Let Canada's "Loyalist City", Saint John, Take you Back to the Future for the Affordable Housing Solution
We’ve all seen federal, provincial and municipal politicians’ brows become furrowed as they spout empathetic statements about their shared frustration with the public when confronted in media interviews about what can be done to solve the affordable housing crisis. They all know the answer. It’s mixed use residential housing; a combination of single- family homes and townhouses along with low rise condominium and rental apartments in a walkable greenspace neighbourhood. However, affordable housing is one of those third rails in politics that politicians are afraid to tell the truth about because of the fear that they’ll be associated with and stigmatized by the NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor that will spell the end of their career.
NIMBYism is a fear of the unknown. A combination of post- World War II public policy, politics and private sector real estate development promotion in North America created a successful marketing mystique that convinced boomers and millennials that the ideal home life was encapsulated in single family residences ensconced in exclusive residential neighbourhoods. Zoning was utilized to promote and correspondingly restrict middle and upper- class residential neighbourhood development to single family homes. These became the preferred addresses that assured owners of an increase in value and a guaranteed tax-free investment when sold. Any attempt to alter or interfere with the status quo single family home owner mindset, which has been deeply ingrained in the middle and upper classes predominant among voters, is met with a resounding NIMBY.
Now let me take you back to the future on the street where I grew up. Saint John New Brunswick, incorporated in 1783 as Canada’s oldest city, was a boomtown of considerable wealth in the heyday of wooden shipbuilding and the lumber trade of the 19th century. One of its premiere residential streets of that golden era of commerce was Douglas Avenue. It was sprinkled with grand mansions replete with beautifully landscaped lawns maintained by gardeners along with maids an chauffeurs. But it was more than the grand mansions that made it a very desirable place to live. Intermingled with the majestic manses was a mixture of middle- class single family residences, two story townhouse configurations (“flats”) and two and three story working class tenement apartment buildings.
Yes, the mansions were there to stare at and wonder what it would be like to live like the 1%. However, all of the other homes didn’t stand out as aberrations but fitted in because of their quality design and construction. The single- family homes although similar in design were not all the same.
The contractors who built them were small enterprises who added their own signature to the residence such as customized windows and door frames. It was all very subtle and not expensive. It was craftmanship that made them compatible fits with nearby mansions. The two- story townhouse apartments adhered to the same principles. In fact, because the mansions tended to be multi story residences the two - story town house apartments were of a comparable size with comfortable living quarters. The three- story working class tenement apartment buildings consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen and living room.
But there was more to Douglas Avenue than residences. The New Brunswick Museum, Canada’s oldest continuing museum, an impressive grey stone building with an adjacent green space park gave the street a majestic edge. There was a stately mansion at the edge of the park. However, next door to the mansion was the local RCMP detachment and the residence for the local sergeant. The detachment didn’t have a police station look. It was designed to complement the residential look of the street.
Although our single family residence middle- class home certainly didn’t stand out it fitted in because it had a neat and tidy front lawn and an artistic stained glass window above the door with lilac bushes separating our home from an apartment building next door. In other words, an affordable home fitted in with mansions just several doors away because of quality design and construction. One of the pleasures of walking along Douglas Avenue was and still is just looking at so many of the ordinarily homes and seeing something special adorning the sidings, window and brick work.
And us kids all fitted in. I remember how several us who lived in close proximity to one of the mansions used to enjoy sitting on the manicured lawn watching their fully uniformed chauffeur who looked just like what you would see on Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey hand washing the limousine once a week. He would play a I’m going to catch you with the hose game as we dodged the spray. One of those boys lived just three doors away in a neat and tidy working- class home whose dad drove a bicycle back and forth to work at MRA every day because there was no way they could ever afford a car. It was just as much fun to keep an eye out for him on a sunny summer afternoon and see if he could keep up with the cars who were driving along Douglas Avenue on their way home from work.
Eastern Bakeries, yes you guessed it, an industrial business was located on Douglas Avenue just across from what was then Saint John Vocational School (VOC). In those days you could sneak in and from a distance watch bread being baked in large scale commercial ovens. The building was tastefully designed with a spacious green space front lawn. It was directly across the street from a grand home that had it’s own greenhouse and a beautiful floral garden maintained by, you guessed it, a full time gardener.
I could go on and do go on about Douglas Avenue in one of the chapters of my book Meaningful Memories (www.johngkelly.ca) but you get the picture. The Loyalist City with an incredible heritage has the solution to the affordable housing crisis. We showed how it could be done 150 years ago but like so much of our heritage it has become lost in the petty politics of today with its appalling lack of leadership
Governmental and private sector policy and planning initially subscribed to and continues to blindly adhere to the architecture of the post- World War II industrial society three generation life cycle mode. Youth/education, career and retirement represents the three generations. Modernized education produced second generation of career ready adults by 20-22 years of age. Secure long- term careers in a stable socio- economic environment facilitated creation of a solid middle class with secure long- term jobs who were expected to become financially independent. At age 65 the career cycle ended. Breadwinners transitioned into a third generation of complacent retirees; the “aged”. The retirement cycle was looked at as being short term, 65 to 75 years of age, populated by physically and mentally aging inactive retirees, and accorded afterthought status in the generational policy and planning and process.
A paradigm shift has taken place. The Post World War II industrial society has undergone a massive transformation to a technology driven knowledge- based service economy that has rendered the status quo three generation life cycle model obsolete. Life expectancy is now projected to extend well beyond 75 years to 85-95 years. Health is the new wealth that is enabling people to live active lives for the duration.
Life is an aging process. Aging is now the best fit methodology to utilize as the architecture for governmental and private sector policy and planning. A three- stage aging life cycle model provides the flexibility to articulate an aging process that’s commensurate with a contemporary society in which adjustments and modifications to timelines that reflect what are recognized as an ongoing series of necessary shifts are now the new normal.
