Friday, January 21, 2022

EXPO 2020 DUBAI, January 18, 2022

I'm in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I'm here, in part, because when I was a 12-year-old boy, I spent a lot of time with my stamp collection.

The thing about collecting stamps is that it offers the collector a view of the world he or she would not normally experience.

In my case, I fantasized about visiting Mozambique, Azerbaijan, Sarawak, and Senegal. I didn’t fantasize about the United Arab Emirates since it did not even exist at the time.

But inspired by my stamp collection I have always wanted to travel the world. In 1969 I set off for Iran, but only made it as far as Rome. However, in 2007 Sally and I decided to travel for a year and booked an around the world trip on Emirates Airline. We booked Emirates since Dubai was the place I most wanted to see as an architect. After spending a few days there, I realized it was Disneyland for architects. 

I should note that I have always been fascinated by World Fairs since they bring the world together in one place and offer a glimpse into the future. While Expo 67 was my first, and EXPO 86 the most significant, over the years I’ve attended Expo 1998 in Lisbon, 2010 in Shanghai, 2012 in Yeosu, 2017 in Astana (but just after it ended).

So, when it was announced seven years ago that Dubai would host the 2020 World Fair, I decided then that I would try and attend.

(For those interested, 2023 will be in Buenos Aries and I’ll hopefully be there since I love that city, and 2025 is in Osaka, a city I have missed on my previous trips to Japan.}

One day Gordon Price heard about my intention to attend EXPO2020 and asked if he and his partner Len could join me. Of course, I said, and his travel agent started to arrange the best dates, flights, and hotel. Tragically, Gordon contracted Covid before our departures, so I had to set off on my own. He now plans to go later this month.

The 3 main themes for this EXPO are sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. I'll write more about this soon, but in the meantime suffice it to say that notwithstanding the stress of waiting for Covid test results and two overnight flights to get her over two days, I am so very pleased to be here.

Much more to come.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Why fee-simple row houses can be a good option Vancouver Sun January 14, 2022


Comment: Why fee-simple row houses can be a good option

This type of housing deserves to be a more available choice, writes Michael Geller

The Cowie Rowhouses-the only 3 fee-simple rows built in Vancouver in recent memory

These Toronto row houses are individually owned and not part of a condominium. PHOTO BY MICHAEL GELLER /PNG One of literally dozens, if not hundreds of projects in Toronto
While not certain if these Calgary units are fee-simple, they do include lock-off basement suites. These are often referred to as 'London Basements'

A realtor recently sent me this new example in Port Coquitlam. Five units on a 50 x 120 foot lot!

Publishing date: Jan 14, 2022  •  1 day ago  •  3 minute read  •   Join the conversation

Many single-family homeowners are ready to downsize, but they are not yet ready for an apartment. And while a traditional row house may seem like an obvious alternative, all but a very few in the region are, in fact, condominiums.

While condominium living can offer a carefree lifestyle with numerous benefits, not everyone wants to pay strata fees for someone to cut their grass or deal with a potentially difficult strata council president.

What most future row house buyers do not appreciate is that row houses need not be part of a condominium. In fact, throughout the world, attached forms of housing are nearly always individually owned ‘fee-simple’ dwellings. (Fee-simple ownership means the property is yours to do with as you wish. Your only obligations are to obey the law, including local zoning laws and building codes.)

One difference between a fee-simple row house and a single-family house is a shared or party wall between you and your neighbour. Therefore, a ‘Party Wall Agreement’ needs to be registered on the title to prevent one owner from knocking down the wall that supports their neighbour’s home.

While most new row house developments in British Columbia are condominiums, there are new developments with individually owned attached row houses. But not many. In fact, within the last 50 years, only three fee-simple row houses have been built in Vancouver.

Whenever I speak or write about the benefits of fee-simple row houses, I am repeatedly asked why more developers are not building this seemingly desirable form of housing. There are a few reasons.

First, they often cost more to build. That is because instead of one sewer and water hook-up for a row of homes, some municipalities – including Vancouver and West Vancouver – insist on individual hook-ups for each unit.

However, this is not necessary. In Toronto and other jurisdictions, municipalities allow a single connection to a row of homes provided cross easement agreements are registered on the title.

Second, fee-simple row houses usually do not comply with existing zoning and subdivision bylaws. As a result, a developer must be prepared for a time-consuming and costly rezoning and subdivision process. Fortunately, some progressive municipalities, like Nanaimo, are now changing their bylaws to facilitate both zoning and subdivision for individually owned row houses.

Third, the current system of municipal fees was not designed with fee-simple row houses in mind. As a result, municipalities often charge higher fees for individually owned row houses, which may be the same as those charged for larger single-family houses on larger lots.

Finally, most developers simply prefer to build what they have built in the past or copy what other developers are building.

While the upfront cost of fee-simple row houses may be higher, ongoing operating costs are generally lower since there are no monthly strata fees. Moreover, each homeowner has greater control over the maintenance of their home. They can decide when to replace the roof rather than leave it up to a strata council with different priorities. And, of course, there is no strata council to complain about the size of your dog or whether you planted the wrong type of flowers in front of your home.

Fee-simple row houses are not for everyone, especially those who don’t want to cut their grass or fix their roof and gutters. But they can and should be another housing choice for homebuyers seeking alternatives to a single-family house or apartment.

For this to happen, however, municipal officials and politicians need to modify their outdated zoning and subdivision bylaws and fee schedules.

Furthermore, potential buyers must let developers and governments know they want to see this type of housing offered in their communities.

Michael Geller is a Vancouver-based planner, real estate consultant and retired architect. He serves on the Adjunct Faculty of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and School of Resource and Environmental Management. He writes a regular blog at and can be found on Twitter @michaelgeller

Thanks to my editor Mary-Beth Roberts at the Vancouver Sun for helping to make this such a coherent and succinct read!