suburban siberia

transitioning from Los Angeles back to Edmonton

Category: Suburbia

the boot

Not only is it impossible to tell the houses apart from one another when you visit my hood (other than the numbers highlighted on the garage doors), finding your way to the front door is impossible (it should be intuitive, but not in this case) and the parking locations are in strange locations. But once you navigate those three things you must then register your vehicle when visiting longer than 4 hours. If you do not register you are issued a ticket for $75. We never pay them because it cannot be enforced and I tell my friends to throw the tickets away. It is basically (for lack of a better word) bullshit.Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 6.56.40 PM

If you are a repeat offender or park in an access lane then someone in this neighbourhood has taken it upon themselves to be the regulator of enforcing the condo’s rules. Their solution is the parking boot which they call the ‘immobilizer’. It’s pretty hilarious and completely illegal. Plus it looks like you could break it off with a finger.

I have neighbours that are renovating a few doors west of me and they have been given the parking boot three times. The second time they got the boot was beside our unit where they had parked overnight without registering. I woke up from a mid day nap hearing the neighbour arguing with the ‘parking enforcer’. They declined to remove the boot and so the neighbour called the cops. The police said to release the boot because it is not in their jurisdiction to enforce. It’s not even legal for police to put a boot on vehicles in this city. The third time they got the boot a week later, the neighbour cut it off himself.

I’ve seen the boot enforced a few other times and luckily I was able to get a photo of one a few weeks ago. I’m not sure on the results of this show down, but as you can see the boot looks absurd and comical in relation to the size of the truck.

Because I don’t really have a lot of interactions with my neighbours, this is the best gossip I’ve got.  If you cancel your subscription of following my blog for lack of entertainment, I will not hold it against you.

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In the same place this week some one wrote something in the snow! I wish I knew what it meant! Happy New Years? Maybe it says “John I couldn’t figure out which house was yours or where to park so I left”.

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A few days later the snow-covered this message so some one re-wrote the message on a nearby snow mound.

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oatmeal magrath

Last Thursday night, my work had a panel event in conjunction with Green Energy Futures called Chasing Net Zero. Chasing Net Zero is a webisode/blog initiative between Manasc Isaac (under Sustainable Building Consortium) and Green Energy Futures. This series works through several Net Zero Ready buildings in Edmonton (mostly houses) or buildings that fall within the path on the way to Net Zero such as infill housing or Solar Decathlon.

A Net Zero home is a building that produces as much energy as it consumes within a year.

I along with a few other co workers have worked on putting this series together since March and this panel event was the conclusion of the project which featured several of the people in the 4 webisodes. You can take a look at the panel event and episodes here if you are further interested.

Usually I try not to write too much about what I do at work – as a way to keep from feeling like I am working all the time. BUT one of the panelists we invited was Dave Turnbull, a product development manager at Landmark Homes. We featured them in the fourth episode because they are a home builder that provides Net Zero ready homes to the average consumer.  They are also unique because they construct as much as their buildings as possible within a factory and then ship out large assemblies to the site where they are then put together. Because this blog is about suburbia (where I live) I found out that they built all of Magrath Heights, which is the neighbouring area next to me.

Dave said that there are three things that people consider when buying a home: Location, Design and Cost. I thought it would have been a different list: Location, Cost, Design but he told me it was untrue. He also said that the typical process for new developments are as follows:

1. Land Developer: They work with an architectural agent to produce the vision of the area.
2. Architectural Agent (not a real architect): The agents create drawings of the street scape and front elevations, envisioning what the area is to look like for the consumer.
3. Home Builder (in this case Landmark Homes): Takes the front elevations from the Architectural Agent (not a real architect) and then builds the rest of the home around it. They have no control on the front façade, but they have control over the interior and how it is constructed. Sometimes there are restrictions on that too, depending on the architectural guidelines of the particular area which is under the control of the Home Owners Association. For example if you want photovoltaic panels on your roof sometimes neighbourhoods will disallow the aesthetic. The builder also sells the buildings to the home owner.

Another interesting point Dave said was that every home they build all look essentially the same. While I realize this is not a revelation (and probably a cost savings for a company like Landmark so they can repeat and refine their factory process) I could tell even he was aware of the lack of individuality these neighbourhoods had to offer the consumer.

A few weeks ago I toured Magrath (the area Landmark built) on my bike and I was upset and appalled. Upset because I found out they have an amazing area for biking and walking which gives points in favour to the area. Appalled because of the terrible detailing taking place in the neighbourhood. People spend so much money on these monster ugly houses (sorry if you live there and I insulted you) and then are not able to control the tiniest detail about them because they have bought into the oatmeal aesthetic.

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Below are a few examples of the flashing (thin pieces of impervious material installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure from a joint or as part of a weather resistant barrier). In my mind there’s no reason for the flashing to be unpainted for these facades (as terrible as they already are). In these photographs they mostly look like an accent but in person they are highly reflective when unpainted setting it apart from the façade. If they were trying to keep continuity I’m not sure this trade was in the loop about it. Apart from the aesthetics the flashing installation is also terrible. Below are a few photos with some detail.

