Among the chosen

A young woman came to my door just now and interrupted my
morning writing reverie.  She tells
me she’s doing a door knock in the area because she and others who live nearby object to the application for a four storey block of flats over the road from us that is about to go
before the planning tribunal. The plans do not include space for visitors and the
neighboring streets are already overcrowded. 
I understand her distress and yet I wonder about these
things.  To make room for the flats, they will pull down
a single storey dwelling called the Dance Studio.  It’s an old and unprepossessing house that has been here for
at least the past forty years. 
The house is striking only because of its fence – now ripped down – wrought iron and shaped like a musical
scale with the first few notes of what could be The blue Danube or some other
such waltz.  It also has a round
driveway so that cars can turn in and go out onto busy Riversdale
The house has not yet sold but I
expect the owner might fetch more if he sells to developers who can make a
large profit out of four storeys of fifteen flats.
Once upon a time I resented this use of land but these
days I reckon we might need to build on top of ourselves to make more room for
The urban sprawl has its
drawbacks.  More dense dwelling up
to a point is perhaps better.  Look
to France and Germany where many people live comfortable lives in apartments
cheek by jowl and they do not need all the accoutrements of a free
standing dwelling with back yard and front garden. 
Maybe we can make better use of our space and make room
for more people as well.  
When I was young
and growing up in the Catholic church, I took it as a given that Catholics were
the only ones headed for heaven. 
It did not strike me as odd that there were many people around me who
seemed to live  decent lives who
would not get to heaven simply because they did not belong to the right religion.
I felt sorry for a protestant girl down the road whose father was the local
fruiterer. Come Sunday she wore the same sorts of clothes as she wore on
Saturday.  She never needed to
dress up for Mass, but I did.  She never had the pleasure of knowing there was at least one special day of the week every week.  She missed out, while I was among the chosen.  
Maybe it’s that sense of us and them that I find myself
railing against now.  If only there
were some way of finding a compromise.  Likewise for the young woman who came to
the door.  Her complaints might
well be a start if they can be acknowledged and heard.
My fear is she does
not want any new establishment at all and money being the powerful persuader that
it is, she will lose out to the developers.  
The same might apply to new ideas.  As I get older I try to make myself
tackle things that at first glace seem uncomfortable.  I try to look at people or ideas
that I would once have thought unacceptable from a different perspective.  But it’s not easy.  Old ideas die hard and it’s comforting to imagine I have reached some level of certainty about things.  And discomforting to realise I may be have had it wrong all along.  

8 thoughts on “Among the chosen”

  1. I agree that when it comes to housing we need to build up rather than spread our cities ever wider. Four stories doesn't seem so high, here in Adelaide councils are lobbying for 6-10 stories in some areas. Ten seems a little high to me, but people have to live somewhere. My issue would be is there sufficient infrastructure already in place or going to be built in the same time frame as the multi-dwelling and like you said space for parking, not only for the tenants, but also for visitors.

  2. Another sad post.

    Having give up on a home and yard, we now live in one of those 12-story human filing cabinets called an apartment building. Not a bad place all together. I guess.

    The problem with modern development is that it's like changing the rules in the middle of the game. That only works if everyone agrees with the rule changes. Building a four-story residential structure with no parking for visitors, especially in an already-congested area is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The developer has clearly not done his/her homework very well. The municipality may demand some off-street parking for visitors. That would be reasonable. And if the new building is the only four-story structure in the area, that's a shock to the visual nature of the community. Hmmmm.

    Change is a constant, whether in the buildings of our neighbourhood, or the things we believe. The trick — or perhaps the art — is to make the changes meaningful for everyone, including oneself. Change for the sake of change is a non-starter. So is change which is hurtful.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

  3. In the 1960s the 'planners' in the UK seemed to think that building skywards would solve the housing shortages. Huge tower-blocks rose like stalagmites virtually overnight, mainly in inner cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. These monstrosities eased the immediate housing problem but soon became nightmares for so many inhabitants.

    Many have now been blown up; completely demolished, even quicker than they were built. People just didn't like living in a concrete block where vandalism and drug abuse became the norm.

    Some blocks, (few in number), in central London were 'gentrified' and sold to rich buyers, thus keeping out the hoi polio 'council tenants'. The 'location' being the determining factor of course.

    The low-rise development you describe would seem, to me, to be a good scheme provided allocated parking spaces were incorporated.

