The sheer diversity of the housing

“[I was struck by]…the sheer diversity of the crowd… to see people across so many diverse ethnic groups celebrating side by side…[was] very uplifting.”

Seattle Times reporter Danny O’Neil
in Vancouver to watch the Stanley Cup finals from Granville St.

Anytime I’m away from Vancouver this absence of an internationally-sourced and blended population often stands out.

This summer, in Portland we enjoyed the numerous old craftsman and Edwardian era homes and neighbourhoods, many streets with 100% of the original homes, their wood-siding in tact.  We live in a similar vintage neighbourhood in (East) Vancouver, but the homes today are much less homogeneity.

A sharp colleague who spends lots of time in Portland suggested that the two phenonmenon are interrelated; Portland has experienced fewer massive waves of immigration over the past 80 years.  In thinking and reading more about the heritage of the area, I think she’s right.

Back in the 1920s, our neighbourhood would have been indistinguishable from those in Portland.  The mostly-European immigrants built their craftsman homes from kits, and using the old growth douglas fir that dominated the Pacific Northwest Landscape as a structural base, and as trim and flooring.  (In my area, and I’m sure in Portland, a few Chinese and Japanese were involved as builders or land developers but left only a limited imprint on the housing landscape).

Today in East Van, only some of those original homes exist in their original state, or restored back to it.  After world war two a wave of southern Europeans from Italy in particular arrived.  They were masons and concrete workers, and gradually covered the unfamiliar-to-them wood siding with concrete stucco.  They paved a portion of the yard with concrete, and planted tomatoes in wood pots.  Some also added grape arbours.

The next wave from Asia (southern China in particular, but also India and SE Asia) helped popularized “the Vancouver special” in the 1960s and 1970s which replaced smaller pre-war homes on many lots.  Two levels and designed to be easily split into two units or house a large extended family, these adaptable homes worked well for the changing needs of immigrant families who often arrived with no money (although often with education or marketable skills).  They could rent out half the house until financial fortunes improved, or they could house extended family to help pay the bills. (Italian and Greek immigrants as well as native born also embraced this housing type in other neighbourhoods of Vancouver for some of the same reasons).

Grander homes, square like, covered in pastel California stucco came next in the 1980s and 1990s, often purchased or developed by a new wave of wealthier immigrants and those who had come earlier and been successful.

Also at this time a more hybrid home appeared, with the two level characteristics but also craftsman-style bay windows, and a wide mix of coverings from brick to stucco to vinyl to wood siding.  These seem to appeal to a range of immigrants as well as the now-grown children of immigrants—who may well be in couples with roots from many different parts of the world and eras of immigration to Vancouver.

I don’t know if this house style has a name (if it does, someone please comment), but for now I’ll call it “The Vancouver Mix” it’s a hybrid of the sheer diversity of the housing and reflects the people.

What’s the housing mix like in your neighbourhood?

As is probably obvious, I have no architectural background (feel free to correct, comment or expand).  But in pondering this over the past few months,  I have a new appreciation for the interrelationship between housing and the cultural and immigration history of a city. Sounds like fodder for a Jane’s Walk next spring.

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