How Our Homes Shape Society
Is a monster home built on a bungalow lot an improvement?
By Tom Grinnell
"I would never move to Thunder Bay because there aren't any two-storey houses there!"
I remember as a child exclaiming this to my cousin who was from Thunder Bay. Many of the homes in Thunder Bay tend to be single-storey, detached homes, on large suburban-style lots. Much like in Scarborough.
My cousin laughed and thought I was spoiled and being ridiculous. And I was.
As much as I dislike urban sprawl and the suburban street layout that took over Toronto in the 1950s and 60s, I've now become a defender of the single-storey bungalow. The bungalow is neither beautiful architecturally nor a good use of urban space. But for me it represents a time when people could afford to live, dream, and have a modest home to call their own.
However, the suburban bungalow also represents unfettered growth and sprawl. For many urban thinkers, the bungalow on a 50-foot-wide lot should serve as a reminder that we need not make the same mistakes twice when it comes to planning our city's future—low density and widely spread infrastructure that serves too few.
Our infrastructure is at a point of crisis in this city. Our roads are bursting with traffic at all hours of the day, and our transit system has failed to keep up with the continued population and real estate development growth of the city. These are major problems affecting the health of our city.
While poor planning and lack of investment in our infrastructure (namely public transit) are most certainly issues that have ailed Toronto for some time, I propose that these problems are symptoms of the much larger issue of unsustainable growth, both in terms of our economy and our population.
The dominant economic mantra of our time has been that we must continue to grow the economy. Our economy is founded upon the principle of economic growth. And the growth is seen to be endless. If an economy is not growing, it must be dying.
We need this to change.
The world's resources are limited, yet there seems to be no real limit on how much we continue to grow. People continue to migrate to Toronto in unsustainable numbers. Yet our infrastructure remains the same, and the availability of housing becomes even tighter and more unaffordable.
Developers bulldoze old bungalows that once housed families of six and replace them with monster homes to house three people and a golden retriever.
The idea of economic growth to me feels like a massive Ponzi scheme, and we're all caught up in it. It feels completely unsustainable and impossible.
Politicians at all levels of government, both left and right have adopted the mantra of economic growth. Some throw in the word "sustainable" when talking about economic growth. A bit of an oxymoron? The earth's resources are finite—continued growth, sustainable or not, is irresponsible.
I'm ready to change the mantra. Let's start talking about a sustainable economy, and a sustainable city. Forget growth. Let's work with what we have to improve everyone's quality of life. I want us all to live sustainably.
I am skeptical every time a bungalow is razed to make way for a monster home in the neighbourhood. I'm concerned every time a property is subdivided and split into smaller parcels. I am doubtful our infrastructure can continue to sustain this growth.
Even if we were to build LRTs and subways on every major street in Toronto, I would still wonder how we got to this point. I wonder today, when we will have that difficult conversation about ending growth and embracing sustainability. Perhaps once that conversation happens, then we can begin to build the prosperous, healthy, and equal city that we all deserve.