Tag Archives: housing

A Tour of Social Housing in Rome Created in the Early 20th Century

(If you are looking for my paper on cleaning up the Grand, protection of local aquifers and the Regional Plan, as mentioned in the Record, scroll down, it is the fourth entry.)

At the International Making Cities Liveable Conference, I was pleased to tour the Housing Districts of Testaccio and San Saba with Ettore Maria Mazzola, Architect & Urbanist, Professor, University of Notre Dame, Rome Global Gateway. Ettore Maria Mazzola has also acted as a consultant for the Mayor and City of Rome. As a member of the new Housing Master Plan Committee, this area will be on my mind as we decide how to create and improve social housing in Waterloo Region.

Similar to Waterloo Region today, the City of Rome, Italy exploded in population between the unification of Italy (1861) and 1930. The population of the city of Rome increased from 200.000 to 1.200.000. Most of the people came from rural villages in Italy.  this created a shortage of housing. It was decided that the area around the artificial Testaccio hill would be used to create housing for the poor. In antiquity the area was a dump for broken amphorae and in later times an area for butchering and tanning.  The area of San Saba was also developed.

The municipal government of the Rome of the time owned and built this social housing. Instead of creating a slum, Roman architects such as Gustavo Giovannoni, Quadrio Pirani, Giulio Magni, and Innocenzo Sabbatini developed a new way of creating housing integrating a mix of uses. They were able to harmonize “the construction of large volumes” with “a proper scale that does not harm the landscape”, as well as “the necessity to build rapidly” with “respect for the human dignity of the future residents”.

These neighbourhoods create a good example for the “new urbanism” with density and mixed use. Some of the housing complexes had bicycle rooms and bake ovens. Each development was built with a central courtyard to remind the residents of their homes in the hill villages.

Maria Montessori created the first daycare or early learning center in this area. The concept of free play and learning by choice instead of strict rows and rote started here.

Today this social housing has gentrified and is no longer home to the poor. It is still a beautiful example of housing.

Stay tuned for public consultations on Region of Waterloo social housing  in the coming months. As can be seen by the pictures below, just building more affordable housing, while laudable, isn’t enough. We must also build liveable communities.


How one man’s creative, coherent view transformed social housing in interwar Rome

Specific Interesting Photos of the Housing.


Door to an original bicycle storage


Fire station


One of the original Maria Montessori Preschools for the poor


Early 20th century social housing


Early 20th century social housing


Bake house


Housing built around a piazza to remind residents of their villages


Piazza in the center of the housing complex


Windows of different sizes to visually break up the wall


What Happened to Co-op Housing?

Recently I attended a meeting where the public was asked what the urbanization part of the central corridor should look like. I also attended a town hall put on by KWCF on how we can promote arts and culture in KW. A good movement forward is that the old LCBO building on Erb St. Waterloo is being renovated to provide music and arts studio space.

However, I wonder how we will have cheap places for artists to live in a downtown area like Queen St in Toronto if prices are going up for properties along the central corridor. Also are we going to only have high-priced condos? Successful cities have a variety of housing stock for all income levels. Right now it looks like only the homeless and the well off are being thought of. We have time to change this.

This led me to wonder what happened to the co-op housing that was so popular in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Coop housing is resident owned.  The residents of a housing co-op are members of the co-op corporation which owns the whole property.  The co-op provides a unit (townhouse or apartment) to the member household.   The co-op is non-profit, therefore members do not purchase or own the individual units in which they live.  All members have an equal say in how their co-op is run – “one member, one vote”.

Some examples of  co-ops are Needlewood Glen on Erb St., Beavercreek Co-op in Lakeshore and Brighton Yards in Uptown Waterloo.

I asked my question on twitter and here are some replies (also in regard to the central corridor question):

We need to also protect what we have already created. It may not be spectacular, but once it’s gone we can never rebuild it. @NealMoogkSoulis

Need to open up the zoning so there’s incentive to build all kinds of urban stuff, not just pricey condos.  Also need to eliminate current disincentives for building rentals.@psystenance

 Last co-op was Beechwood in 94. Next yr Harris govt elected. And new program rules make it difficult for co-ops to build. @Keith_Moyer

My thoughts, combining the two meetings, is that it would be great to see a residential/studio artists’ co-op near the corridor.

Housing, Transit, Baby Boomers and Demographics.

David Foot, of Boom, Bust and Echo fame was the key note speaker at a Regional Housing Forum, The Past is not the Future. To my mind, he emphasized that the past is the future. The Baby Boomers rule everything and will for the next 30 years. By the way, Baby Boomers aren’t the retired, they range in age from 44 to 64 with an average age of 50.  They are the biggest voting block because as people age, they tend to start to vote and there are so darn many of us.

Foot feels that transit is only for the young and that the young like to live downtown. The birth control pill and working women has meant a drop in birth rates (also the BB is an anomaly when you look at birth rates,  the end of the trauma of WW II and the huge loss of life meant people wanted homes and children, in my opinion) In any case, the City of Waterloo needs to think carefully about who will live in Northdale, as in 10 years the BB Echo (ages 18 to 30) will have gone through university and college and there will be a decline in students as there presently is in the younger grades.

Foot feels that as boomers retire they will move their summer homes and while they might buy downtown condos, they won’t use them all the time. They will move to one car and hospitals are needed in small towns. They won’t use transit. Woah, hold on here. Is this the truth according to demographics or the wishful thinking of a retired academic? Last time I looked, my baby boom self didn’t have a summer home and I’m not moving from my bungalow to buy a part-time condo. By the way, intensification doesn’t mean a downtown of  highrise condos. It can also mean townhouses and two to three story buildings. Our own Kevin Eby noted that older bungalows, and small war time housing is also very popular with boomers. Hmmm. Like the few vets in Northdale.

That’s why, although many things Foot said were interesting, it was also important to listen to the speakers in the afternoon at the forum.

Doug Norris,  the Chief Demographer of Enrivonics Analytics said that while he respects Foot, demographics is not destiny. Three quarters of it is demographics and one quarter is attitude.  He pointed out that Baby Boomers are different from their parents.  We move more from place to place and their are more women on their own, whether through widowhood or divorce.  The Boomers are moving all over but 75 % actually stay in the city. A person in my small discussion group noted that people are moving from Toronto to the region, the region being their smaller town!

Ted Tsiakopoulos of CMHC noted that right now is a good time to be a  landlord and that re-sale homes are popular right now.  He introduced the word De-malling which means building housing over our one story malls as we finish with greenfields. Living on top of the mall, surely the dream of all current generations. 🙂

 While Foot felt imigration isn’t needed because the BB Echo can fill it, others feel that immigration is key with the gradual exiting of Boomers from the work force. It was noted also that Boomers may be working longer and part time.

The biggest group entering the workforce is 50 plus women. And there will be a large demographic of 75 year old widows in a few years. Women equal condos, travel, good food and quality entertainment. Oh yes, women ride the bus.  (It’s amazing to me how often women are missed as a demographic, OK, no it’s not)

As far as transit goes, we are building for the future: the BB Echo and beyond, very elderly boomers who can’t drive and want to be near good hospital care, immigrants used to good transit  and women.