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Janice Wells: Housing development needs an innovative kick

A concept of a pocket neighbourhood.
A concept of a pocket neighbourhood. - Computer screen shot

When I’m working around the road part of my not-yet a garden in Heart’s Content I meet people. Some are going into Tony’s store across the street (best steaks ever). Walkers stop to chat; some drivers stop to ask about the tall skinny alien-looking plant which is mullein or where did I get my kneeler or my little two-wheeled wheelbarrow.

This week I met a nice couple from Mount Pearl and a lovely couple from St. John’s. They were both about the same age and if I’d met the St. John’s couple first I would have asked the Mount Pearl couple their opinion of the first conversation.

The St. John’s couple have nowhere to go, as in nowhere to live that suits them at this stage of their lives. They assumed I was living in my little bungalow and were envious. They’ve been looking a while for something in good condition that they can afford and the search has now reached as far as Heart’s Content.

They admitted that they really didn’t want to buy a house in Heart’s Content for the same reason that I don’t want to live there year round. Their lives are in St. John’s, including their children and grandchildren.

They live in an attached two-storey house in good condition but “dated” as the real estate agent told them. In today’s market they will be lucky to get $200,000 for it. They have no mortgage, but haven’t been able find a bungalow in good shape in St. John’s for that amount and at their age no bank will give them another mortgage even if they wanted one.

Out of touch city regulations prevent any of their three children from adding on a "granny flat", or  — God forbid—  a small house in the back yard.

They joked about Dannyville, but it’s really not a joke. I’ve thought all along that Danny Williams had a good idea for a self-contained town with all services, but he missed the boat in his target market, which is getting smaller, and in not thinking innovatively about the market that will keep getting bigger, (of which he is part, chronologically at least.)

I have friends who say they’d never move “all the way out there” even if they could afford it, but if there were pocket neighbourhoods geared to seniors at Galway it wouldn’t feel so much like moving "across the sea to Ireland”. Ha ha.  

What’s a pocket neighbourhood? Wikipedia describes a pocket neighbourhood as “a type of planned community that consists of a grouping of smaller residences, often around a courtyard or common garden, designed to promote a close-knit sense of community and neighbourliness with an increased level of contact. Considerations involved in planning and zoning pocket neighbourhoods include reducing or segregating parking and roadways, the use of shared communal areas that promote social activities, and homes with smaller square footage built in close proximity to one another (high density). Features in the smaller homes are designed to maximize space and can use built-in shelves and porch areas, encouraging time spent outside with a focal point around a green space (instead of parking areas).”

The point is a neighbourhood where people can easily know one another and find friendship, share a meal or a game of cards and walk home afterwards.

This is probably not a matter to be expected of, or even left to, private developers. I say “probably” because what do I know?

I do know that this is a serious social problem that is only going to get bigger while all levels of government don’t seem to realize that doing more of the same thing isn’t the answer.

At least the couple I spoke to still have each other. Loneliness is a huge issue with seniors, increasing both mental and physical health costs for that demographic.

Pocket neighbourhoods are only one solution. All you have to do is go online and see other innovative ideas, some of which people on their own are coming up with themselves.

Why, the Golden Girls did it years ago, but that won’t work for everyone.

The world we Baby Boomers shaped no longer fits us.  

P.S. Last week I gave my alternate email address wrong; duh, jwellsoeo@hotmail.com.

A note and photo from a reader 

A Daphne brightening Sheila Curran' s Glovertown garden. Sheila Curran photo
A Daphne brightening Sheila Curran' s Glovertown garden. Sheila Curran photo

Hi,

Meant to write this after I read the interesting piece on your visit to Mexico (was then myself sitting on a patio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico) and again, I wanted to after the piece about the use of your home space, then I was pondering changes to mine and more recently when Saturday’s piece appeared. That I left till now because my garden spring cleanup was calling. Then a huge rock shifted from the wall it’s been part of for forty years onto my foot. ... Time for a wine, and to contemplate the dangerous and erotic nature of gardening.

Just love the column.... and looking forward to lots more.

— Sheila Curran, Glovertown

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. She can be reached at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. (or jwellsoeo@hotmail.com)

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