I have recently helped start a company building Laneway Homes in Kamloops. Laneway Homes are a fantastic way to build density in really small increments in urban areas. They are a way for even the most middle class of us to make a big difference to the livability of our city. The houses we build are near net-zero energy usage and carbon neutral. They do not cost any more than any other house. They infill for density creating greener lifestyles. They create high quality downtown rental possibilities and a lower rung on the property ladder than downtown has been able to provide in the market. Building a Laneway House on your property has the ability to enhance your neighborhood, your property value and your carbon footprint. In the context of this blog though, there is alot more going on here;

Laneway Housing in Kamloops has its common association with Vancouver, but in fact Laneway Housing primarily has its roots in early 16th Century London. As West London was rapidly developing around the River Thames and the palaces along Whitehall, the ‘abode de jour’ for the upper classes we’re 6-7 story Row Houses. Great examples of this aristocratic housing still survive all over West London, from Covent Garden to Westbourne Grove. The Row Housing model was physically mandated at that time to be built on a human scale, even for the richest of the city. They we’re required to build up in order to shorten the distances in order for services and resources to be accessible and convenient. Take this example; at the height of growth in the 18th Century, when the only method of transportation was by foot or by horse, the center of London from the periphery was half a days journey. This was the limit of its growth, as the people in the center of the city would be unable to purchase wood or coal to heat the house, or food to eat, or beer to drink, etc. Even this growth was already achieved at a very dense scale. These limits forced further densification. Originally, most of the poor would live in the outskirts of the city, or seedy industrial areas of East or South London, but it became necessary to get the rich persons servants into the centre of the city.

Alleyways, called Mews, we’re constructed the whole way through the luxury row house development, to accommodate stables, storage and other service entrances. These Mews buildings we’re renovated to provide some accommodation above the stables for the servants of the house. Often only a couple rooms and housing as many as 6 servants, the quarters we’re cramped and smelly above the horses, however it provided both employer and employee with a new degree of convenience with the shorter commutes and safer accommodation. The rich areas of town did not become any less safe, in fact they became more safe with the increase of “eyes on the street”. Many of the poor servants now lived in a place where the females would be comfortable walking the streets in the early morning or late night, and the same for their children.

With the advent of the train system, the London Underground, then OmniBuses and later still the automobile, the Mews Houses we’re incrementally taken over in entirety to become houses in the alleyways. They also often became independent quarters for low-level professionals who purchased the homes from Landlords in the Row Houses whos fortunes we’re failing. The transition started.

As London experienced fantastic growth starting post-WW2, and again in the 1960’s, and to the extreme in the 80’s, the Row Houses facing the streets we’re purchased by property developers to covert each level into “flats”. Few Row Houses remain intact in Londons West End, however the Mews Houses do. The Mews Houses are now some of the most desirable real estate in the city. The transition to the Mews Houses was not purely economic though, and the attractiveness of the address is not purely economically stimulated at all. As the city hit heights of population density in the 60’s to such a discomforting degree, the streets became crowded with fast moving vehicles and hundreds of pedestrians. In contrast the Mews Houses stayed on narrow back lanes, unsuitable for fast moving vehicle traffic. The Mews became an oasis of quiet and calm in the bustling city.

It is clear that Kamloops will require extreme densification to accommodate a growing population and diversifying economy. Kamloops’ climate and natural resources make it an efficient geography in which to live regardless of the effects that may or may not be felt from Climate Change and Peak Oil. Current Capital Scarcity make downtown “skyscrapers” difficult to build, as do rising resource costs.  Both in the long and short terms, Kamloops is going to need to accommodate many, on its existing infrastructure. Laneway Homes start that transition.

These Laneway Houses may be an affordable housing solution immediately, provide a fantastic retirement residence for someone who wants to age in place, or even just create safer alleyways in Downtown and North Shore areas, but they are an established way to treat problems of the present, with a solution that can be adaptable centuries into the future, as London has shown us.

Find out more info about Laneways4Kamloops at laneways4kamloops.blogspot.ca or call Mitchell at 778.220.9090

Some London Mews:

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