The Struggle for Little Mountain: Why You Should Help!

The struggle for Little Mountain…and my memories of Little Norway

I spent some of my early years in emergency housing in Little Norway in Toronto (right next to the Maple Leaf Stadium). Toronto was experiencing a massive post-war housing shortage and an Emergency Housing Program was implemented, making housing available to returning veterans. It made  a powerful impression on me. I remember it well, though I was only three years old when we moved in and five when we left. We lived in barracks that had been occupied during the War by personnel from the Norwegian Air Force. The site was at the front of Bathurst Street near the Lake. Some of the Stanley Barracks buildings were demolished and others converted to family housing for civilian use. Several families were living there by July 1946, when this photo of me was taken.


By August 1947, 772 people were living there, with many families with children. Lots of children! Some residents complained about unsanitary living conditions and lack of sufficient heating. Rents were $25 to $40 a month! (We paid $25.)



I remember that my mother was ashamed and fearful. Little Norway, she felt, was beneath her. She came from an upper-middle-class established family in leafy, sedate Orillia. Even a small child could sense that her mother felt she was slipping into a lower class. She wondered how and why she’d ended up in such a desperate and barren place. Her son had died at birth the year before and she was fragile and anxious. I now realise that she was chronically depressed.

My Daddy had just returned from the War. He’d been a RCAF wireless operator. He was not ashamed. He accepted his responsibility for military service (he was much too old to be drafted and had enlisted). Little Norway was, by his account, the only housing he could find during an acute city-wide housing shortage. We were eligible and he took it.

 

Camp Little Norway 1940

Camp Little Norway 1940, as a Norwegian Air base

Polio

I remember living in constant terror of polio. The young boy in the next apartment had it and he was crippled by it. I had to keep my distance from him. The hygiene of the shared bathrooms that were only occasionally cleaned also frightened my mother. She was often frightened and anxious for my health and safety. Our stay at Little Norway was short — not more than two years. And in just over three years, I had a baby sister and we were living in a brand new house in Vancouver!

 

 

 

 

 

Little Norway Housing for Returned Servicemen and their Families, 1946

Little Norway Emergency Housing, 1945

Little Norway Park

Little Norway housing is no more.

 

There’s a waterfront park where our housing once stood. See: https://www.yelp.com.au/biz/little-norway-park-toronto




It does not feel right to me to find a park there when I visit in 2006 but I guess it’s progress. And cities always need parks. They were barracks, after all, not really permanent housing for families. But to me, as a small child, it was “home”.


I remember picking mushrooms in the neighbouring Coronation Park with my grandmother and marveling at how she could discern between an edible mushroom and a toadstool.



Little Norway was fine with me and I was fine with Little Norway. To me, it was big, not little. It had a big impact on my life.

 

Young Wendy in Little Norway ca. 1945

Young Wendy in Coronation Park near Little Norway, summer 1946

 

 

 

 



I am certain that this early exposure to the fear and stigma of housing for disadvantaged people made a profound impact on me and sensitised me to important social housing issues.

 

Here are some of my drawings, based on my memories (and one photo).

 

Little Norway from memory
Little Norway from memory

Little Norway site plan from memory

Little Norway site plan from memory





From Little Norway to Little Mountain


You can see that it’s not surprising that I’m a strong supporter of Vancouver  documentary filmmaker, David Vaisbord, who is giving everything he has to tell the compelling story of the Little Mountain

housing project in Vancouver.


 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign

 

David Vaisbord has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help complete a documentary that has been six years in the making.

See:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/little-mountain-film/x/3510216

 

David’s story is a poignant one. Little Mountain is not a little story either. It’s a huge story and one we all need to know about. Understand. And share.

 

Had I been living in Toronto when Little Norway housing was bulldozed to make way for private housing and a public park, I’d have been seeking a heart-present filmmaker like David to help with the activist project of saving — or at least documenting — this precious gem of Toronto’s history.

 

Maybe more than just documentation could have been the outcome. As is the case with Little Mountain.