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Here is the sigh part. They have an extensive natural path over looking Whitemud Creek. It pains me to write about it, because it is beautiful and I can see the appeal of living so close to a protected sanctuary that sneaks into the River Valley.

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the chalet

I have found the Cadillac of suburban homes nestled area of Summer Side.

This neighbourhood is described as “a newer neighbourhood built around a beautiful resort style lake. Combining city living with a day at the beach it is assured that there is no other neighbourhood like Summerside in all of Edmonton.

Beautiful is bit of a stretch as a descriptor for the community, but I will write a bit more about Summer Side in another post. For now I’d like to focus solely on this interpretation in a suburban locked community. I’ve found the mullet townhouse in Terwillegar that juxtaposes two dissimilar materials but this home combines an abundance of chalet like peaks in combination with capital investment to make this beauty feel like you are on a permanent vacation with its joyful yellow colour and it’s possible gross over exaggeration of interior spaces.

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When I saw this home I immediately thought of the Inntel Hotel and Conference Centre designed by WAM in Amsterdam.

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I think this formation is pretty rad as a hotel and conference centre. Large programatic spaces like these can be difficult to show refined detail and often result in one large movement. This happens with the Inntel Hotel as a stacking typology, except due to the type of shapes they specify (traditional houses in Amsterdam) they have several configurations within itself allowing for stylized cohesive differentiation.

Specifically this is a façade treatment. The plan inside the conference centre could be ordinary which is what I believe the suburban house regulates to as well. I suppose each of those peaks in the house could signify a separate room, but I think it is doubtful.  There are several versions of this house throughout the City of Edmonton, but I feel this one shows itself like a prize pony. Bland Opulence at it’s best. To summarize so you are not confused. Hotel and conference centre: good. Yellow suburban chalet: pretty bad.

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The photos of the Summer Side house do not seem to show off its garish largeness the way I hoped because of the other monster houses beside it, but it’s bit like meeting someone with too much make up on their face. It’s impossible not to stare and you wonder how they can’t possibly know what they have done to themselves. But like this house, when photographed it probably looks fine, if not a better version of itself…or sometimes not.

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The only neighbour I spoke to in our townhouse village moved out last month. They were the only people who had parties late into the night in our cul-de-sac. I’m sure it irritated our neighbours but it made me like them even more. They were renting just like us and yesterday I saw the owners painting and refinishing the interior but I only stared. I fear I have become a suburbanite. I stared at them as I stood in my garage 20′ away in their garage watching them work…..no one said hello. Although we did glance at each other quickly from the side without acknowledging each other. At first I tried to muster the courage to say hello. But then I just let it be. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

In other suburban news I am still the only person with plants on my deck in the “alley”. I thought perhaps more people would try to cheer up the drive through corridor balcony but alas everyone has accepted its dreaded look except for my attempts at showing some form of decoration. I have seen some bbqs and a chair on some of the balconies. You can sort of preview other balconies in the photos below.

I also made three types of jam last night. One with Certo pectin, another batch without Certo that included a hard boil for 12 min from the Blue Chair Jam book and the last recipe was a freezer jam with Jello. My favourite jam is made by my Grandma (Strawberry Rhubarb) and it uses jello so I thought I would give it a whirl with raspberries. Hopefully they taste delicious.

I’m my mind these types of posts are most certainly ordinary (boring) but I wonder if the fact that I am writing about it and calling it out as ordinary does it at all become interesting to anyone but myself?

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infill and long island ice tea

There was an article in the Journal a few days ago about infill housing projects in Edmonton in contrast to the projected growth for new developments at the edges of the city.  The journalist, Elise Stolte, wrote that Edmonton had set a goal in 2010 to have 25% of new developments occur in mature neighbourhoods. Four years later they have reached 17%, with increased numbers in core neighbourhoods such as McCauley, Oliver and Strathcona. The article stated:

“Over the next two years, city planners want to loosen the rules surrounding garage and garden suites, allow owners to subdivide lots in more neighbourhoods, cut wait times for developers at city hall and improve communications with neighbours when infill happens. They have 23 recommendations in total, all aimed at removing barriers to allow more density and renewal in mature or established neighbourhoods.”

I’m curious to know if this plan will happen quickly as it is commonly known that changing restrictions within the City takes time and two years can be seen as ambitious or not soon enough. I’m also curious by what date the city hoped to reach 25% for infill housing and what the benefits are to that magic number of 25%. Will less schools close? Will more pathways and linkages be created? Will this help secure the funding and interest in the LRT expansion lines? Will people magically notice that we have a beautiful river valley in the city and more interesting programming will begin to take place surrounding it?

