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Rowhouses: Missing from Vancouver in the past, about to arrive in the future

June 11th, 2012 · 58 Comments

Rowhouses are a feature of most European and eastern North American cities. But they’re oddly missing in Vancouver — Vancouver, the city, that is.

As it turned out when I started doing the research for this story, there are lots of rowhouses — or a facsimile of them — being built in many of the suburbs around Vancouver.

Surrey, for example, saw 27 per cent of all the new housing build there in a rowhouse form. (So much for all those cranky types who think that every census showing people are moving to the suburbs is some kind of confirmation that it’s a single-family, white-picket-feence, triple-car-garage life they’re moving to.)

But Vancouver somehow skipped over them and, even though they’re clearly a popular form (7,000 built in the last four years in the region overall), the city still lags behind in latching on to this mini-single-family house that serves those who don’t want to be in an apartment but don’t want the big honking single-family yard and house.

As my story makes clear, plenty of people would like to build or buy more. But one thing that came through loud and clear to me, as I talked to most of the developers who do them, was that there’s not going to be a big rush right away. There are a lot of municipal rules in the way — no specific zoning for them, parking HAS to go underground in some municipalities — and, as well, developers have gotten very used to selling rowhouses as parts of stratas.

Many of them said they think that strata is the only form that allows them to build at densities that make the units affordable. Others said buyers actually prefer stratas in many cases, because then an unknown pool of people in the neighbourhood are forced to keep to some basic standard of maintenance. That’s not true with thee freehold rowhouses, where owners are free to maintain, landscape and paint garish colours as they wish.

Is Vancouver really such a strata-minded city as they think? I wonder.



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