 

David Vaisbord’s project

 

David’s project has resulted in much more than documentation. That’s the magic of it.

 

David’s story of Little Mountain goes like this.    When the British Columbia government began tearing down the buildings at Vancouver’s oldest social housing complex, they had evicted everyone except three families, which refused to leave: a woman and her aged mother, two blind senior citizens, and a pensioner and her cat.  Together with the immense support of their community, the residents won the right to stay in the last row house on Little Mountain until new housing was built.


Summer time at Little Mountain

Summer time at Little Mountain

Mother and child on the grass, Little Mountain

Mother and child on the grass, Little Mountain

 

 

The action by the residents of Little Mountain and the community had a powerful impact that resonates today around the work.    Their activism – supported by the documentary filmmaker —  resulted in changes to Vancouver’s municipal bylaws.  


Finally, when the British Columbia Government tried a second time to evict the last tenants, the residents and their supporters staged an even stronger fight. And, with the help of their community, they brought a final defeat to the eviction process.

 

 

 

A sunny day at Little Mountain

A sunny day at Little Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


New housing

As a direct result of their courage and resolve, 54 units of NEW SOCIAL HOUSING for senior citizens are being completed on the site.

It’s the only new housing to be built on the 16-acre site.  It’s a triumph of community activism and it’s a story that needs to be told around the world.

 

We all need to hear about examples of “the study of success”, as Australian urbanist High Stretton called it, to keep our activist fires alight.

 

Vaisbord’s documentary will be complete once the former tenants move out of the last row house and into their new building.

 

I am eager to support this important project because there’s an inspiring and compelling story to be told about how a government was taught an important lesson about ethics and compassion at the hands of its most vulnerable citizens.

 

David Vaisbord is hoping to raise $50,000.

 

The money will go towards shooting final scenes, interviews, editing, and post-production.

 

David is offering perks that range from a precious ounce of Ground Social Housing, to a day-long workshop in hyperlocal documentary filmmaking, to an invitation to a personal dinner prior to the film’s premiere.

 

Are you able to support his important project? If you are, please visit his site before June 23rd, the closing date of the campaign!

 

For more information

See: The Little Mountain Film:    https://www.littlemountainfilm.com/  for more information and a link to the four-minute trailer on the campaign site.

 

Additional information can be  found on the campaign’s Facebook site at:  https://www.facebook.com/LittleMountainFilm

 

Contact David directly

Or contact David directly at his gmail account:  [email protected]

 

David Vaisbord in front of the last building

David Vaisbord in front of the last building




With all my heart I believe that this is a project worth supporting.

 

All of us who value public housing — and housing security generally — should cheer on this brilliant community-led initiative. And support David’s important documentary film.



Please Spare Manitoba!

 

Manitoba in the early days
Manitoba in the early days

 

What now?

 

I never thought I’d see the day! One of the best examples of medium-density housing in Australia is up for redevelopment! How can this be?

 

Where is our memory?

 

Is new always better?

 

Don’t we know what’s good when we see it?

 

 

One of my fears about the redevelopment of this site is that the shared open space will be lost.

It’s the heart and soul of Manitoba and it’s its best feature.

Removing shared open space: a fashion we’d be best to forget!

A fashion in the development nowadays, promoted by New Urbanists seeking to maximize developers’ profits, is to remove shared space from higher density housing. This is such a massive social error that it defies understanding.

The hierarchy of open space

It is generally accepted by social designers that there is a hierarchy of open space in any urban or residential area.

 

First, there is private open space (the balconies, yards, courtyards, terraces, decks, patios and other private outdoor spaces that are associated with a private dwelling).

 

Second is shared open space, the territory of a group of dwellings and the primary play space for pre-schoolers.

 

Finally, we have public open space, which can be accessed by anyone: parks, plazas, community gardens and any other pace that does not belong to a specific dwelling or group of dwellings.

 

For many years — decades, actually, New Urbanist designers and developers, bent on “neo-traditionalist” designs and grid road patterns, have sought to remove the central level of the hierarchy: shared open space. They argue that the function of shared open space can easily be taken up by neighbourhood parks. The reasons are clearly about profit maximisation, as there are not legitimate other reasons fro removing this space or violating the integrity of a hierarchy that has stood the test of time.

