"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Friday 6 April 2012

Hopes And Dreams

Chris Watts posted  this morning on the  George Browning house  and it's demolition. He is lamenting it's loss to the heritage  of our  town.

Chris contends no public discussion of  the proposed  Montessori school to replace the old dilapidated house.

It's over two years since the  house was sold, after decades on the market, growing  ever more forlorn and dilapidated.

To  me, it seems discussion has been ongoing for an age. 

It's forty years since the town's planning director viewed  the condition  of the house and reported negatively..

My married  children with adult children of their own ,  as children themselves  were familiar with the house, reported sagging ceilings and  other "spooky" conditions.

 I can be counted among those who shamelessly  never considered the building  anything but a blight on the street-scape.

It's location , accessible by narrow concrete steps  from the sidewalk, in my opinion, seriously compromises  function.

Substantial investment will be required to make it a satisfactory building site.

I wish the owners every success.

A tertiary  aspect of the property influences my opinion;

 I do not own it.

The town does not own it.

The property is owned  privately  by people who put money down and signed on the dotted line with  hopes and dreams of  realizing a plan. 

It is their right to risk. .I applaud them for it. People  have  been investing  in Aurora  since the town came to be. Assuredly,without them, there would be no town..

Contemplate the town  centre for a minute,

Check out the  vacant spaces and grimy windows  in heritage buildings then list what they contribute to  vitality of the street . 

It's forty years, since Upper Canada Mall was built.Dozens of hopeful  entrepreneurs   have since  invested in space  between Wellington and  Mosely and within months have retreated, defeated. 

I sat  on my stalled scooter at the corner of Tyler and Yonge on  a hot sunny Saturday morning for  thirty minutes, facing north and seeing but one pedestrian.  He vaulted a railing at the bank in mid-block to get from the bank machine.

An adult couple rode past me on bicycles  so sure were they of unchallenged and solitary ownership of the sidewalk.

Vehicular traffic was constant.

There was no  gridlock  at the Wellington/Yonge intersection caused by  buzz in the hub.

 It was the saddest, loneliest place in the Region. A place of broken dreams, failed business and a stalled scooter that only needed to be turned off and on again..

I traveled  Ontario  in the eighties. It  was a delightful step back in time to window shop and visit stores in towns where climate- controlled, unrestricted parking access at malls and shopping centres had not been established

I saw  brand name quality shoes and styles of clothing in  numbers of owner-operated stores that would never be found in the chains  that dominate  malls.And now may not be found anywhere.

I am well aware of what has been lost.

Last year I visited Lunenburg,Nova Scotia  to see how  things were  since  last I was there. The great old  buildings full of history and romance.  with vibrantly painted and curlicue festooned facades were  there, as they have been for hundreds of years.

Few businesses  were operating. Many stores were vacant.

Houses, on lots elevated above rights of way, while charming, made me think only of difficulty of access.

The Nation's Capital, has similar problems. The first pedestrian mall with high majestic store fronts on Sparks Street, is  seedy and run-down;public space  similarly unkempt.

Where I go, things I  look for, do not assure me times are easy for any business. We don't have to try to slow things down and watch buildings deteriorate.

The owners of the erstwhile Browning House  have much to do to determine physical and economic feasibility of plans for a Montessori school.

I wish them well.
I  hope  another for sale sign  will  not soon be posted on  the property  for further decades  of  receiving  municipal  services ; water, sewers ,street, street lighting, sidewalk. snow-plowing, police, fire protection and contributing but a penny of support  to the cost of  services provided to the property. 

If the owners plans are realized, we will see  a distinct improvement to life ,vitality and street-scape at the former idle,dilapidated site of the former George Browning house.We will realize cost-sharing for our municipal services.

When George Browning was building homes for successful business,  Aurora  was a vibrant, progressive place

He was building to meet  modern day needs. The site might have previously accommodated a modest clapboard house.

I doubt anyone lamented their  replacement  People  were probably not lamenting the loss of bush before then either.

Aurora was a place of hopes and dreams, plans realized and a legacy left for us to enjoy and build upon.


Anonymous said...

All too often now, we are seeing houses that were capable of raising extended families knocked down and replaced by meg-homes in which no one appears to live -private school, nannies, cottages, foreign travel and parents often away for weeks on end. . We have one couple who have a nanny for their dog. Let's hope the Browning place turns out to be a bustling, happy place. The site is great although I agree the front elevation will be a challenge. That little Montessori that was in an old house just south of Wellington was a huge success. Even provided jobs for Aurora teachers.

Anonymous said...

Sometime over the past few days, an individual commented that he/she thought that ACC stood for the Community Center in Aurora. Since we only used ACC to avoid undue emphasis on that stupid , over-worked word 'culture', could I suggest we just call it the Centre/Center in the future ? It leaves out ' culture'
and lets the Community Center use ACC. Just a proposal. Spelling will still remain fluid.

Anonymous said...

How is it that the Towns Heritage lovers and those gooks down on Adelaide street in T.O. have such a big say in how the private citizen must spend their hard earned $ saving these ramshackle wood sheds , Yet they offer not a farthing of compensation, tax incentives or even tossing a measly bone to these people. This BS costs big money and I don’t see these lovers of heritage digging to deep to do their part. By the way there is a marked improvement on the Yonge st. landscape this week !!

Anonymous said...

Adelaide Street in T.O ? Who is this and what is it about?
Must be something if he/she knows how to spell the street name. .What entity resides on Adelaide? Is someone calling the shots on heritage homes or have I lost the thread? The Region can't be there - we talking Ontario Government who has no money? Sorry for being so slow.

Anonymous said...

Maybe The Heritage Centre ? That moves the Museum closer, avoids ' culture ' and leaves ACC for the Community Center. HC isn't bad; we lose a letter is all.

Tim the Enchanter said...

Anon 805P

Adelaide Street is headquarters for the Ontario Heritage Trust.

I'm not a believer in the simple "Release the bulldozers!" approach and folks such as Chris Watt should be commended for their efforts to remind us that Aurora does have a heritage and it is important.

However it seems, the practical considerations, such as costs, associated with preserving heritage are so often left out of the conversation.

The Browning house for example(up until a few days ago).

How much to restore it?
Do we/can we order the owner to restore it?
Do we/can we compel the owner to sell the home only to a buyer that is committed to restoring it?
If the Town is committed to restoring the house do WE have to buy the place and THEN restore it?
What would that cost?
The property would then be off the tax rolls - how much does that cost?
Who pays?
What happens after we restore it?
Who pays for utilities and maintenance?
Do we open it to the public and charge admission?
Do we have to pay for staffing?

Nothing wrong with the preserving heritage but you need to bring the WHOLE story to the table so we can make informed decisions.

Anonymous said...

I have just returned from a vacation that included, among other things, a visit to Savannah, Georgia.

This is a very interesting city that was created as the first settlement in what would have been the 13th colony in British North America. It was interesting then as one of the rules around how the colony was governed was that lawyers were not allowed - would it not be nice if we had that law now?

What is interestng now is how they embrace their old buildings. Within the confines of the original town layout, they created 24 "squares". Each square contained a park like area and buildings surrounded them. Of those 24 squares, 22 still exist. 2 of them were taken over by - get this - a court house and jail; on what was called "Liberty Square".

Some of the old buildings are being restored by SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). This group buys derilict buildings and restore them either to be sold or to be used as SCAD facilities. I saw a building that they just purchased that was literally 4 walls - no roof and wild plants growing in them.

If we had a group in the GTA like SCAD we would have a better inventory of old buildings that would be usable today.