Monday, February 18, 2008

Scrap the façade

Or so goes the London Free Press headline in its account of an architectural report commissioned by the City to lay the groundwork for a deal to lease 5,000 square feet of office space for 10 years at an estimated cost of between $1.15 million and $1.6 million from developer Shmuel Farhi in exchange for preserving the narrow façade of the old downtown Capitol Theatre building.

Whether it is worth saving to the taxpayers who will help fund its restoration was not a question that the architect, Allan Avis, was contracted to address. Having written that it "warrants preservation and restoration," it would seem that he was instead invited to regard the question as moot, as it is in fact from the view of the politicians who commissioned the report at taxpayer's expense.

"It's pretty amazing," Controller Bud Polhill said yesterday. "There may be a premium to pay but there will be a great benefit, too."
Of the premium there is no doubt, but what should Londoners suppose is the benefit to them of preserving a strictly generic façade to a building that many of them haven't even seen for years? Having pretty much ceded the entire Talbot-to-Wellington corridor along Dundas to the vagrant population, it's unlikely in any case that the city's junkies, hoodlums and welfare recipients could have seen through the equally generic blanket of punk handbills that covered the façade since the theatre was vacated years ago. Assuming that they would have appreciated the value of downtown heritage, it has become a heritage of human more than structural dereliction now. Restoring one façade among several blocks of decrepit and half-empty store fronts will hardly restore the rest of London to the core.

The state of preservation being what it is in London, façades of generic political management have at least nothing to fear. In forcing through millions of dollars over the past decade in downtown restorations and improvements, London's politicians have ignored the real heritage of entrepreneurial building and commerce that created a vibrant and viable downtown in favour of promoting their own heritage of top-down driven managerial vanity. While administration has done an admirable job in recent years loosening restrictions on residential development in the core, politicians remains committed to a rose-coloured vision of business land use from which they perversely calculates the tight controls and political interventions that have destroyed the downtown. The evolution of the economy to produce new forms and functions makes it quite obvious the downtown will never appear or function precisely as it once used to. So it should be obvious that if a successful heritage of entrepreneurial creativity is permitted and protected instead of being regulated and restricted, the downtown will find a new way to thrive.

From the February 12, 2008 London Free Press:


Jake said...

As I stated in one of my articles a few months ago, the city's ultimate goal pertaining to Dundas Street is to turn the entire area into a habitat for government employees. The Capitol building is only the first of many to come.

They spend $5 million to purchase and renovate the old TD Bank building at Wellington and Dundas in 2001 under the same "heritage" mantra.

Next they will buy up the old buildings next to the old Smugglers Alley and down the row they go.

What will motivate the private sector to invest in our downtown if the primary tenant/ building owners are the city? I'd say the majority of the building downtown are already owned or occupied by some level of government.

Satan said...

First we take this town, then we burn it down,
Paul Van Meerbergen for Mayor!

Anonymous said...

IMNSHO, the headline says all that needs to be said on this matter. It's not often that a complex and divisive subject can be boiled down to four especially well chosen words. Kudos to the freeps.

NIAC said...

You know, "nostalgia" turns to "nausea" when it costs a bit of money.

I understand the words when speaking of "preservation" and "historical", but why be so hypocritical when using them? Someone paved over Talbot's Trail, and put bridges all over the Thames. Damn them for their forward thinking.

Honey Pot said...

It is pretty easy to waste other people's money methinks.

Dr. kimmy mcnutbar said...

Heritage tourism is the number one industry in the world.

Some people get it, some people don't.

Psychotic, single-cell amoebas never do.

Jake said...

Dr. Mcnutbar,

Heritage tourism only works in downtowns that encourage private investment and opportunities--not ones that 'invent' reasons for people to visit with fake medal trees, government office workers and ugly murals on empty shopping malls.

City Hall has never gotten this into its head and continues down the beaten path of public spending to fix downtown.

Londoners are gullible in believing that after two decades of trying to save downtown through public spending that more public money with simply solve the problem.

We were told in the 1990's that building the Galleria and Convention Centre would fix downtown--it never happened. We were told in the early 2000's that if we built a new, state of the art library and arena it would do the same--again, never happened.

Now the same folks who were wrong then are trying to make us believe that a new performing arts centre and having the city occupy old buildings on Dundas Street are going to solve downtown's poor state. Do you see the pattern yet?

The success of our downtown depends on the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurs and businesses--not Gord Hume and city hall bureaucrats who think public coffers and subsidies are the way to go.

Honey Pot said...

Well said Jake. The artifical life that city council is pumping into downtown is just that, artificial.

The market, the jlc, the library, the ugly art, they didn't do a thing to want to make people go down town. Ditto for Storybook gardens, another loser in a long list.

If anyone thinks wasting money to restore another old dump is going to do it, has rocks in their heads.