 

All the recent research on natural pay, child development and “Nature-Deficit Disorder” focuses on the importance of “near nature” in the early years fo a child’s life. And, with the increase in single-parent families and many parents experiencing post-partum depression and feeling uncomfortable about venturing into the the wider urban domain, this piece of nature is all the more important.

Ian Hannaford

One of the best examples of shared open space is the beautiful public housing estate designed in the 1970s by South Australian architect, Ian Hannaford: the Manitoba development. The care and sensitivity of this design have made it a popular site for visits by overseas planners and architects for decades.

 

Ian Hannaford
Ian Hannaford

 

The care with with Hannaford (and the Housing Trust planners and architects who assisted him) provided for natural surveillance (“eyes on the street”) from the neighboring  dwellings while allowing residents to maximise their privacy, spoke to a sensitivity that we rarely see in current housing designs.

The subtle but sensitive approaches to “cut-out” fencing allowed residents to add to their fencing and/or provide landscaping if they sought greater privacy chose not to participate in the chidlrne’s play in the central shared space.

 

Cut-out fencing allows views out or privacy
Cut-out fencing allows views out or privacy

 

Qualities of shared open space

Clare Cooper Marcus, a specialist in this field and now an Emerita Professor, argues that shared open space must have specific qualities. It   can be a highly significant component of the neighborhood landscape if it meets the following criteria:

 

(1)                 It is bounded by the dwellings it serves and is clearly not a public park;

 

(2)         Entry points into this space from a public street or sidewalk are designed so that it is clear that one is entering a setting which is not public space;

 

(3)         Its dimensions and the height-to-width ratio of buildings to outdoor space create a human-scaled setting;

 

(4)         Each dwelling unit bounding the shared outdoor space has access to an adequately sized private outdoor space (patio, yard, balcony) which forms a buffer between the residence and the common area;

 

(5)         There are clear boundaries and easy access between what is private (dwelling unit, patio, yard) and what is shared;

 

(6)         As much care is focused on the layout, circulation patterns, planting plan, furnishings, lighting, etc., of the shared outdoor space as is normally focused on the dwelling interiors. In particular, the design needs to focus on children (play equipment, paths for wheeled vehicles, areas for exploratory play, etc.) since research shows that children will comprise more than 80% of the users of such spaces if they are designed with the above criteria in mind.

 

(7)         The scale of such a space can vary from the urban, rectilinear courtyards of St. Francis Square to the more rambling suburban greenways of Village Homes as long as all the above six guidelines are followed, thus ensuring that the space is perceived as unambiguously neither private nor public, but shared.

 

The arguments in favour of shared open space can be summarised as follows:

 

Arguments for shared open space

 

  1. CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design): Capable guardianship possible within territory controlled by residents
  • Children are vulnerable users of residential environment

 

  • Do not always understand which places are safe for them to use

 

  • Can be victims of predatory practices

 

  • Parental fears can inhibit children’s use of the environment (Paul Tranter)

 

  • Attention to CPTED principles will reduce potential for limiting children’s independent mobility

 

 

  1. Education for sustainability: Microcosm of the wider environmental world: essential for child’s environmental literacy and ethical development

 

  • Diversity of urban environment: learning ground for children’s ecological values

 

  • Environments that communicate   sustainability are important

 

  • Educate children (and adults) to value sustainability

 

  • Valuing sustainability and intergenerational equity communicates that we value children and their futures

 

  • Children grow into ecologically literate and responsible adults

 

  • The environment is a communicating medium.

 

  • It communicates what we value.

