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How do people value heritage buildings?


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#1 Ken Johnson

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 08:25 AM

The synopsis below was recently released by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. I wonder what the results would be in Victoria?

"Conserving Heritage Buildings in a green and growing city.

Vancouver Heritage Foundation commissioned a research study to explore perceptions of heritage buildings and their relevancy to current City priorities. VHF asked the public whether heritage building conservation matters, and if it does matter probed why and how we integrate building conservation with current civic priorities of affordability, density and energy efficiency.

KEY FINDINGS
• 96% of Vancouverites of all ages believe we need to preserve heritage buildings
• 96% agree or strongly agree that heritage buildings contribute to our sense of place, and 95% responded that heritage buildings maintain the historic character of neighbourhoods
• 72% agree or strongly agree that heritage buildings contribute to an environmentally sustainable city
• 50% of residents would prefer to live in an updated heritage building and 49% would pay more to do so.

#2 Mike K.

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 10:02 AM

In Victoria there is a movement that opposes any modern, worthwhile and future heritage development at a meaningful scale over (mostly unsubstantiated) fears that it will overshadow the prominence of some buildings of an earlier era.

Despite European metropolises successfully integrating modern architecture with centuries old landmarks on a scale virtually unseen on these shores, in Victoria new construction within old town quarters is dismissed as inferior, too modern, too big, too grand, and too out of scale. Dissecting the latter ultimately reveals that some believe modern architecture is more of a threat to certain political and real-estate agendas than anything truly too modern or too grand.

In Victoria I am too often reminded that modern architecture and urban renewal is held hostage by those who have vested interests in heritage preservation and (perhaps) the resultant profits from constraining the supply of modern housing and commercial space. The Northern Junk proposal is a perfect example of how the community is at odds with the heritage preservationists despite the community standing behind the restorative aspect of the project. You'd think that this would be a win-win, but despite the restoration of decrepit, crumbling buildings that have stood vacant for decades, pro-heritage interests are overly critical of the plan to build a meaningful urban addition to a part of downtown that could use all of the infusion of residents and businesses that it could get. This opposition, the majority of residents will tell you, is simply unjustified and misdirected.

Having said all of that, is the heritage preservation debate as presented by heritage conservationists really about heritage preservation, or is it about curtailing and down-scaling the modernization of specific urban areas under the guise of heritage preservation?

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#3 Greg

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 11:11 AM

I suspect a lot of people in Victoria who would be naturally predisposed to heritage preservation actually have come to have a very negative view of the "heritage movement" given that it has a strong history here of being misused to oppose all forms of progress and to oppose a lot of development efforts that would clearly benefit the community and could indeed be creating heritage buildings for future generations.

#4 jonny

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 11:27 AM

As someone who enjoys the urban form, I appreciate all eras of architecture and construction. Both the Empress Hotel and the Falls condominium are beautiful buildings, that integrate very well together as neighbours.

I don't think modern and old construction should be mutually exclusive in a particular neighbourhood, and I don't think you have to necessarily save an old building because it is old. Take, for instance, the facade they are preserving at the Era site. What a waste of time, money and energy that is.

I think you could plop several 10-15 storey buildings in Old Town and have them integrate flawlessly. I think the Sovereign will do just that. I don't think taller buildings will necessarily "dominate" smaller buildings, especially from the street level, which is really the only important perspective in my opinion. There's a parking lot on Langley and (I believe) Fort where I think another mid-rise like the Sovereign could go in and be a fantastic addition to the neighbourhood.

I also think that old buildings are useless if they sit derelict and unused. Take Northern Junk as an example; sure they may be historically relevant structures, but what's the point if nobody is able to really enjoy their existence? When I think of great heritage structures in Victoria, they are all used daily in business or government. If you turn the Northern Junk buildings into stores or restaurants that people can actually go to and enjoy, then you've released all of that potential that has just been sitting there and rotting for decades.

#5 Mike K.

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 11:43 AM

If you turn the Northern Junk buildings into stores or restaurants that people can actually go to and enjoy, then you've released all of that potential that has just been sitting there and rotting for decades.


The irony, of course, is the heritage preservationists tell us the community is getting a bad deal in return for the preservation of these buildings.

When the Northern Junk project was in its infancy we heard from the heritage preservationists that the buildings ought to be left vacant and unkempt if it means the "perfect" (in their opinion) buyer and restorer "may" one day come along and infuse millions into restoration without the audacity of asking for something in return.

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#6 jonny

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 12:16 PM

The irony, of course, is the heritage preservationists tell us the community is getting a bad deal in return for the preservation of these buildings.


Which is totally insane. The community is getting such an awesome deal from the developer on this one.

When the Northern Junk project was in its infancy we heard from the heritage preservationists that the buildings ought to be left vacant and unkempt if it means the "perfect" (in their opinion) buyer and restorer "may" one day come along and infuse millions into restoration without the audacity of asking for something in return.


The best offer the community might ever see may be the one that is right in front of them.

The city could also sit around waiting for the "perfect" developer and watch the buildings fall over on their own accord.

#7 Mike K.

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 12:30 PM

The city could also sit around waiting for the "perfect" developer and watch the buildings fall over on their own accord.


Sort of like the Johnson Street Bridge?

An outsider looking in would tell you that maintenance of the City's heritage and restoration of heritage assets is a stringent requirement imposed on private land owners. If a municipal body feels heritage is a burden it's out with the old and in with the new.

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#8 gumgum

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 12:49 PM

From my standpoint the most effective and realistic heritage advocates are those that embrace new and modern development. It is afterall because of new developments that restoration of our important heritage landmarks will and have occurred.
If it weren't for the Railyards for example, I can think of a few very important heritage buildings in old town that would still be rotting away.
This is also why the new buildings and additions part of NJ and Janion are so important.

I just don't understand where heritage "purists" think the money would come from.

In addition to that, Victoria desperately needs more residents in order to ensure the health of d/t. To me, NJ will be a much better than if only the two buildings alone were restored.

I consider myself a heritage advocate. It would be a very dark day if the Janion or the NJ building were to be torn down. But this is what is happening right now...very, very slowly.

We need history, density and vibrancy. Not just a bunch of rotting museum pieces.

#9 AllseeingEye

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 01:09 PM

From my standpoint the most effective and realistic heritage advocates are those that embrace new and modern development. It is afterall because of new developments that restoration of our important heritage landmarks will and have occurred.
If it weren't for the Railyards for example, I can think of a few very important heritage buildings in old town that would still be rotting away.
This is also why the new buildings and additions part of NJ and Janion are so important.

I just don't understand where heritage "purists" think the money would come from.

In addition to that, Victoria desperately needs more residents in order to ensure the health of d/t. To me, NJ will be a much better than if only the two buildings alone were restored.

I consider myself a heritage advocate. It would be a very dark day if the Janion or the NJ building were to be torn down. But this is what is happening right now...very, very slowly.

We need history, density and vibrancy. Not just a bunch of rotting museum pieces.


I agree with the sentiments generally expressed by all posters on the thread to this point but !this! for sure: I love museums. I think museums are important for a variety of reasons. And I visit museums routinely whenever I can particularly when travelling. However - and here is my point and my primary gripe with the Victoria variant of what I term the Heritage Brigade - I have absolutely, utterly no wish whatsoever to ever live in a museum. And that more than anything I think encompasses my impression of the ingrained attitudes of so many Victoria heritage advocates.

To them I say sorry folks but by their very nature truly 'vibrant', exicting and world class cities are living, gowing entities that embody by definition the very notion of Change.

See examples like London. Ditto Paris. Both are replete with examples of architecture that celebrate the past but also look to the future. And neither of them look like they did 150 years ago. Or 50 years ago. Nor should they. Why should they? Both have heritage to die for and that makes anything here pale into insignificance by comparison. Yet both also have many, many examples of modern - even *gasp* tall - buildings. And they work just fine thank you very much. Meanwhile we have a noisy minority that screams and squawks bloody murder anytime something larger than 6 stories is proposed. I don't get that.

#10 Rob Randall

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 01:59 PM

It's a loaded question because we haven't even defined what's heritage.

Permit me to repeat the example I gave earlier about the May Street house that was designated heritage over the strong protests of some heritage experts who said that while it was old, it had very little historical or artistic importance and was unworthy of the coveted bronze plaque.

We have to be clear that the word "heritage" does not merely mean "old". This survey should not be interpreted to mean that citizens think 96% of all old buildings should be preserved. "Heritage" is a specific term that has different meanings to different people.

"[Randall's] aesthetic poll was more accurate than his political acumen"

-Tom Hawthorne, Toronto Globe and Mail


#11 Ken Johnson

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 02:45 PM

"In Victoria there is a movement that opposes any modern, worthwhile and future heritage development at a meaningful scale over (mostly unsubstantiated) fears that it will overshadow the prominence of some buildings of an earlier era."

I am pretty active in advocating the preservation of heritage buildings in Greater Victoria and I am not aware of any "movement that opposes any modern, worthwhile and future heritage development". Look around you, there are many modern buildings in the Downtown Core of Victoria.

What I am concerned about are developments that state they are "preserving heritage" but do so while inserting poorly designed, modern structures as part of the price for the deed.

From what I have thus far seen of the Janion proposal, the Architect has done a fairly good job: in the case of the Northern Junk proposal, I see and banal, unimaginative mass with few attempts to incorporate the structure into the fabric of the surrounding city.

"Architecture can help tell a story; it can take on a symbolic role; it can become an emblem; it can become part of a brand- and yes, to a remarkable extent, even represent the brand itself. A building can express the identity of a city through its stylistic language. It can express both a city’s inspirations and its aspirations. It can reflect its system of values and place these values in a continuum. The traditions of a city become associated with the traditions of its architecture. Form and context become one.
Heritage advocates, civic bureaucrats, politicians, all come and go, but the city, identified by its name, its reputation, its setting and its buildings, needs to prevail. The quality of a city’s buildings is a direct reflection of the quality of a city and its future aspirations."
Tradition and Invention in Architecture Robert A.M. Stern 2011

#12 Ken Johnson

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 02:56 PM

Thanks Rob for "It's a loaded question because we haven't even defined what's heritage"

In Greater Victoria we have some examples of modern buildings that have been designated as heritage buildings, for example, Saanich City Hall.

Heritage is not necessarily about a the age of a building. It is also design and quality and values. Good architecture is valued; bad architecture should be criticized - without regard for so-called amenities.

#13 Mike K.

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 03:04 PM

I am pretty active in advocating the preservation of heritage buildings in Greater Victoria and I am not aware of any "movement that opposes any modern, worthwhile and future heritage development". Look around you, there are many modern buildings in the Downtown Core of Victoria.


Luckily there is a movement in this city that is pushing for and celebrating modern architecture. Without the efforts of these individuals who work to counteract the efforts of the anti-development, pro-heritage groups there would be significantly fewer truly celebratory modern buildings in the downtown core.

To think that Northern Junk can be described as "banal, "unimaginative" and lacking in any merit relative to the existing urban fabric is a perfect example of the nonsensical treatment development proposals receive in this city. To think that two utterly dilapidated single-storey buildings can hold hostage the redevelopment of a major downtown waterfront parcel is absolutely ludicrous.

Banal, unimaginative and lacking in any merit relative to the urban fabric is, ironically, what Songhees is -- and it was celebrated by the very people who today tell us Northern Junk will defile the City's waterfront. Look around you, downtown Victoria is filled with far too many nondescript buildings that if razed tomorrow would have absolutely no effect on the civic pride and culture of this community.

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#14 aastra

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 03:05 PM

I've never liked the museum analogy. It implies that the "heritage brigade" is working to preserve the historical authenticity of buildings and spaces and the old town in general. In many instances they have worked (or not worked) to accomplish the exact opposite. The surface parking lots and empty lots along Wharf Street are not historically authentic. Nor is the road configuration at the entrance to the Johnson Street Bridge. These things are recent introductions and they're all the product of some of most flagrant destruction of historical authenticity that you'd ever encounter in any city anywhere.

The mission to preserve the parking lot that replaced a fine old historic building has nothing whatsoever to do with the preservation of history. The mission to preserve the parking lot that replaced a fine old historic building is all about preserving the familiar, the status quo. It's not a noble mission so it bothers me when the effort gets dressed up in noble trappings. For example, there's nothing noble about wanting to preserve the artificial isolation of the Northern Junk buildings. There's nothing historically authentic about keeping those buildings apart from their "old town" context.

Preserving the Johnson Street Bridge? The effort to do something like that would have fit much better with the museum analogy and the mission to preserve historic things. But as we all know, the "heritage brigade" was MIA during the bridge replacement debate.

#15 Ken Johnson

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 05:40 PM

The Hallmark Heritage Society, often cited for not putting forward a position regarding the Johnson Street bridge, felt that the existing bridge did not display a sufficient level of heritage value to merit restoration, for that is what it would be. A number of this forums members members still feel it should be saved and not replaced with a new, modern structure.

The Hallmark Heritage Society has never been in favour of preserving parking lots. They are not in favour of putting large buildings on the existing parking lot sites.

The City owned properties at Ship's Point (the old Ocean Cement site) has had various proposals put forward. Most failed because of cost and because the City and its citizens objected. This spaces should not be parking lots used for special events during the summer months (as it is now); it should be a green space with public amenities used for special events. One of the problems is the nice revenue stream the City gets from the parking - hard to give up.

The provincially owned property at Enterprise Wharf (at the foot of Bastion Square) is managed by the PCC. If you check back, you will find that it was purchased as part of a proposed greenbelt coming into the City. The parking lot here provides the PCC with a good revenue stream and they could not easily develop the property. What could you envision here that would be acceptable to the citizens?

