Score a ‘Win’ for Vancouver Urbanism

Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royale, Paris 1600)

Fee simple row houses (clear title or free-hold) are finally legal in British Columbia. A building form with its origins in the Renaissance Italy of Andrea Palladio—also used in Baroque Paris; in London as early as the ill fated monarchy of Charles I; as well as being the building type of choice for the most memorable urban neighbourhoods in New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto—can now be built in Canada’s west coast.

” [The Legislative Assembly] finally put through a small legislative amendment – it got royal assent this week – that removes a legal hurdle that had blocked freehold row housing in Vancouver. The legislation will now allow covenants to be registered on land titles requiring owners to maintain their party wall. The covenant will stay in place every time the property changes hands – something the City of Vancouver’s legal department was insistent on having before allowing freehold row houses, even though other municipalities were more permissive.

FRANCES BULA — The Globe and Mail, Jun. 08 2012.

Of course, the new row houses need not resemble the 17th century buildings of Place Royale, (pictured above). These were among the first examples to be built in western urbanism. Vancouver row houses can be expected to break new ground in our city using fresh contemporary architecture while presenting comparative advantages that have so far eluded us.

INCREMENTAL BUILD OUT

We’ve grown used to think of density as requiring land assembly. Land assembly is not necessary to build row houses. Two houses build on a single cottage lot. The traditional dimension for row houses in the UK is 16.5-feet, corresponding exactly to the subdivision of local 33-foot lots into two row houses.

Thus, row houses in Vancouver are a good fit to the platting, or ‘DNA’ of our urbanism. Row houses can build one project at a time, in specially designated areas.

LARGE AND SMALL BUILDERS

The row house can be built either by a large developer or a small builder. This flexibility levels the playing field and can contribute to keeping the cost of housing in check.

FLEXIBILITY OF LAYOUT

A row house can be configured in many different ways, including:

A single family unit (3200 to 4000 s.f.) in size.
Two stacked town houses, (2,000 s.f. each).
One family two-level town (2,000 s.f.), and two one-levels rentals (1,000 s.f. each).
Four stacked suites that rent individually (1,000 s.f. each).
The ground floor can be converted to a business, with the other floors either rental or owner residences.

SOCIAL HOUSING

The flexibility of the row house can best be seen in their ability to function as SRO replacements. A 4-storey row house can be divided into eight suites.  Four will face the front, and four the rear. Each suite can be between 400 and 500 s.f. in size, complete with private bath and kitchen. They can feature in-house suites for staff providing support to residents.

EYES AND DOORS ON THE STREET

Perhaps one of the most important contribution of the row house is putting a door on the street for each unit. Compare that with a walk-up apartment that has one main door, and two side doors, serving some 60 units or more. The ability to have a door yard on the street side, and a rear yard on the lane means that neighbours can keep an eye on their street, and each other. Social life thrives as neighbours get to know each other. Neighbourhood safety increases as they learn to be proactive when something looks like it doesn’t belong there.

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