 

  1. Child development and safety: Microcosm of the wider social world: necessary for child’s social and physical development

 

    • Shared space is microcosm of the wider social world: necessary for child’s physical and social development

 

  1. Equity and cultural diversity: Young children in some households (and some young girls) not permitted to go alone beyond sight and calling distance of home

 

Young children in some households (and some young girls) not permitted beyond sight and calling distance of home without an adult

  • Males tend to dominate outdoor play

 

  • Older boys and teenagers will dominate most attractive play areas

 

  • Girls play less often in parks than boys do

 

  • Girls tend to play significantly closer         to home

 

Children (especially girls) need opportunities for private social play

 

Summary:

 

CPTED:

  • Clear sense of territory: what is private or shared (reduces excuse-making)
  • Recognising (and confronting) strangers
  • Expressing capable guardianship
  • Building a sense of community

Sustainability:

  • Nature-deficit disorder
  • Learning and practicing ecology at home
  • Near nature
  • Personal health and ecosystem health linked
  • Cooler neighbourhoods (reduce heat islands)

 

Equity:

  • Low-income people can’t travel far for outdoor recreation
  • Some cultures won’t let women and girl children go far for recreation
  • Without shared space, some young girls will not be permitted to leave the dwelling or the yard

 

We remove shared open space from medium-density housing at our peril.

Let’s keep the Manitoba development as it is.

The brilliant example of shared open space in the Manitoba development in the South-East corner of Adelaide needs to be preserved.

Let’s keep it for its architectural value, for its housing quality and for its residents, as well as an example of how to get it right in terms of design and sensitive provision of shared open space that can benefit all residents.

 

Access to "near nature" supports child development
Access to “near nature” supports child development

PLEASE SPARE MANITOBA!!!

 

Root Shock: Grieving for a Lost Home

wilting leaves

 

Several years ago, I was managing the community engagement processes for the first stages of a large community renewal project in an Australian capital city. The State Minister wanted something to announce before Christmas and he wanted to tell this community of about 3000 public tenants   (half of whom did not speak English and were mainly from refugee communities) that their neighborhood was going to be rebuilt. We sent four delegations to the Minister’s office, asking that the announcement be delayed until February. We failed and on 13 December, I faced a room full of over a hundred weeping tenants.

 

I will take that terrible experience to my grave.

 

And now I wish I’d defied protocol, taken myself to the Minster’s office and laid down the law. Within days, there were reports from the local chemist of a dramatic increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants and basically, everyone fell apart for weeks until we returned in mid-February and started all over again. From scratch. All the residents could remember from that first terrible meeting was that their lives were going to change irrevocably. Some (particularly those who had fled repressive regimes in Southeast Asia) expected to be made homeless immediately. Others did not trust the government in any form.

It took months to put right that one insensitive act.

 

And for what? A Minister’s career? He was sacked shortly afterwards. There have been perhaps nine Ministers of Housing in that State since that time.

 

What we know from evidence-based research (and this applies specially to low-income people and marginalised people with multiple disadvantages) is that people cannot quickly reconcile themselves to the loss of familiar attachments when told that it’s for the “common good”. It takes time – more time than planners ever allocate – for people to come to grips with such shocking information. They were in root shock: grieving for a lost home.

 

It’s been called “Root Shock”. Plants die of it and so do people.

 

The intense grief and sense of loss caused by such a major disruption to social and family ties may never heal. The grief may persist for decades.

 

I spent February living in Boston, teaching planning at Harvard. One weekend, my cousin took me on a long walk to the “50 acres of emptiness” that is now the West End to visit the West End Museum so I could see “Boston’s shame” for myself. See: https://thewestendmuseum.org/

 

Psychologist Marc Fried spent several years in the 1950s with West Enders researching the psychological effects of the forced dislocation of the whole of the West End’s multi-ethnic population as part of “urban renewal” from 1958 to 1960. In Boston, one of the country’s oldest cities, almost a third of the old city was demolished-including the historic West End to make way for a new highway, low- and moderate-income high-rises (which eventually became luxury housing), and new government and commercial buildings.

This came to be seen as a tragedy by many residents and urban planners. Me included. We studied it when I was a planning student. Now, not even the road pattern remains; it was completely reconfigured, as though the planners sought to wipe the memory of the West End from the map.


Only one original building is standing there.