The first stage encompasses youth/maturation; the “YOM” age. It replaces what’s labeled as the “Z” cohort in obsolete generation cycle nomenclature. It’s the requisite starting point in a society and social order where the status quo has been replaced by constant change. This is necessitating the reinvention of education to integrate in person education with on line learning to acquire the electronic (E) competency to grapple with the Internet of things (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI) along with the socialization through the self-management of social media as an enabler. Embracing what is appreciated and applauded as success through a series and variations of first attempts at learning (FAIL) in an environment of constant change is the building block core to maturity. The new age “YOM” stage of youth starts at birth and can be expected to last until the maturation process reaches completion at 30 years of age.
The second stage encompasses the work and personal life being experienced by mature adults who are identified as generation (X) and generation (Y), the latter labeled as the “millennials”. These are the siblings of the “boomers”. Their fore-bearers haven’t bequeathed them comfortable careers with secure long- term jobs. They’ve inherited a sophisticated “GIG” economy and are confronting the end of work in a conventional career context. Generation (X) and millennials are aware that their work life will consist of an eclectic array of jobs and assignments that will require an ongoing upgrading of knowledge and skills. The combination of increased health and the need to self-manage their wealth to afford a comfortable long- term life may well necessitate participating in the labour market beyond the second stage an into the third stage. They’re endeavouring to replace the drive to succeed that dominated their boomer parents’ careers with a work-life balance. Moreover, they appreciate the urgency of adapting their professional and personal lives to be compatible with a sustainable environment. The second stage has a variable age that will encompass the 30-65-year period of the aging cycle.
The third stage is in the throes of having the terms of reference for the retirement generation being redefined as active retirement to replace the retirement generation by the “boomers”. The beginning of what will the bulk of boomers will turn 65 in 2020. They represent a new age of young/olds (YOLDS). For YOLDS active retirement is about pursuing an encore life in a reinvented lifestyle that encompasses “living life to the fullest”. It has two pathways, “encore careers” and “active retirement/adult community” living, neither of which is mutually exclusive.
They’re at the forefront of the nascent “passion economy” that’s opening the door for them to either augment their retirement income with an executive assignment or pursue their dream and contribute to society with an encore career in the bourgeoning social enterprise and non-profit sectors. Active retirement community living enables YOLDS to be vibrant participants in a community focused social network where health is wealth in a holistic context that embraces physical and mental well- being.
And what about those complacent retirees, the “aged”, who are in the 75+age category. They’re rejecting the negativity that’s associated with “ageism”. They’re gravitating to a mature elder (MELD) status in an evolving four generation society. They’re embracing third age learning. They’re positioning themselves to be the sages. They are new age grandparents and great-grandparents whose memories and recollections of having lived life to the fullest in through the lifelong aging process in the first and second ages can be utilized to mentor maturing youths and mature adults
That four- minute rebuke to world leaders by 15 year - old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg stunned her audience and garnered international headlines. Mark Carney, former Bank of Canada and Bank of England Governor is among a growing chorus of the international governmental and financial elite who have decided to go beyond just “Talking the Talk” and “Walk the Talk” of making the planet sustainable for this future generation. He’s opted to forego seven-figure salary chair positions in global financial services for an “encore career” as U.N. special envoy on climate change and climate finance.
He was the featured host speaker at the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures (www.bbc.co.uk/reithlectures) for 2020. I’ve provided the web site link to what is a series of four one- hour lectures. Take a listen. He brings a fascinating lucidity to the debate of how we must reconcile the fundamental values of society in the marketplace for goods and services with the critical need to embrace social and environmental sustainability as the driving force in a market economy.
The fundamental problem according to Carney, and an increasing number of other economic and financial luminaries, is that we’ve become conditioned to believe that market driven financial metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP) are measures of the health and wealth in society. If the Dow Jones stock market index is on the rise that means an increase in dividends to shareholders and all is well. In short, we’ve shifted from market economy to a market driven society. What makes sense is what makes money. How that money is made is of secondary concern.
Roger Martin, former Dean and now Professor Emeritus at University of Toronto’s elite Rotman School of Management has written a much acclaimed and reader friendly authoritative book with the ominous title, When More is Not Better. He makes a convincing argument that the obsession with more growth and more profit in an unfettered market place for goods and services with a less government the better mantra isn’t contributing to long term sustainability. Nor is it making for a more affluent society as 90% of the wealth is now sequestered in 10% of the population, more often than not is offshore tax havens.
Neither Mark Carney nor Roger Martin and their contemporaries, among them Bill Gates, can be in any way labelled as bleeding heart socialists. They’re adherents to and proponents of market- based economies. The fundamental problem is that economics has supplanted the moral and social principals that are the bulwarks of a sustainable society. The misappropriation of the architecture of a sustainable society by marketplace driven economic principles and practices has created a crisis that is threatening the existence of a global civilization.
Does this sound histrionic? Not when you listen to what Mark Carney has to say in his four -part lecture series. The foundation for this renowned contemporary central banker’s source of knowledge is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in economics, politics and philosophy. Yes, philosophy! The starting point for his study in economics was the writings of Adam Smith; a moral philosopher. Smith’s seminal The Wealth of Nations, the foundation for modern day economic theory, was intended to be a guide and not the driving force, for the application of the theory and principles of his substantive Theory of Moral Sentiments. An economic “Ides of March” is upon us. We need to undertake a dramatic shift from being a market driven society to being a morally focused society with sustainability of civilization as the driving force in a market - oriented economy.
 Roger L. Martin, When More is Not Better, Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency. Boston. Harvard University Press (2020).
John G. Kelly
Mentoring & Counselling