As a member of the YMCA Brantford Governing Council and the Chair of the Canadian Urban Institute, Terry Cooke is well-positioned to put a stop to the destruction of 41 Victorian buildings on Colborne Street in Brantford.
By Mahesh P. Butani
Published March 09, 2010
It is getting increasingly clear, as Brantford's heritage crisis on Colborne Street unfolds, that one of the organizations which finds itself at the centre of this unfortunate event is none other than the YMCA, an organization of which are a member of the Governing Council.
This is a public appeal to your good conscience and urban awareness to intervene in this crisis. It is my hope that as an outstanding member of the governing council of the YMCA, you will advise your organization in bringing a resolute end to the blasphemy that is occurring in Brantford.
As this Memorandum of Understanding (PDF link) from the City of Brantford website clearly shows, the decisions made on Colborne South are not just morally and ethically flawed, but would not hold up against serious public scrutiny. It is now also re-opening some very old questions.
The messy outcome of this parochial approach has put in jeopardy the future of 41 historic buildings. It has also ended up making a mockery of federal funding meant to boost the economy. Further, the misapplication of expropriation powers to demolish historical assets used here could now be used as precedence by other municipalities, if they are inclined to act in a similar manner with their buildings.
It is beyond comprehension that an organization as venerable as the Y could get itself entangled in a deplorable situation that has the potential of decimating Canada's heritage.
Terry, as the Chair of the Canadian Urban Institute, you, more than most at the Y, have to be acutely aware of the forces that create true urban rejuvenation, and those that lead to crinky illusions of progress.
We know from our own recent urban past that the approach which Y has taken is fatally flawed. It is this flawed proposition that has empowered the Brantford City council in staking out an adversarial position with many from Brantford and across Canada who care enough to know that history matters.
Continuing on this foolish path is simply not acceptable and no longer an option for self-respecting Canadians.
Have our political and cultural lives reached such a low point where some in our midst have come to believe that it is only by expropriating private properties with taxpayers money, destroying built heritage, and then handing over the flattened lands to a private non-profit organization for free, with zero tax-assessment, that we are able to build a sustainable model of urban revitalization for the next generation?
For every Haussmann, there are two dozen examples of renewal-by-fiat that have failed miserably. These glaring failures - many in Canada itself - are on account of the fact that we in Canada have lost the instinct to rebuild our cities with any deeper meaning.
As an example of how shortsighted policies can lead to an expanding spiral of twisted thinking - here is what Mary Welsh of Brantford, who is anxious to raze Colborne South, has to say about our built heritage:
A sound business rule has always been, when something becomes a liability, get rid of it!
In contrast to the above position, is a living example from Copenhagen of what can be achieved by making built heritage a partner in progress. Here is a look at how a for-profit company turned what Mary calls a liability into an asset (PDF link) - Carlsberg City.
It is only by leaving a small footprint on our past that we can take meaningful leaps into the future.
As reported yesterday in the Spectator, "Ontario wants a bigger share of the billions of dollars in revenue from out-of-country students, to help generate funds for cash-strapped colleges and universities."!
This is the new reality of our province. In these times, is destroying our built heritage to build gyms the way to attract foreign students?
Foreign students from various countries who know more about the implicit benefits of coexisting with heritage are watching thesse hijinx unfold on the Internet in real time.
Laurier Brantford, after saving over 14 heritage buildings, has become an inadvertent ally in the worst possible heritage faux pas any educational institution has committed in the world.
Laurier was smart to backtracking on this issue to retain its viability in the eyes of its students. However, it just couldn't resist muddying the waters of Academic freedom while itself caught blinded in the public glare!
Veritas Omnia Vincit. Truth conquers all, so the Laurier University's motto tells us. Now, if only, we can find it fast enough in Brantford!
For the Y, there are many way out of this snafu. The first is to offer an apology to all those it has caused much grief and whose time and energy it has ended up wasting by the pursuit of a patently foolish strategy.
The next is to invite professionals from all walks of life, especially the field of psychology, to ascertain as to how things came to this point, just to ensure that such events do not occur again.
And lastly, is to tell the people of Brantford that the Y indeed respects the heritage of our country, and in a renewed spirit of collaboration, is inviting relevant ideas from them which can truly lead to the revitalization of the spirit and form of Colborne.
Without your timely intervention, the Y may have an extremely difficult time extracting itself from this mess.
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