  4. I’ve lived mostly in flats. I grew up in a semi-detached Council house with a big back garden. Hardly anyone I knew lived in a flat although a few lived in tenements before they were pulled down. When my parents’ house was being decanted the Council moved them into a high-rise for a few weeks. They hated it. The cat hated it even more and only came out from behind the couch to get fed and presumably poo although, try as I might, I can’t remember how that problem was addressed since he’d grown up outside and usually did his business in next door’s vegetable patch much to Mr Thompson’s irritation but what can you do with a cat?

    Like I said though I’ve mostly lived in flats. My last wife and I started off in a maisonette which I quite liked because it had a loft which served as my office but then we moved to my first bought house and things just went downhill from there but that’s another story. When Carrie and I met I was living in an ex-Council flat in Glasgow. We moved to a tenement flat which was spacious—it’s hall was about the size of the living room I’m sitting in right now—but it was cold and we never felt at home there. After a year we rented a new build flat in the Gorbals. That was a nice flat but expensive which is why we bought this one and we’ve been here for ten years or thereabouts and I don’t see us moving anywhere soon or maybe ever.

    The flat’s not perfect. It’s not as spacious as it could be although it would help if we threw stuff out every now and then. Next door is nice—she’s trusted us with a key to her flat so I can take care of her cat if she’s away—but I don’t have much time for ‘Boom Boom’ downstairs and ‘Shoutie and Stompie’ upstairs. They’re not bad neighbours, just a bit noisy on occasion. I’ve heard tell of the social network that existed in the old tenements and there’s a little of that here but the only one of my neighbours I’ve had a conversation of any length with has been the girl next door who’s managed to worm her way into our affections despite being nothing like either Carrie or me.

    Living in a flat is not without its problems. Our back garden fence was blown down a good year ago and it’s still not been fixed. Our factor tells us what our share of the cost will be and we send them a cheque which gets returned to us a few months later with a note saying not enough have coughed up to enable them to proceed with the repair. Seriously are they all that poor they can’t find a measly £45 (about $77 in your money)? It’s doing nothing to up the property values, not that that worries me that much. I still find it had to believe that I even own a flat but that’s the old Council house mentality.

    We have to be practical. There’s only so much land and too many people are looking to buy or rent as it is. I objected to the Right to Buy scheme when it was rolled out nationally by the Thatcher government in 1980. I saw a way of life about to go down the toilet pan but what choice did we have but jump on the bandwagon? I look at what’s being built nowadays and although there are a few inner-city flats to replace the tenements there are still more detached and semi-detached estates being built but not enough ‘affordable housing’. I suppose in Australia—at least the Australia I see on TV—the notion of flats must seem so cramped although nowhere near as bad as Tokyo’s ‘coffin’ apartments. The way Australia is marketed to us is that it’s all about space. Space is overrated. Space is just another word for emptiness. And if there’s one thing my wee flat is it’s not empty.

    I think the government should encourage swapping. There must be plenty of people whose families have grown up and moved out who’d love a smaller place so why not swap with a younger family whose kids are eating them out of house and home? Makes sense to me. I knew a family who did that once so the mechanism’s in place; it just needs to be publicised more. It’s like you say about new ideas.

  5. I've always lived in houses with a yard, never an apartment. I think that would be so depressing, not having space around you and no green space of your own to cultivate. My city neighborhood went through gentrification. Tearing down the cottages and building two or three two or three story condos in their place. They build them so that the garage fronts the house with no driveway so that the end result is a block lined with garages leaving nowhere for people to park on the street. If you want to have company over or have a party there is nowhere for them to park. Perhaps your neighbor would be less against the proposed housing if they included guest parking on the premises.

  6. If we can make it comfortable and easy to get around without a car then concentrating the population won't be a sacrifice – or there will be compensations for the sacrifices – compensations like museums and libraries and local music and food variety. Tight little cities take the pressure off the countryside around them, as opposed to sprawl which is ugly and eats up the landscape.

    My city, Berkeley, is trying to concentrate the growth in downtown near public transit – and isn't allowing much new parking. This leads to lots of complaints, of course, because if you have a car you need parking! I read that more & more young people don't feel the need for a car.

    I like your last paragraph, the one about how you're trying to keep an open mind. What I'd most like is if the wind would blow through and freshen my musty rooms.

  7. Pull it down, I say! It was arranged that my then boyfriend would partner a debutante and he had to attend dance classes there. "She" waltzed away with his heart.
    I eventually recovered, as you do, but every time I drive past I still remember the bitter-sweet pain of that first broken heart – 40 years later.
    Karen C

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