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At what point does one start appreciating new housing?

When you look at some of the most iconic home designs from around the world — which Bloomberg CityLab has been doing — there are some trends that emerge. One of them has to do with desirability. Whether we’re talking about Stockholm or Montreal, a lot of the housing that is today cherished, started out as fairly utilitarian. There was a need for housing and so governments and developers stepped up to build, often as cost effectively as possible. The result was housing that a lot of people seemed to dislike. At least initially.

Here are a few excerpts from a recent post by CityLab talking about Montreal’s famous walk-up apartments:

Their shape was dictated by the dimensions of the lots sold by developers: Narrow at the front, they run as deep as 120 feet and open onto an alley, leaving enough space for backyards and sheds behind. Inside, the units are not particularly big, with duplex apartments, often rectangular in shape, typically from 750 square feet to 1,000 square feet. Triplex apartments are a little larger and sometimes configured in an L-shape, a trick that builders used to make the most of the lot’s depth while getting some side light. Rooms unfold on one or either side of a corridor, with the kitchen at the back.

Despite their reputation for charm today, the plexes were long criticized for their overcrowding and lack of light. Working-class homes were sometimes known as “the poor man’s coffin,” says Noppen. 

“These are very narrow, dark, long buildings, which above all, were overcrowded,” he says. Today the apartments may be sought after, as “part of a considerable gentrification movement, but that’s because, two, three people live inside — that used to be 15.”

I think most people forget that the housing we love today was probably built by a developer and almost certainly done in the pursuit of profit. Which begs the question: What has to happen before people suddenly start appreciating? Eliminating overcrowding certainly helps. But is it also a question of time? Do we just need time for the housing to settle in and get absorbed into the market? Or do we simply tend to dislike that which is new and so we need something even newer to hate before we can appreciate the now old?


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