Holy smokes, is that ugly

Everyone has an opinion and that certainly shows up in conversations relating to development and architecture.

In recent years dark colours have taken hold. Greys and blacks have replaced standard red brick homes that were in vogue decades ago. As in-filling lots become commonplace, often so the owner can maximize return on a big lot, planners and builders are challenged to make homes fit the neighbourhood. Some achieve this goal more effectively than others. Some obviously do not care to even try.

And that sets up what amounts to the big rub for long established communities that have a feel. It isn’t until something disrupts the style or grace of a neighbourhood that people understand the need for planning regulations and standards. Scale matters and is important to property owners affected by significant changes to the streetscape.

We see this argument becoming more acute in recent years, in terms of redeveloping and rejuvenating old parts of town where industry has come and gone. As zoned land becomes more scarce, the pressure will be on to maximize density. Part of that equation is driven by provincial legislation but realistically the development community wants to make every dollar they can.

The challenge then for local councils and planners is to strike a harmonious balance between private ownership and public interests. Plantings, pathways and green space can turn an ugly concrete jungle into a more people-friendly zone. There is no time like the present to insist on projects that function well with current residents and future endeavours. Good planning involves thinking ahead.

That leads into a more specific conversation as it pertains to built heritage. By reactions in recent months, there is a disconnect between those who value heritage without equivocation and those entrusted with making decisions on allowances to keep structures intact. Even infrastructure stirs up similar conversations.

Far from here but still a good example is the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. A distinct French style risks losing its regal tone with the expansion of the hotel. At some point the owners were disallowed from mimicking the current style for fear of cheapening the look of the original structure. What has been proposed resembles a big box structure and will not be in keeping with the flavour of downtown Ottawa. The debate ensues.

Closer to home in Centre Wellington, activities at the Elora Mill and environs have not been without tense moments for the developer and heritage lovers. The Badley bridge, an arguable focal point in Elora for decades is due for replacement, despite pleas for rehabilitation. In all of these discussions, scale, which is very much a relevant talking point, gets little traction or consideration. If an understanding was found in less turbulent times, perhaps such conversations would be easier down the road. The current either-or proposition with polarized positions is not in the best interest of good planning or community building.

A similar problem exists with farm severances and the orphaning of homesteads. While we have seen some farmers step up and actually “restore” grand stone homes, others seem content bulldozing history. Sure, owners have rights, and sellers lose their voice once cheques are cashed, but there must be a better way. The wanton disregard of built heritage and old homesteads may be progress for some, but it leaves the community poorer in terms of architecture and settler history. At the very least, demolition permits should include a proviso that all materials possible should be reclaimed for reuse.

What looks good to some is an eyesore for others.