The Toronto Star’s article of June 22, 2010 by Christopher Hume in regard to “Heritage” and the proposed demolition of buildings in downtown Brantford, Ontario and the Toronto Beaches is indeed interesting and whilst I can agree with him on some matters relating to heritage there are others that are just a bit iffy.
Many years ago the City of Dundee with its population of 180,000 had a similar situation to that of Brantford, Ontario except on a much larger scale. Some VERY LARGE chunks of its downtown came under the axe in order to make way for a shopping mall, a shopping plaza, a hotel and an office building, some designed by one of the architectural firms where I worked. There was little opposition at the time, with Dundonians being just as ignorant as their City Councillors with regard to heritage.
So, after a spending spree on such construction our once charming downtown became an eclectic disaster…..a mix of bad planning and “slick modern” against a backdrop of Georgian delight. The mix didn’t work of course. It failed miserably in the architectural context as well as from a planning perspective.
The Councillors took credit, not blame for this outcome. They didn’t see the failure, or if they did they ignored it, hoping that Dundonians would forget in time……..but they didn’t, and now, some 40 years later I can reflect on that outcome and the ensuing results. A downtown city today of one-way streets, where you can see where you have to go to but cannot get there. A downtown city where the automobile rules. A downtown city with no residential! A downtown city failure!
The hotel, known as The Angus lasted less than 40 years and was demolished along with the shopping plaza….and to think that the buildings that they had replaced had lasted for over 200 years. Something wrong there!
The mall, known as the Wellgate Mall, still exists…..a 2-storey shopping centre that enters from the north at its upper level and exits at the south on the lower level. No housing! No offices! Opportunity lost! To think that it replaced a major pedestrian throughfare from the suburbs into the downtown, a thoroughfare that now relies upon elevators and stairs to make it work. Darned stupidity!
So, who’s to blame? Was it the City Councillors? How about the developers, or the architects even? Or perhaps everyone? Yes….everyone indeed.
The architects have to take some of the blame…but not all of it. Yes, they could have come up with better ideas in planning and marketing. The Wellgate Mall could have been single storey with 2 or 3 storey shops and housing on either side……and the architecture more sympathetic to Georgian and Edwardian…..modern, yes, but stressing sympathy! And maybe these ideas were offered and rejected. Who knows? So maybe we have to cite the developers…those who are seduced by the bottom line. But no! It wasn’t the developers. They’re not stupid. Had such ideas been offered they would surely have seen the potential for financial gain.
So that leaves the City Planners and the City Councillors, a mix of professional ignorance and personal greed, where the planners didn’t know any better and Local Government was tainted to a degree. Where I am told that certain Councillors and their friends took liberties. Where conflict of interest fattened bank accounts…….so I’m told. Yes, the rumours were rife at the time. Tales of the taxman investigation upon finding wads of greenbacks under automobile carpets. Tales of shady land deals. Tales of imprisonment. Actual imprisonment.
So, to date I’m all for Christopher Hume’s article, EXCEPT for his reference to that house in The Beaches….and that’s where I have to disagree. I have said it before, and repeat, “heritage” cannot be abused. It cannot take away an individual’s rights in law, and in the Beaches case the home owners had carried out their due diligence, had found the home to be free of “unusual” restrictions and accordingly had purchased it to demolish and replace with a new abode suited to handicapped living.
But a compromise is perhaps justified in this case. The new home does not have to be “slick modern” in style. It can be well designed for the handicapped and yet be in harmony with the architecture of the street. As long as someone pays for that re-design……and it shouldn’t be the owners!
And one last comment on the word. If the definition of “Heritage” is mistaken for ”old” then I’m not for it. “Old” alone does not cut it. A Heritage designation should be applied only to buildings of architectural note. Buildings that we are proud to retain.
So be it.