For the first half of the 20th century, it was common to find small apartment buildings integrated into single-family neighbourhoods, usually a block or two off the streetcar line. The Bowman blocks in the previous two posts are particularly well-done examples, but even in the 1920s, when the buildings were getting bigger and plainer, there was still use of quality materials and a sense of proportion; they occupied their sites in the same way.
But after the Depression and the War, the formula changed. It had to. City zoning bylaws required one key thing all the predecessors lacked.
That, and the modernist aesthetic, created something far less compatible for the neighbourhoods they wished to share.
When each unit had to have a parking space, and underground construction was impossible or too expensive, then asphalt, not brick or wood, became the dominant building material, and landscaping ended up in pots.
Small apartment blocks could no longer maintain the illusion of the large house or mansion; they ended up looking like motels.
A nine-unit building could no longer be slipped in between houses; they required the demolition of the houses to achieve larger site coverage for the same density.
Needless to say, the single-family home dwellers were not pleased. They didn’t even have to argue that renters would be undesirable; they could argue that the rental building was. And from a design perspective, they were right.
Even brick and wood wouldn’t help if all the pedestrian experienced was the ass-end of cars.
Naturally, planners and councils listened, especially when heritage advocates argued for the preservation of the scale and character of neighbourhoods like Irvington, in which all the above post-war apartments intruded. Multiple-family development became illegal, or was never allowed in new subdivisions. Rental apartments were segregated into their own colour block on the zoning maps, isolated to ensure they would not contaminate the zones with ‘-1’ or ‘-A’ in their code.
Something else was lost too: the taste, skill and incentive to build communities in a mixed and harmonious way by those whose first priority was to make a profit. When developers replaced community builders, when moderism swept away the eclectic architectural styles that preceded it, when designers no longer passed along their intuitive and learned skills, when labourers replaced craftsmen, then a generation no longer passed down a way of making place and providing homes (and making money doing it) that had served humanity ever since there had been cities.
They had to do it. The car Had to be parked.