Subdividing lots in mature neighbourhoods would be appealing to many who work in or around the downtown core. This action would bring a greater awareness and interest back into mature neighbourhoods that can become affordable to first time home buyers but I’m nervous to see what that looks like if there is no strategic design plan implemented. The goal for my next home is to live with less which is how we try to live now, but without a long distance commute. My husband and I don’t have the time or want to take care of a lawn or to shovel a driveway all afternoon and so a smaller lot is attractive to me for those points and for many other reasons. But most of the condos and new houses on the fringe (where I live now) have strange nondescript characteristics that I find unappealing. While I believe mature landscaping will help ease the stark pains of beige indifference  in these areas, these homes will continue to look uninteresting if lifted up and planted down into mature areas if design cues are not attended to. I believe half of the appeal of these new neighbourhoods is price and the other half is the idea of ‘newness’. Most of the home buyers in this area do not see the lack of individuality (the removal of aesthetics) and developers  push this oatmeal dream to others by using words like “quaint” as descriptors and slap the word “estate” on the end of a neighbourhood to brighten its appeal and it somehow it becomes more attractive without actually LOOKING attractive.  I foresee a lot of mullet houses on the rise once infill housing becomes more attractive to developers. This city is on the path to northern greatness and we need to keep these ideas in mind as  the barriers are removed. The city’s appeal will continue to grow by reinforcing its distinct features (such as the river valley and our multiculturalism) when developing and not erase the cities identity when considering the landscape and our place within it.

One evening at the old Martini’s bar on 109 street I had a loud disagreement with one of my husband’s friends after a few too many long island ice teas. In my infinite drunk wisdom I offered what I considered sound advice at the top of my lungs: “make better choices” and “you could be so much cooler”.  Perhaps I should start investigating Edmonton developers, make them my friends and offer those same words of wisdom (without the yelling). Or I could just shame them on the blog instead. Though I doubt the later will be read by many or effect much change so I may have to default back to drinking too many long island ice teas instead. They really are delicious!

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neighbourhood adventures

Well, it happened. I have made contact! I’ve lived in the condo for 7 months now and I finally met my first neighbour. Technically this is my second encounter with some one from the hood. Levi’s high school friend lives across the alley coincidentally and we speak to him regularly but other than that I haven’t said ‘hello’ to another in the area since we moved in.

It happened on the weekend that I dyed fabric for the summer solstice party. It was awesome. She was friendly once we started talking (even though we didn’t say anything to each other for the first 5 minutes). Afterwards I purposefully went out of my way to greet to two more adjoining neighbours when I was outside. They only replied ‘hello’ back but I made eye contact to make sure they saw me! Later that evening when I brought in the fabric from drying outside, three children from a few doors down came over to ask what I was doing and after I explained the process they said it was really cool. It’s been three weeks since the encounter but I’m hoping for more of them.

A week later, Levi and I were watching the “Grand Budapest Hotel” and we heard a truck back into the side of our house. The driver was a heavy-duty mechanic and the crane (or also known as a picker) on his truck bed collided into our bay window siding. Classic! I suppose the suburbs can get a little exciting at times.

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the mullet

I was biking around my neighbourhood yesterday (Terwillegar Towne) and I found a gem of a townhouse a few blocks from my house. While all of the townhouse designs in this area hold a special place in my heart (not really) this one I thought was pretty good. I call it the Mullet. Business in the front and party in the back.

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Incase you haven’t been to a hockey game in a while and/or forgot how glorious mullets are:

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let them have fun

Tomorrow Levi and I are having a house-warming party. I am excited to have people over except I am dreading how they will get here. The more I think about the townhouse complex I live in the more I realize how incredibly indifferent the design is to visitors or people who like to meander around neighbourhoods. The picture below is the main entrance to each Townhouse. In a sort of weird way I don’t mind the rhythm and the designer/purchaser’s brutal honesty about not wanting to see or know their neighbours by only entering through the garage. I can tell they ‘tried’ to give it a certain look but let’s be honest about its unfriendly exterior. How do guest know how to find the house they are looking for? Sure they can see the house number but HOW do they get to the front entrance? I asked Levi if I should make a detailed map on where to park and how to get into the house. He said that it’s not that hard. I think he’s right about not telling people how to find us other than leaving a cell number and an address. Let them have fun finding a non descript generic house in the middle of many. Image

Suburban Siberia

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6 years ago two California friends I met through the University of Alberta once told me that they thought of Edmonton as Siberia in the winter time….At first I thought it was a drastic statement. But now that I have moved back in the middle of winter, I cannot think of a more appropriate title for this blog as I struggle with the idea of what it means to live in the Terwillegar suburbs.  I have sold my soul for spacious comforts and amenities.  The temperature since I have arrived two weeks ago has been between -15 to – 25 degrees Celsius….It is not very pleasant and neither is the fact that moisture has abandoned my skin and left me dead. Coconut oil or jojoba oil is at the top of my purchase list.