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More than 90 percent of those residents showed symptoms of depression. Fried concluded that cohesive neighborhoods provide residents with a feeling of rootedness that is essential in maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. The study also helped establish the notion that people can grieve for the loss of something other than a loved person.



As I shivered in the cold air outside the Museum, I struggled to breathe. I could hear the voices of the women – still crying. I could see them with their arms wrapped around themselves, rocking, keening”¦ Still grieving”¦

 

 

 

 

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Half a century later”¦   I found it cold, windswept, drab, bare and I felt much, much more shock than I had expected – having read about this terrifying acts of violence as a planning student at Adelaide University in the early 1970s.   Since physically it’s gone, for the displaced residents who are still living, the old West End is now only a “neighborhood of the mind”: a landscape of memory.

 

And inside the Museum, I was reduced to tears. What a tragedy!

 

 

*     *     *

I’m sitting at my desk watching a mother wallaby and tiny, hesitant small joey eating grass and resting in the last rays of the fading afternoon sun. In a moment, the kookaburras will start laughing in that tree across the valley. A distant brushcutter whines. Clouds are scudding in from the east, presaging rain. I’ll need a cardigan as soon as the sun slips behind the trees in the woodlot.

 

How would I feel?   To be told that I would have to be torn from the core territory of my home – and all that it represents to me. I’m an animal, like the wallaby and her joey, who know where their territory is. I AM an animal and I’m hard-wired to protect my territory.

 

And believe me, it doesn’t matter if your name is not on the title. Tenants have “place attachment” too. I have felt as strongly about rental properties as I do about this one. My hopes and dreams live here with me. And the hopes and dreams of the residents of that small public housing estate lived there with them.

 

I hope that — as planning consultants — we did well – in the end – listening and responding to those precious dreams – and all that grief – and helping those gracious and fine people move into a new life.

 

But I wonder”¦ I wonder”¦ wonder I do”¦

NIMBY Psychology: Lunch-time Colloquium, Tufts University, 6 February 2013

6 February 2013

What’s Psychology Got to Do with NIMBY?:   Exploring the Deeper Meanings of Community Resistance to Proposed Housing Density Increases



tufts banner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent several hours teaching and meeting with facultry at Tufts University during my month in Boston.

 

My hosts included Julian Aygeman, Weiping Wu, Penn Loh and Laurie Goldman PhD (pictured below), with whom I also taught a n evening class on community engagement and community visioning.

 

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This was my first Boston lecture and I was thrilled to be speaking in the lecture hall with its beautiful architectural features.

 

It was winter outside, to be sure, as you can see from the white light streaming in the windows.

 

Little did we know what was to come with the Big Blizzard that arrived that weekend with twenty inches of snow!

 

 

 

In this lunchtime session, I returned to my “psychological” roots to explore the social and psychological dimensions of housing, to ask what’s missing in higher density housing in North America and Australia and why NIMBYism might even be warranted in some cases.

 

Offering my Homing Instinct model, I proposed that if we are to design community engagement processes to address delicate, sensitive psychological issues about our core territories, we are going to have to start by showing a lot more love, care and emotional intelligence than we have in the past.

Jane Munro

I began my presentation with a powerful poem, “Grief Notes and Animal Dreams”, by a dear friend of over 60 years, Canadian poet, Jane Munro.

 

See: https://janemunro.com/biography.html

 

Jane Munro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Munro

The poem is from a beautiful book by the same name.

 

See:   https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Notes-Animal-Dreams-Munro/dp/0919626823




Grief Notes and Animal Dreams

Jane’s father built a log house for his family in Vancouver and the fire that burned down the house killed Jane’s mother.

The grief and guilt associated with the fire killed her father.


I read Jane’ poem because artists speak to us about what we often cannot express ourselves about significant relationships.
In this case, relationships with home.



I offered Jane’s poem as an illustration of the passionate relationship we can have with our housing – exemplified by a poet’s words.

 

 

If you’d like to receive a copy of my PowerPoint to this colloquium, please email me, as it’s too large to put up here.

 

[email protected]