Who Owns the Streetscape?

All the great Before & Afters cropping up on Apartment Therapy this month have got me thinking, about before and after on a slightly larger scale. The kind of home makeover which can leave you unpopular with your neighbors, contemplating a move out of town, or worse...

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, in a neighborhood west of the downtown core. Twenty years ago my 'hood was a quiet area of older homes on generous lots, with good schools and decent transport links, but precious little in the way of shopping, dining or entertainment options.

Fast forward to today, and that neighborhood has become THE place to live in town, attracting residents and developers in droves. Every time I go home, there are more old farmhouses missing, and more McMansions where they once stood. Often the new houses are built two or three to the original lot size, with no yards to speak of. Usually the materials, proportions and colors used bear little resemblance to neighboring houses', ensuring that most of these newcomers stick out like a sore thumb. However, these new developments are allowing more families to move into the area, driving the local economy and contributing to the area's sense of community.

When I relocated to the UK five years ago, I was impressed by the British enthusiasm for vernacular architecture. Over here, the streetscape is seen as public property, something to be proud of and preserved for future generations. Whether its a gently curving Georgian terrace or a row of red brick Victorians, the British are fiercely protective of their architectural legacy, and for the most part, developers are kept on a tight rein.

But as an interior designer working in this context, I know how frustrating it can be for homeowners. What with the local council, Building Control, conservation areas and nosy neighbors, it can be a battle to install new windows or paint your front door, let alone give the facade of your home a modern facelift. And if your home happens to be Grade I or Grade II listed? Heaven help you.

In an ideal world, we'd all be able to do what we like with our homes, without causing offense to anyone else. But as one man's dream home is another's eyesore, this seems unlikely. So, where do you stand on this issue? Should the fate of the streetscape be weighted in favor of preserving local charm, or do homeowners' rights rule?

Image: Decoist