“Little Boxes …”

31 January 2015 – Little boxes of different types, in different places, at different times.

Little Boxes – Regent Park, Toronto, Ontario; 1948

I stand at Dundas St. East & River St., and a long-ago song starts bopping through my brain.

“Little boxes on the hillside …”

Regent Park demolition, Dundas E & Sumach

Not really on a hillside, but oh, such little boxes, peeled open by the demolition crew. They are part of an old public-housing building, a fact that — perhaps — adds resonance to the song’s next line:

“Little boxes made of ticky tacky…”

Dundas E at Sumach demolition

But only perhaps.

The original Regent Park complex, including this building, dates from the late 1940s and was Canada’s first (and still largest) social housing project. The fact it is being completely replaced now, building by building, is no necessary indictment of the construction of the day. The materials will be much better now — but, 67 years later, I should hope so.

‘”There’s a green one and a pink one …”

demolition, Regent Park

“And a blue one and a yellow one …”

Regent Park demolition

“And they all look just the same.”

Regent Park demolition

They do — but they don’t. Individual people lived here, and made their own individual homes.

I had already noticed the building, and half-planned to come take a few photos, when I received an email from my friend Kay. She, too, had been struck by the sight: “strange, interesting, somewhat sad but also cheery,” she said, and she was right.

So my half-plan became a for-sure plan, and here I am.

Little Box – Thornton Park, Orlando, Florida; 2015

And here I am not — except virtually, thanks to neighbour Brian, fresh back from a winter break in Florida.

Even without the temperature difference, you would not confuse Regent Park with Thornton Park, the latter being a neighbourhood (says Brian) of “brick-paved streets lined by large live oak trees.”

Thornton Park, Orlando FL

And my point is? Brian made the point. He directed my attention, as I direct yours, to the glimpse of bright blue box at the far right corner of the streetscape above …

… which turns out to be a little box. A little utility box, transformed into a work of  what I call “box art.” It is something I photograph whenever I can.

So he photographed it for me.

utility box, Thornton Park, Orlando FL

“Metrosexual,” is Brian’s assessment. “Chic, trendy, sexually suggestive, animal friendly, all good times and warm sunny weather.”

utility box, Thornton Park, Orlando FL

Yessir. All of the above.

“Little Boxes” – Daly City, California; 1962

Credit so far to Kay, to Brian.

Now let us all give credit to Malvina Reynolds who, as they drove through Daly City, told her husband to take the wheel. “Bud,” she reportedly said, as she watched all those little houses flashing by, “I feel a song coming on.”

She surely did.

It has been with us ever since.






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  1. Tthe Regent Park demolition photos are amazing – seems a lot of people were determined to turn their little boxes into individual statements! Agree – somewhat sad but also cheery.

    • Kay got it right: something really can be sad & cheery at the same time. There was also the sheer surrealism of a peeled-away building.

  2. I’m particularly struck by the defiant souls who painted their interiors a vivid colour. They may have been trapped by circumstance but their hearts were free. The others were, for whatever reason [and who am I to judge], happy to live with beige.
    I love people….. they scare the shit out of me, but I love ’em just the same.
    That song goes with a particularly interesting TV series as well. It got a much longer run than I thought it would.

    • I only learned the TV show connection when I searched You Tube for Malvina’s performance. Yeah, I really liked those bright interiors in the individual homes.

  3. We are all trapped by circumstances to some degree; we were born and we will die, whatever shelter we may find along the way serves its purpose until it does not.

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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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