Toronto: fight for it or lose it
I live on a street in downtown Toronto with a lot of character. It's fairly narrow so there is an intimacy about it. Most of the residents walk in and out to public transit so we know each other and knowing your neighbours makes for a safer neighbourhood. Most important to a lot of us on this street is that it's dotted with uncharacteristic houses, many of them more than a hundred years old. Some are very small. Some are simply unlike any other house in the city. The street has personality.
Two years ago the lady across the street passed away in the 120 year old yellow Victorian that she had lived in for fifty years. It was on a double lot meaning that in a densely packed street, there was a sunny small park interruption as you walked along. We knew her house was coming down. What we fought was what the developer wanted to put in its place. It's almost done now: a hulking, drab modernist semi detached complex that looms over the street; taller than neighbouring homes and running property line to property line. Architecture has character and the character of these two new homes is aggressive. In a string of mostly unassuming quirky homes it says "screw you. I'm huge".
We won our case at Toronto City Hall. The Committee of Adjustment is composed of people who actually know the city. Their job is to strike a balance between what people want to do with their own properties and how their properties interact with the public space. I know Jerry Agar thinks you should be able to do whatever you want with your property, I'm not sure how he'd feel is someone built two six story 18 unit condo complexes with balconies overlooking his back yard. Of course the developer knew that it doesn't matter what the Committee of Adjustment says, he went to the Ontario Municipal Board which couldn't care less what average citizens want. The OMB told the developer to do whatever he wanted.
This week we learned the owner of the home next to this new complex has given up. He sold his one of a kind house. Now a developer is going to tear that one down as well.
Edmund Burke (a conservative) once said that there is an unwritten contract between those who are alive today, those who went before and the generations to come. It's obnoxious to tear up our history and our heritage as if we own the present rather than lease it. Progress is one thing. But this city has a habit of destroying its history. And as poor as we are today for the destruction of historic housing just what will this city look like in fifty years when most of us are dead and gone?