The Death and Life of the Single-Family House
Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City
Publication: Oct 16
Publication: Oct 16
Publication: Oct 16
6 x 9
7 tables, 11 figs., 4 halftones, 6 maps
A detailed study of how Vancouver moved away from the single-family house and the effects of this transformation, detailed by interviews with residentsRead the Introduction (pdf).
Vancouver today is recognized as one of the most livable cities in the world as well as an international model for sustainability and urbanism. Single-family homes in this city are “a dying breed.” Most people live in the various low-rise and high-rise urban alternatives throughout the metropolitan area.
The Death and Life of the Single-Family House explains how residents in Vancouver attempt to make themselves at home without a house. Local sociologist Nathanael Lauster has painstakingly studied the city’s dramatic transformation to curb sprawl. He tracks the history of housing and interviews residents about the cultural importance of the house as well as the urban problems it once appeared to solve.
Although Vancouver’s built environment is unique, Lauster argues that it was never predestined by geography or demography. Instead, regulatory transformations enabled the city to renovate, build over, and build around the house. Moreover, he insists, there are lessons here for the rest of North America. We can start building our cities differently, and without sacrificing their livability.
" In this ingenious study of the predicament of single-family housing, Nathanael Lauster dissects the root of the problem: the complex psychology of the single-family lifestyle. What’s really behind the seeming preference for the detached home, and is it valid? Diving deeply, Lauster unravels the cognitive dissonance of the 'house habit’ and convincingly demonstrates how the single-family house—while on the surface appearing to offer solutions to urban problems—in reality causes more trouble than it’s worth. The hopeful message Lauster offers is that even the most house-oriented resident can reinterpret what urban dwelling means and successfully kick the single-family habit."
—Emily Talen, Professor of Urbanism at the University of Chicago and author of City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form
"The Death and Life of the Single-Family House forcefully critiques the detached home as a dysfunctional urban habitat with unacceptable costs—social, environmental, and financial—and envisions positive alternatives for families and communities. Lauster’s argument is based on a case study of Vancouver, whose remarkable transformation he attributes primarily to governance, offering hope that other cities can also shift course. Extensive archival work is complemented by interviews with Vancouver residents on their interpretations of home. This original and well-written book is important reading for anyone interested in urban studies, environmental sustainability, and cultural and economic sociology."
—Jane Zavisca, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and author of Housing the New Russia
" With a variety of excellent historical, sociological, and firsthand interview data, Lauster shows why people, especially families with children, continue to idealize and pursue the single-family detached house. Written in a fluid and accessible style, this book addresses what is not only a very pressing policy issue but also a very personal issue for many people. The Death and Life of the Single-Family House makes a significant contribution to urban studies and will have influence in areas well beyond urban studies research."
—Mariana Valverde, Professor of Criminology at the University of Toronto and author of Everyday Law on the Street: City Governance in an Age of Diversity
"Lauster examines how one Canadian city has undergone a dramatic transformation to curb sprawl.... (The book) is an important contribution to urban studies particularly in terms of its head-on challenge to our 'house habit' and the cognitive dissonance in which this is embedded. In this respect, it resonates throughout North America, far beyond the careful case study in which it is grounded."
—The New York Journal of Books
“While the book is based on a case study of Vancouver, it will have resonance with other cities facing housing affordability challenges. There are lessons in this book for the rest of North America on how cities can be built differently, without sacrificing their livability. The Death and Life of the Single Family House is a unique and important contribution to the urbanist canon, and is an important read for civic historians, city planners and urban sociologists, alike."
" Lauster offers an engaging case study of metropolitan Vancouver, detailing its rise and decline in single-family housing while suggesting other North American cities follow Vancouver's regulatory path to reverse debilitating influences on our climate and democracy. Based on extensive archival research, complemented with insightful interviews of residents, the work targets a cross section of urban studies, environmental sustainability, and cultural as well as economic sociology.... Summing Up: Highly recommended."
"In his new and timely book The Death and Life of the Single-Family House ...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... Among its many strengths is the way in which the book offers a renewed perspective on urbanization in general and suburbanization in particular."
—Canadian Journal of Urban Research
"The Death and Life of the Single-Family House tells an important story about Vancouver's success in overcoming its addiction to single-family homes. By reminding readers about the benefits of vibrant city life, Lauster's story would no doubt earn the approval of Jane Jacobs, from whom the title is borrowed."
"(Lauster's) research, based on in-depth interviews with Vancouver residents, moves the focus away from Vancouver’s often lauded postindustrial neighborhood developments...and examines the real-life negotiations and strategies that people undertake to gain a foothold in Vancouver, one of the world’s most expensive housing markets. These insights...illuminate the trade-offs that urban citizens are willing to make to achieve a balanced life.... Lauster provides a possible roadmap for those wishing to engage in strategies that explore how we construct a good life. In this sense, Lauster’s work is also useful to planners thinking about the cultural aspects of a sustainability focus." — Journal of Urban Affairs
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Tables
1. What's a House?
2. What's the Problem?
3. Bringing the House to Life in Vancouver
4. The Death of the House in Vancouver?
5. Inhabiting the Greenest City
6. What Do Houses Do Best?
7. At Home in the City
8. Habitat for Diversity
Appendix: Data and Methods
About the Author(s)
In the Series
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin
The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational.