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Trying to maintain our uniqueness

“Can we preserve a whole street?” was the headline in the December 2012 edition of this column, reflecting the neighbourhood response to the loss of one of the original homes on Parkhurst Blvd.

There are several streets like Parkhurst, with an uninterrupted block of houses similar (but no two being exactly the same), in scale, massing, height, design and materials. There is rhythm and beauty in the streetscape context of the properties, not just in the individuality of well-proportioned homes.

However these streets are under constant threat from demolitions and reconstructions.

Recently a nomination was submitted to the city’s Heritage Preservation Services by the Leaside Property Owners’ Association, with the support of Councillor John Parker and former mayor of East York Alan Redway, for consideration of a South Leaside Heritage Conservation District (HCD).

This study would determine appropriate boundaries in the residential area south of Eglinton, north of Leacrest, east of Bayview and west of Laird.

Why an HCD? Heritage preservation is about maintaining a unique quality of place, about enhancing the quality of life, and about supporting the cultural and economic vitality that accompanies areas with high conservation values (such as Wychwood Park, Rosedale, Cabbagetown), not only about saving old buildings.

An HCD is an area comprising more than a single property, that offers protection from demolition and alterations that are unsympathetic to the district character. Heritage conservation districts allow for a holistic approach to managing change. The criteria for a HCD are the same as for a single property designation (design or physical value, historical or associative value, and contextual value) plus social or community value, and natural or scientific value.

Leaside was a “model town,” planned in complete detail before a single building was erected. Its 1912 street and lot plan was designed by Frederick Todd, who also designed the Town of Mount Royal in Montreal.

When development got going in the 1930s and 40s Georgian and Tudor Revival styles were favoured by its developers, especially Henry Howard Talbot, the developer-mayor, and often by other builders like Brockington, Cairns and Slightham.

Leaside‘s Georgian and Tudor Revival houses on streets like Parkhurst, Sutherland, Rumsey, Bessborough and Airdrie are under incremental attack from developers “from away” with no respect for the context or the history of the area.

Alan Redway, in his letter of support for the nomination says:

“I have lived in South Leaside for almost 75 years. During that time South Leaside developed and matured as a well-planned community where one could often see a progression of home designs side by side starting with low-rise apartments built next to several bungalows, then a number of semi-detached homes built next to a greater number of detached homes.

“This was one of the well-planned features of South Leaside as ori-
ginally developed. Today that type of planning and development is under attack for a number of years now.

“South Leaside has been witnessing demolitions and new monster additions, many completely at odds with the long existing physical character of South Leaside. For example bungalows are almost a thing of the past. The logical progression of housing designs that I have referred to is being completely destroyed.”

I might add that Mr. Redway’s “logical progression of housing designs” was accompanied by a progression of economic means also – people moved from small homes to larger ones as their means improved, resulting in a healthy mix of incomes. This also may be threatened, as the mix declines and large houses predominate, and if attempts to convert medium rent apartments into condos are successful.

The LPOA has taken the first step towards an HCD. City Planning will now have to evaluate the nomination and prioritize it amongst all the other neighbourhoods interested in the same thing. It will take a while, and it will be up to the community to support the process.