July 28, 2010

Ticky Tacky - Everything's Relative

Malvina Reynolds might have written her 1962 song "Little Boxes" in response to the Westlake housing developments in Daly City CA, but she would have been really affected by the urban sprawl surrounding most North American cities today.

Westlake - pictures found on Flickr via Telstar Logistics

The Westlake District is one of the first post-war suburbs in the US. I can't appreciate the whole scale of the development but I find the modern and colourful homes quite refreshing compared to the multi-unit suburbs surrounding Toronto. The green and manicured lawns, the Bermuda-like colours and the Jetson-style windows and roof-lines are really pleasant.

Developed by Henry Doelger, Westlake has become an icon for cultural blandness exemplified by endless rows of boxy houses. This obviously inspired the anti-conformist Pete Seger to record Malvina Reynold's song.

Now I'm all for non-conformity too, but I find this song to be narrow-minded and bitchy. Here are the lyrics to the sanctimonious song that I had to sing in Grade 8. I guess my music teacher was a non-conformist too.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There's a pink one & a green one
And a blue one & a yellow one
And they are all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And theres doctors & lawyers
And business executives
And they are all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they´re put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry & raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There's a pink one & a green one
And a blue one & a yellow one
And they are all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Urban Sprawl - Greater Toronto Area

Nice, eh? Notice the absence of trees. A friend of ours from Germany, out late one night with the family car,  tried to return to the house he'd been staying at in  Mississauga but found himself lost on a loopy suburban street that contained houses identical to the address he was trying to find. He had been staying there for a week. That was over 15 years ago. The mind boggles at how bad it is now. Urban planners need to infill. Build up, not out. The two-storey buildings with retail on the main floor and apartments on the second that line most downtown Toronto arteries need to be 3, 4 or 5 storeys. Paris does it, as do most European cities. It works and it provides a vital street scene.

I digress and I seem to be a little off topic. Next, I'll feature some Toronto infill that works.

first image  - Tony Bock/Toronto Star File Photo
second image - Antoine Belaieff/ spacing.ca


roz said...

The Ca houses are appealing, stylish, and they are appropriate size. The McMansions built today are obscenely large and fugly!

willow said...

Those Westlake houses are uber cool! I don't know about you, but I must have my trees about me.

Ima Wizer said...

I love these photos and the perspective....would make some excellent paintings!

Blog Princess G said...

I'm in complete agreement with you. The last time I visited Kleinburg I was stunned to see that GTA urban sprawl has reached it and encompassed it. It's no longer a visually separate little town. And there is little effective community/neighbourhood planning in areas such as new Brampton. As for trees? Pah! Poor us. Toronto is a horrible example of growing out, not up. There is some infill, and I see it, living so downtown, but there's not enough.

amourissima said...

Calgary has a huge urban sprawl issue. There was a documentary-movie made a few years ago called Radiant City:

Good little flick.

I have an issue with cookie-cutter houses and vinyl siding.

*funny note: my word verification for this comment is "boxess"- coincidence? I think not.

Giulia said...


But on quick note before the power goes off (again!), I like Ima's idea about these as models for painting(s).

ciao-meow, Pup

T. Clear said...

In Seattle, we call the notion of ground-floor businesses and upper apartments "urban village" -- an idea that is long overdue.

Kat Mortensen said...

I was raised in Mississauga and in the 60s it was not so bad. We could cycle up the road to where the "country" was still in existence - there were barns and fields and it was great. Now, the area on Dundas, just west of Winston Churchill blvd. is what we scathingly refer to as "Las Vegas"! I have no regrets about "Leaving Las Vegas".