Comment 88400

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2013 at 18:48:33

For Erik Hanson, Peterborough’s heritage resources co-ordinator, buildings aren’t just buildings. They’re living entities that help shape the human experience, and he has spent his career trying to preserve them.

His latest project will launch Tuesday night, when the city holds a meeting designed to determine public interest in establishing the city’s first heritage district – an entire neighbourhood put under the protection of the municipality by designating it under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Under a designation bylaw, any changes or additions to buildings in the neighbourhood would have to be approved by the municipality.

"If you are the owner of a designated property, the features of your house that have been deemed to contribute to its history are protected, and if you want to make an alteration, you would have to seek the approval of the city," Hanson said.

For Hanson and other heritage conservationists, a heritage district would be the next logical step in an evolution that began in the late 1960s, when people like the late local historian Martha Kidd “were banging on the doors of City Hall saying ‘Stop the demolition of our beautiful heritage buildings.’”

That evolution has accelerated over the last decade, says Hanson, 51.

“It’s true that in the last 10 years there has definitely been an upturn in awareness,” he said. “It’s due to a lot of factors. One is that it was 10 years ago that Peterborough got its first staff dedicated to heritage. A program was introduced that provided some financial incentives to people who owned designated properties.

“It’s been a huge boost to the downtown in terms of revitalization. There has been a huge turnaround in the downtown that has a lot to do with heritage revitalization. I think in the last 10 years we’ve designated 28 properties in the downtown. Prior to that, we didn’t have many.”

It’s not just about the aesthetics, Hanson says.

“It’s a pre-demonstrated fact that a community that is well aware of where it’s come from has a better idea of where it’s going,” he says. “Having a strong sense of a community’s past anchors people. It helps them understand the challenges they face in the present and helps them map a progressive direction of growth for the city.

“If you look around at places that have capitalized on their heritage assets, they tend to do very well in terms of business development and tourism, so from a purely practical perspective, heritage conservation is good business.”

Besides, he notes, people just plain love old buildings.

“There’s an amazing Facebook page that posts old photographs in the area, and if you read the comments, it’s astonishing,” he says. “If they post a photograph of the corner of Brock and Bethune in 1970, there’ll be 100 comments from people. The outpouring of fascination and reminiscence about the history of a place is a really good example of why heritage conservation is so important. As human beings we are really powerfully moved by a sense of place, and we want, in our communities, to feel rooted and connected.”

That notion of connection, he said, “crosses time. Being connected can be about understanding your place in the present, but it can also be about being connected to the past. That Facebook page speaks volumes about how important it is to be able to articulate memory, and the ability to articulate memory has a lot to do with having those touch points around you.”

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