Monday, December 30, 2013


In Pigs, flowers and bricks : A History of Leslieville to 1920, Joanne Doucette recounts that "Working class families often built their own homes. Sometimes they lived in a tent or in the basement of their house while working on building the rest of the house over their heads."

So you can imagine the allure of a mail-order home that came flat-packed like an Ikea bookcase, and promised that you didn't even need a saw to assemble it. A "knocked-down" house kit included everything from the pre-cut foundation timbers to the shingles, along with instructions for the owner-builder to put it together themselves.

First introduced around the turn of the last century, this revolutionary new housing solution became so popular that Buster Keaton featured it in his first solo film, the 1920 silent short One Week.

Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes – named for the fable in which a genie builds his master a palace overnight – used the tag line "Built in a Day". They claimed that "Skilled labor is absolutely unnecessary in any part of the erection and completing of an Aladdin house – because we supply the skilled labor in our mill, preparing the entire house for you to fit together in a few days."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Shacktown

As the 2013 ice storm reminds Torontonians how lucky we (usually) are to enjoy mod cons like electricity, here comes another way for the more fortunate to experience life without them. The five-star Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa points out that "Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa... Now you can experience staying in a Shanty..."

Well, maybe not exactly.  Located "within the safe environment of a private game reserve," this is "the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access."

We may jeer, but maybe, in some twisted way, this is part of the mental gymnastics the average Westerner needs to do to understand our relative wealth in its global context.

Hans Rosling has created some fabulous "stats performance" videos to help us. This one from "Don't Panic: The Truth About Population" lays out the daily incomes of the seven billion people alive today along a "yardstick of wealth":