementally more dense and more diverse in the age and type of its buildings. The aerial photo is not at all what should be expected from allowing rowhouses.


    June 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

  3. I like Place des Vosges (most of the former mansions around the square have long been divided in partments by the way…now selling for several millions Euros) but I much prefer the apartments in the Palais Royal as they overlook a garden that is used by the public during the day (and not too many people at that) then in the evening the garden gates are closed…

    Red frog

    June 30, 2012 at 12:35 am

  4. This was the sort of London suburb where I grew up, and is one of the reasons why I am still, to this day somewhat reluctant to embrace the idea that a fee simple row house – or what I knew as a freehold terrace house – is much of an answer to our current shortage of affordable housing.

    Interested to hear more… The growing up experience of many professionals in our city in the UK is one of the reasons I have always suspected this ‘ban’ had not been lifted. Was it the building type or was it the place or both?

    Friend just got back from Cabbagetown, Toronto (all rows, pretty much) and wrote back, “fantastic!”. Of course the block lengths are short, and the majority of houses 2.5 stories. Of course, that’s a very gentrified neighbourhood.

    I just got back from Seattle, where I am noticing a lot more of these “apartments with doors on the street” as I venture further into the neighbourhoods in search of the Olmstead designed boulevards.

    My views on the pluses for Vancouver here:

    lewis n. villegas

    July 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  5. Lewis – the problem illustrated by the picture is not so much that row houses cannot be made pleasant places to live, but at the time these were built there was no “town and country” planning. That had to wait until 1945 – and after that this style of housing changed considerably. Equally, of course, Britain for a long time afterwards had a housing shortage, and some very bad decisions made about the public provision of housing, usually because of political dogma overcoming common sense.

    I really looked forward to coming to Canada since I then thought I would leave all those problems behind. Which in a sense I did, only to discover a whole new bunch of problems.

    I am always wary of “magic bullet” solutions. Changing just one regulation is unlikely to solve much – and there is a lot more to be concerned about now than ownership. What to do with a strata once it is at the end of its life being one that got discussed this week. But we do need to look at urban areas holistically – land and transportation and environment and financing …. what the New Labour in Britain called “joined-up thinking” and which they did so badly.

    Fee simple row housing might be part of that – but so also will be co-ops and co-housing and high-rises and mid rises – zero lot lines and semi-detacheds with basement suites and lane houses too. But to make a start on any of that being livable we need to address zoning and the need for mixed use, walkable neighbourhoods and lots more transportation choices especially really good public transport – and fresh food markets easily reached on foot by everyone.

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

  6. At the sound of sounding like one of the Yorkshiremen in the monty python sjketch, those look like relatively expensive terraces because they have bay windows, but I could be wrong.

    We have terraces here in Germany too, but with parky, gardens, etc. The German buildings also make good use of cellars and attic space: some even have a ramp down to the entrance which is below ground level, allowing for three floors with windows and then rooms in under the roof, others have car storage in the cellar. Many of these houses were owner built with generous tax breaks, which does give them some variety. Terraces can be attractive if they are built as homes rather than a cheap way to solve an urban housing problem.

    Andy in Germany

    July 7, 2012 at 11:30 am

  7. […] Rochon, Globe and mail, Nov 25, 2011. Curiously enough Vancouver bloggers like Lewis n Villegas and Stephen Rees, will use this square to illustrate Vancouver specific problematic. For the record, architect […]

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