Stephen Rees's blog

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


with 5 comments


The illustration below was drawn by Raymond Briggs. It shows a typical British terraced house, of the type built between 1880 and 1914. The reason I have that on my hard drive is that it was used in a discussion on twitter about the way to increase density in  Vancouver.
Raymond Briggs Terrace house

Originally I wanted to point to Briggs illustration of the home where Father Christmas lives but this was the nearest I could get to it. Note that very little has changed about the houses – the most obvious one being the car that is parked outside each one.

R Briggs FC houses

I was born in a house like this in East Ham. So I know exactly what happened as these houses aged. They were steadily modernised. When my parents bought their house in 1948 it was pretty much in the same state as when it was constructed fifty years earlier. There was an outside toilet, water was heated in a geyser over the sink for daily use, and in a gas “copper” for bath nights and laundry. In the 1950s they got a local authority grant to put in a bathroom (they halved the back bedroom to get the necessary space) and installed a solid fuel boiler in the kitchen to heat the water.

There was some discussion in later years of getting gas fired central heating, but the death of my grandmother meant that the family could sell two houses in East Ham and buy a larger, newer one in Loughton. We joined the exodus from East Ham while I was at university. The local population there now is largely from the Indian subcontinent.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 4.20.21 PM

The houses continued to be modernised. Compare this current Google streetview to the one below. The original double hung sash windows in wooden frames were replaced by double glazing in modern plastic frames before 2008. No doubt the loft was insulated at that time too. It is also notable that the next door neighbours did the same things to their houses. More recently, the windows have again been replaced, this time with glazing bars closer to the original design but an enclosed porch has now been added, and the decorative masonry mullions have vanished. The house number is once again etched into the window over the front door – just as Briggs illustrates.  The grey French slates on the roof have been replaced by concrete tiles.

But don’t forget I have done this before but amazingly WordPress doesn’t provide me access to images before 2017. This dates from 2008

“Actually the vast majority of London terraces are two storeys. Most were built between 1880 and 1914 and have two distinctive features: the narrow frontage to reduce liability to property tax (then determined by length of street frontage) and designed to meet the specifications of the 1880 Public Health Act. ”

What prompts me to write this is that the building we live is now being studied for potential replacement. It is 44 years old. The windows need replacement as the heavy wind driven rain now gets inside – and some of the sliding doors to the (now enclosed) balconies no longer close properly. The roof needs replacing again and the drains are giving rise for concern. Our flower beds look more like ponds right now.

In this neighbourhood it is not unusual for houses much newer than that to be demolished and replaced by larger, lot filling houses. Unless there is a laneway house, or legal secondary suite, the population density does not change. In fact this census tract lost population in the last ten years.

We do not seem to value buildings here. They are regarded as disposable. Even the ones we declare as “heritage” are not guaranteed a longer life, nor are they preserved but will continue to be “brought up to code” with each generation. And we will certainly not consider how existing buildings could be maintained and repurposed – even though there are plenty of good examples of how that can be done. But we might well convert a few surplus shipping containers into living space for the marginalised.

POSTSCRIPT  This is not to suggest that Britain does not pull down fairly recently built  multifamily buildings

Bacton Low Rise Estate`Demolished

Bacton Low Rise Estate Demolished picture by Roll The Dice on flickr

“With Camden council as client and developer, they retain any value generated from the sale of the units which is then reinvested back into social capital, with no developer cut.” A model which ought to be adopted here, I think.

Story here



Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Posted in housing

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I find it interesting that the arguments for keeping older houses are almost never made for cars, even when the cost of repairing them essentially forever is likely less than replacing them, there is an understanding that at a certain point, they are worn out and should be replaced, and those that do are typically lauded at getting something old and wasteful off the street.

    For houses, the process you describe entails a very significant degree of replacement and refurbishment, not as much as for some, more than for many, and just like on a car, it can be cheaper to go on replacing things instead of rebuilding, however, there is essentially never a discussion replacement except that those that do are the ones depicted as being wasteful.

    Just as cars have a payback period where the energy to create one and the energy to run one can cross, if the new one is less energy intensive than the old one to a sufficient degree. So to can it be for houses … but this is essentially never considered.

    This isn’t an argument for demolishing old, as I’m plenty fond of some old cars and old houses, just to point out that when making a judgement of what people value, buildings are rarely brought up to code so significantly that it wouldn’t eventually be a more sustainable thing to replace with new and really good, than to keep repairing what may ultimately become a ship of Theseus … and just as not all cars need live forever, so needn’t all houses.


    January 30, 2018 at 3:15 pm

  2. Actually there was a movement in the UK to try to keep old cars going. The Morris Minor was the car of choice and even after British Leyland ceased production, spares were still being manufactured. Most of the work was done in the garages of enthusiasts, but there were several companies essential to the cars’ longevity. According to wikipedia “There is still a extensive parts backup for these cars, and parts are cheap compared to modern day cars.”

    I drive a 2007 Yaris and have no intention of replacing it. I would like a battery electric, but the idea of having to deal with the strata council over the charger is more of a deterrent than the price tag.

    Stephen Rees

    January 30, 2018 at 3:43 pm

  3. “I would like a battery electric, but the idea of having to deal with the strata council over the charger is more of a deterrent than the price tag.” <—- s*d but true in so many stratas 🙂 including mine! i'd have to convince 9 others when to me it's a "no brainer" 🙂


    January 30, 2018 at 4:55 pm

  4. I think the rarity of those movements proves them to be the exception … there are certainly a greater list of cars which are worthy of keeping around indefinitely, but just like houses, it is also certainly not an endless list.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if chargers became a retrofit requirement at some point, and there are some interesting projects turning old cars into electric (this would certainly be a better fate for many cars destroyed last year in Houston, for instance, than scrap, given their young age) … and in the same way, if an old home is retrofitted sufficiently to make it perform as well as a new one, then great, but if, like many, it is retrofitted to the minimum amount required, with grandfathered windows, then running that home forever is certainly not the greenest option.


    February 1, 2018 at 1:33 pm

  5. This is Neil Young’s electric car, the one he drove up to the tar sands in before blasting them for their vast ecological footprint. He disarmed a TV show host who criticized him for not knowing what he is talking about by agreeing, “Everybody know that!” Technically though, he’s on the right page. He agreed that his personal eco footprint is really big, especially from using private jets, and that there is a contradiction between what he says and what he does. Still, his Harvest album was one of the best set of tunes ever collected into one group. Bless him … and damn him.

    Alex Botta

    February 9, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: