What if the key to growing a vibrant city isn’t in endless suburbs or more condo projects? What if, instead, it lay right in our backyards?
Hamilton’s Emma Cubitt sees big potential in small houses lining the city’s laneways. Along with Good Shepherd Hamilton and the Social Planning and Research Council, Cubitt — a 37-year-old architect — is working on the production of 26 smaller duplexes for single women who have experienced homelessness.
“My goal is to create more places for people to belong, and to gather, and to find their place in the community,” she says. “With laneway housing, the idea is that you’re maintaining the existing fabric of a city — especially residential neighbourhoods.”
For Cubitt, originally from Chicago, it’s a passion that dates back ten years to her master’s thesis at the University of Waterloo. At the time, she says, laneway homes had been building momentum in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
“There’s this essay that I love by Gary Michael Dault… he calls this idea of inhabiting the laneways an ‘inverse city.’ It’s like turning a neighbourhood inside-out like an old sweater,” says Cubitt, “and I love that description, because I think you see a different kind of city from the lane than you do from the street, or than you would from the front lobby of a larger tower.”
Cubitt’s hope is that with the success of this laneway housing development, similar projects will see the green light to go ahead across the city:
“My hope is that we’ll be able to build pocket communities, like we’re doing with Good Shepherd, but also individual laneway houses across the city. There’s definitely capacity for hundreds, if not thousands.”
As Hamilton and the rest of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area continue to see a rise in real estate prices, the smaller, more affordable laneway homes could offer a welcome alternative to home-seekers feeling left behind. For Cubitt, also the co-founder of Mustard Seed, a food co-op in Hamilton, it’s all part of a desire for community-building and belonging:
“People say Hamilton is the biggest small town, and while it’s starting to grow quite a bit now, and gentrify and change, we want to be able to keep that feeling that everyone has a place, no matter if they’re a newcomer or they’ve been here for generations.”