Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Life in the Back Lane: Toronto Style
While Vancouver City Council was considering zoning changes to permit laneway housing, I was walking the back lanes of Toronto with Alex Speigel and Mark Guslits. These two old friends, with backgrounds in architecture and property development, both share my fascination with laneway housing. While most of the locations we visited were in the inner city, and quite different in context from Dunbar or East Vancouver, what we found offers lessons for future back lane development in Vancouver, both in terms of what to do, and what not to do.As a general comment, Toronto allows back lane developments only where it has to; namely on lanes with legal addresses. There is no widespread policy encouraging this form of housing. On the contrary, it is generally discouraged, primarily for engineering reasons. But over the years a number of older lane buildings have been renovated, and new units have been built. And numerous studies have been done promoting this form of housing.
I was particularly interested in the opportunities for laneway townhousing, semi detached and zero lot-line applications in certain areas. In some areas, units are built above cars; in others the car parking is beside the home, or on the street. Now that Vancouver Council has approved the zoning changes, it will be fascinating to see what results. If I learned one thing from the Toronto examples, it is don't forget to design for the garbage cans, and don't be afraid to try out different asthetics for the laneway units. Also, don't forget about giving the new home an address! What are we doing in this regard?
The new units do not have to match the old house. Indeed, along Croft Street, an old historic back lane street, the laneway dwellings have created a mews character with great interest and success.
Oh yes, and while this infill unit is not truly a laneway house, I couldn't resist!