|The death of the Calgary bungalow
Homes in older communities are disappearing at an alarming rate, should anything be done to save them?
Some of Calgarys oldest communities are taking on a kind of development split-personality old neighbourhoods, filled for years with modest bungalows, are being invaded at a stunning rate by redeveloped infills.
To some, this is a sign that the citys sprawling suburban growth is slowing. It shows that people are making an effort to live in older neighbourhoods closer to downtown, which helps revitalize aging communities and puts less pressure on city infrastructure.
But others worry this growth is threatening the character of communities. Although thousands of smaller homes still reside in communities surrounding the downtown core, like Mission, Bridgeland and Altadore, some think they are being bulldozed at such a rate that a whole chapter in the citys history is being erased.
Bungalows typify Calgary more than most North American cities. During the citys mid-century boom the citys population went from 104,000 in 1948 to 206,000 a decade later the one-storey dwellings multiplied quickly because they were inexpensive to build and there were few natural obstacles to restrain outward growth.
As a result, a whole generation of everyday Calgarians grew up living in houses that were very similar to each other. There were variations, but most were modestly sized one-storey dwellings that resided on generously sized lots.
Today, those houses are ubiquitous, and often frowned upon for their generic appearance. But Vivian Sampson, president of the Chinook Country Historical Society, thinks more should be done to ensure that at least a few of the thousands of bungalows that remain arent torn down or moved out of the city.
"They are the houses that people were born in and lived in. They've got character. Commercial buildings are fine, but what about the houses people grew up in? It's just a shame people don't recognize the value."
Sampson says the value of some older houses in Calgary has been recognized she points to the house near 4th Street S.W. and Elbow Drive that was once home to two former Alberta premiers, William Aberhart and Ernest Manning, and the Nellie McClung house on 16th Avenue S.W. but she thinks the everyday homes that so many regular Calgarians grew up in need some help, too. She would like to see a block or two of typical residential dwellings from each era of the city preserved somewhere in the city.
Dr. Bev Sandalack, an urban design professor at the University of Calgary, says those on both sides of the debate should be able to coexist. She likes the idea of bringing more people into the inner-city through redevelopments and infills, but says it could be done in a better way.
Sandalack thinks theres plenty of unused land in and around Calgarys inner-city that could be developed without having to tear down existing housing. She explains that the city needs better incentives to encourage companies to develop the worst land first an important principle in urban design. But at the same time, she also worries about Calgarys heritage.
"I do quite a bit of travelling and whenever I come back, it always seems to me that Calgary doesnt have a sense of historical connectivity. Were not leaving a record of our historical evolution," she says. "You come to the city and it seems like everything has been built at the same time. Thats an exaggeration, but
it just takes a vision and a will to do something about it."
Sandalack argues that the problem isnt necessarily that Calgary doesnt do enough to preserve its older buildings, its just that new developments arent built with enough foresight.
"Not an act of preservation, but building things to last," she says. "(We need to) turn our minds around
so we dont have this mentality that things are built to be torn down and built again. We need to think about the city as a long-term project."
She calls the idea of the "starter home" a prime example of an attitude that needs to change.
"When you buy a starter home, you have to automatically think of moving up. And if you dont move up, youre some kind of a loser," she explains. "You dont make an investment in the community. It creates a temporary atmosphere."
But Stephen Barnecut, a partner in Alloy Homes, a development company that builds many inner-city homes and infills, says the city isnt doing enough to encourage inner-city redevelopment.
He believes Calgary bylaws are too restrictive. They only allow two infills to be put up on one 50-foot lot. He thinks three-unit townhomes, each with a distinct look and style similar to those common in Eastern Canada would make better use of the big lots in Calgarys older communities.
"Every time we develop a 50-foot lot with a bungalow and subdivide it, we have another family that doesn't have to live in the suburbs," he points out. "That's great for transportation, infrastructure. It creates community.... It's better living."
But even Barnecut who acknowledged his bias in wanting more inner-city development says something should be done to preserve the bungalow.
"I'm a strong supporter of preservation, but preservation on a large scale as opposed to one house next to a sky rise.... I like the idea of a few streets that are representative of the bungalow development characteristic of the mid-20th century."
Ald. Madeleine King says the debate puts the city in a difficult situation. She explains that balancing the need to accommodate more people in the inner-city something she believes the city should be encouraging with the preservation of older homes is a tricky proposition. Its difficult, and frowned upon, to force private homeowners to do anything to preserve their own property, and homeowners are often quick to bulldoze their old bungalows for an upgrade.
"I find it a real conundrum," King says. "I suppose if theyre infills, then yes, I love them, and if the old can be preserved, I love it, too.
"I think the difficulty is in interfering with peoples rights to deal with their own property."
The good thing about the debate is that Calgary has time to deal with it. Although old neighbourhoods are changing quickly, Barnecut points out that theres still no immediate risk of Calgary running out of bungalows.
"I think people tend not to appreciate the bungalow.... It's well represented still, but if we don't look out for it there won't be anything left of it," he says. "That may take a good century or so, but it's still architecturally significant. It's especially representative of that time of huge suburban growth in the city."