Perhaps it was the sight of the heavy excavator perched on the back of a truck slowly moving along our street, bound for another older smaller Oak Bay character home waiting to be demolished. Or sounds of the excavator splintering and breaking apart beautiful old growth lumber and oak hardwood flooring, grabbed and lifted by metal jaws and dumped unceremoniously into the ubiquitous yellow bin.
Or the high-pitched whine of the chain saw, clearcutting established trees and shrubs. Or anticipation of a small neighbourhood street that will be choked by construction traffic, overflow parking and unrelenting noise. Or the uncomfortable reality that our small older character home is vulnerable, like the one down the street.
The home’s 80-year history, family stories and memories were demolished along with the house in under an hour. This has become an all too familiar scenario in Oak Bay, another older character home disappearing, one that was still capable, with a facelift, of providing a new home to a new family.
Neighbourhoods not only lose the home but also lose an environmental microcosm, a mature natural habitat where pollinators, birds and other animals made their homes; where trees and shrubs provided a level of carbon sinking and contributed to local air quality; and, where gardens formed a patchwork quilt of colour that softened hard scapes.
Not all of these homes are salvageable, but they form an integral part of our community’s neighbourhood fabric that continues to attract people. Once considered more affordable with “good bones,” these homes reflect an era when less was more, small was big and dreams were more modest.
Change is fundamental to healthy community development but should be guided by sensitive planning and environmental oversight. Why not have planning tools that more effectively integrate the past with the future?