The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City.

Author:Evans, Joshua
Position:Book review
 
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Lauster, Nathanael.

The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 2016. 246 p.

ISBN 978-1439913949

The state of Canada's urban system has come under increasing scrutiny as the effects of overheating real estate markets in Vancouver and Toronto spill over into other Canadian cities, all in the midst of record levels of household consumer debt, an intransigent homelessness problem, increasing reliance on the automobile and growing concerns regarding climate change. One character in this unfolding drama is the single-family house, a ubiquitous feature of the North American urban landscape, but one with special significance in the current conjuncture. In his new and timely book The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City University of British Columbia sociologist Nathanael Lauster traces the rise of the single-family house and in the process unpacks how this current conjuncture came about, how urban residents are coping, and what can be learned.

This book will be of interest to readers looking to expand their understanding of city planning, suburbanization, and urban sustainability. Clearly written, thoroughly researched and well documented, the book is well suited to a broad audience including casual readers, undergraduate students and graduate students. The book is organized into an introduction and eight substantive chapters, each presenting a unique analysis. The book also includes a detailed appendix outlining Lauster's data sources and research methods, which on its own is an illuminating resource.

In chapters one and two, Lauster begins by laying out an original argument regarding the rise of the single-family house; namely, that the proliferation of the single-family home, as a cultural symbol, commoditised form and concrete space, can be explained in terms of how the detached house was written into zoning bylaws, building codes, fire codes and other related bylaws. Moreover, Lauster stresses that these regulatory practices are not only important for understanding the spread of the single-family house but that this spatial form can be interpreted as a regulatory-creature in and of itself. As a regulatory creature built by municipal governments seeking to quell urban disorder, the single-family home has created its own habitat--the great housing reserve--largely to the detriment of urban affordability...

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