Beautiful south Vancouver neighbourhoods marred by controversial development

Built in 1909, East Vancouver’s Brookhouse is the city’s second oldest building, but even it isn’t safe.

Homes in south Vancouver are collapsing under teardown contracts that are demolishing the city’s oldest homes to make room for larger, newer properties owned by foreign buyers.

Many of Vancouver’s residential areas once contained unique character homes built in the 20’s and 30’s that remain liveable and safe. But residents in neighbourhoods where these homes stood have noticed that they are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Janice Kreider is a Dunbar area resident who started a blog in 2010 that chronicles the demolition projects in her neighbourhood alone, called Disappearing Dunbar. She believes that the new properties are harming the neighbourhood in more ways than one – besides removing beautiful old homes, they are also decreasing density, since most of the homes aren’t being lived in.

“The global market has decided somehow that Dunbar is the place to go, and global buyers want something new,” Kreider said. “If it was built in the 20’s or 30’s it’s torn down. Their footprint isn’t the maximum you could have on the lot.”

She said the city mostly just dumps the remains from the old houses in landfills. “The lumber is excellent lumber. These older homes from the 20’s and 30’s are on the whole solidly built.”

Homes being demolished still contain valuable building material

Kreider isn’t oblivious of the temptation for homeowners to sell their old homes for a lot more than they were originally worth, but she believes that if a homeowner cares about their community it can be a tough decision. “We know we could sell our homes that were built in the 30’s, 20’s or early 40’s quickly, and they’ve gone up in price 20 to 50 times what we paid for them,” she said. “But if we feel strongly about the quality of our neighbourhood, it might be a solution for us personally but it’s not a solution for the neighbourhood.”

While the city seems content to continue demolishing the old homes that fill its neighbourhoods, blogs like Kreider’s, citizen organizations like the Dunbar Resident’s Association, and online organizations show that residents are concerned about the future of their neighbourhoods.

Vancouver Vanishes is a Facebook page dedicated to listing old homes that have disappeared, or are expected to get demolished soon. “It’s happening all over the city, but generally houses on bigger lots are targeted,” says Vancouver Vanishes founder Caroline Adderson.

Adderson believes that one of the most harmful aspects of the constant demolitions is the environmental impact. “This trend is grotesquely ungreen. Almost 1,000 houses, built of natural materials including old growth wood, are sent to the landfill every year in this city, along with every green thing on the lot – 50 tonnes of waste per home, not including concrete. They are replaced with much larger homes of mostly synthetic material. New builds are more than eight times more wasteful than renovations,” Adderson said.

Unnecessary demolition and renovation is harmful to the environment 

“There is some pretty dubious math going on at City Hall if they claim we’re going to be the greenest city by 2020.”

While the great majority of the homes are in terrific shape, they continue to disappear to make room for larger homes, and homeowners like Kreider and Adderson are hoping that the city starts understanding that residents value the presence of these character homes in their neighbourhoods.

It’s the character of these old homes that Adderson finds irreplaceable. “Beauty, character, workmanship, a sense of history and narrative. The old house was lived in. A house holds the stories of all the people who have ever lived in it.”

Reported by Garin Fahlman and Brian Horstead

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