Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Signing off on a new approach to city livin'

So, when I wrote the first blog post about a month ago I thought that I'd be writing about what Brendon and I did today - sign a contract. Instead, I ended up giving you the details on his motorcycle accident. Well, now four weeks into his recovery life is beginning to return to normal and we finally had the time to reschedule a meeting with Smallworks (the company we'll be working with to build our home) and today we officially committed to build!

But really, the story of today started almost one year ago when we found out that the City of Vancouver was expanding its approach to urban density. Vancouver has developed a reputation in Canada and worldwide as a city that as sucessfully managed to concentrate a whole lot of people into a small amount of space. In fact, the city is the third most densily populated urban centre North America after San Fransisco and New York. Now most us when we think of 'density' think of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. If this is your version of Vancouver, you wouldn't be too far from the truth. Starting in the 1950s the city began to build high rise residential towers in the downtown core. From there they launched into a less imposing form of density - mixed use development where they combined commercial space with residential apartments and office rentals. Last year, pursuing its goal of becoming the greenest city in the world, Vancouver took ecodensity to the next level and introduced basement suites, secondary apartments and laneway homes.

I like to call this new approach "density with dignity". Rather than sticking us all in towers hundreds of meters off the ground and away from all of the street life, these new policies are reinventing ways for us to share space close to the ground . Laneway houses, in particular, are an innovative way to think about our backyards and how they can be used differently by turning lawns into small homes.

Right from the start, when we began doing the research in August last year, we saw how difficult it was going to be to figure out how to make this happen. Since this policy is brand new, and only a handful have been built, everybody (including the city planners, engineers, architechs, surveyors, builders, utility companies) are all trying to figure out how to make a mini home happen. Add to the mix the fact that Brendon and I don't own the property but are just building on the land and suddenly you enter into a labyrinth of questions around permits, financing, land title, building practices and public support. The absence of information is one of our motivations for doing the blog and hopefully a reason for others to read it too. Over the next few weeks we'll be telling you about how we are financing the project, what we're doing to protect our relationship with Brendon's parents and the prep work you need to do to get a permit.

So, with $3000 less in our bank account and a commitment to take make the yard a home, we begin the journey happily into the void, in the pursuit of density with dignity.


  1. WOW. Great stuff guys...congrats on getting started!

  2. i am late coming to this blog, but i find it fascinating already! all of my friends are talking about moving up in size while my husband and i are trying to find a smaller space. i feel so out of sync with everyone, so i am hoping your blog teaches us a few tricks. cheers.