Vancouver’s Lane System in Orange

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A Vancouver Lane

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If you travel down Vancouver’s myriad lanes literally hundreds of miles of unique sites await you. Unlike their more presentable street front counterparts, lanes hide our more casual, grungier and quirkier sides.  That, and their more intimate, human scale is why they are so deeply appealing – to me at least.  For me Vancouver’s back lanes look as if the tenderly neglected streets of  Strathcona were secretly unravelled behind every proper/boring block of  upright houses.  They are our Hu Tongs, quiet refuges from striving to ‘keep up appearances’.  So naturally I have mixed feelings about their gentrification as Laneway Mews festooned with cute little mini houses and micro gardens.  Like all gentrification we’re drawn by the gritty charm and then do our best to destroy it.

Sure, as a sustainable architect I love the compact scale and there’s already some very cool Laneway homes out there.  But I also see the kind of creeping meatballism * that plagues most of our new houses: cute but fake historicist theming. I mean I like Craftsman as much as the next guy, but not 100 years after the fact.  Let’s have the courage to live in our own era and not always in the McLuanist rear view mirror. My wife pops my pompous modernist balloon by pointing out that neo mid-century modern is just as inauthentic as fake tudor but …it sure feels less fake (rant over).  At any rate we should beware of making too many twee Laneway homes because they’re cute enough by being small ergo no need to embellish.

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So if we don’t turn our lanes into a linear Disneyland then the potential for a Strathcona/Kits style humanism, a kind of unDunbar, is huge. And let’s give the planners in Vancouver a lot of credit for recognizing and fostering the neighbourliness quotient of these wannabe Mews.  While I have heard many west-side-soccer-parent express angst about the ‘Laneway house peril’ encroaching on their lifestyles, I completely disagree. Done thoughtfully Vancouver’s new Mews will be as charming and cherished as their, albeit denser, London antecedents. Think of it as a completely parallel Vancouver universe only smaller, friendlier, greener and slower than the one we have now.  Imagine a stroll down an intimate, textured and human-scaled place where speeding cars literally don’t fit in.   I’m willing to bet when these little hoods get rolling that is where most of us will want to hang out.

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Typical London Mews

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