What we have to do is stop being so negative about these sites and get involved, outside of this blog, and offer viable solutions that are acceptable to all of the citizens of Greater Victoria.

On the Northern Junk site, a well-designed iconic building may have been more acceptable. Take a look at the density of the proposed new building if you deduct the land under the Northern Junk site. Bad architecture will be with us for the next one hundred years. Be careful what you wish for. Rattle, Rattle.

#16 Brick and Mortar

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 05:44 PM

I am an advocate of Heritage preservation like most of the posters here. However I can not believe the rational behind the irrational voice of what can only logically be described as anti-gentrification. The NJ and Janion projects will both add much needed density to downtown. If Victoria's downtown core is to ever truly be "World Class" density MUST occur. Understanding that Victoria prides itself on its historical background there is no reason why modern architectural aspects can not be added to existing historical/heritage buildings. As many have also mentioned world class cities abroad have embraced this symbiotic approach and have gentrified once derelict areas of their respective cores. What these NIMBYs (not in my back yard) are advocating, is for downtown to remain the way it was decades ago. I am sorry people times change. What I find even more disturbing than a public group advocating against this change is that we have elected council members who are also very much in favor of challenging downtown development. While I find NIMBY an appropriate term I think the correct term as was coined in Vancouver on a similar issue would be to classify these people as FRUITs (Fear of Revitalization Urban-Infill and Towers). Victoria has an opportunity to become the "Vibrant" world class city that it claims to be, but this can not happen until the city has a pulse. To have a pulse you need people, to attract people you need density. My hats go off to Jon Stovell and Reliance, they have invested themselves in these project and in this city. Shame on those who can not see the bigger picture. Good luck tonight, Unfortunately you may need it.

#17 aastra

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 06:52 PM

The Hallmark Heritage Society... felt that the existing bridge did not display a sufficient level of heritage value to merit restoration.


I think this curious selectivity is exactly why so many Victorians are fed up with the Hallmark Society. The group is too often on the wrong side of common sense. They make a fuss when they should be thrilled and they keep their mouths shut when they should be outraged.

The Hallmark Heritage Society has never been in favour of preserving parking lots. They are not in favour of putting large buildings on the existing parking lot sites.


...it should be a green space with public amenities used for special events.


Why should it be green space? What precedent does green space have in that location? It has no precedent at all. If a site was formerly occupied by a large building (the HBC warehouse, for example) and now the site is occupied by a parking lot, why should green space make for a good fit? Don't get me wrong, people can advocate for green space there all they like, but it's disingenuous to advocate for green space there as part of a heritage preservation platform or to tie that sort of advocacy in with supposed concerns about historical authenticity.

Bad architecture will be with us for the next one hundred years.


Again, what does a concern for "bad architecture" (whatever the heck that means) have to do with heritage preservation? If the Northern Junk proposal represents the menace of 100 years of bad architecture then why aren't you raising that same concern about the new bridge?

The Hallmark Heritage Society has never been in favour of preserving parking lots. They are not in favour of putting large buildings on the existing parking lot sites.


Or small buildings, as we're seeing with the Northern Junk proposal.

Here's the thing: I can claim that I'm not in favour of a certain situation, but if I persist in engaging in activity that contributes to the situation, people are naturally going to take my words with a shovel of salt. I can claim that I'm not in favour of automobile traffic, but if I also devote myself to prohibiting cycling, skateboarding, and rollerblading then I have to realize that I'm contributing to the very situation that I claim not to want.

What we have to do is stop being so negative about these sites and get involved... and offer viable solutions that are acceptable to all of the citizens of Greater Victoria.


One is not being negative when one appreciates the many positive aspects of the Northern Junk proposal. We've seen this proposal evolve over many months and we all know how much care and attention has gone into it. Negativity comes into play when one dismisses something by default, regardless of particulars. Let's actually dare to consider what a serious proposal such as this one actually brings to the table. Enough with the canned knee-jerk reactions.

I really want to see you and your group start articulating exactly why you do and do not like what you like. You need to start being specific, and you need to start being consistent.

(Also, if you're genuinely concerned about "viable solutions that are acceptable to all citizens" then the ongoing bridge issue is made for you. Get on it.)

#18 aastra

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 07:24 PM

What these NIMBYs (not in my back yard) are advocating, is for downtown to remain the way it was decades ago.


Again, I feel like I have to emphasize that this just isn't correct. What they're advocating for along Wharf Street (for example) is for the situation to remain basically the same as it is right now, in 2012.

The last thing they would ever want is for that area to be more like the way it was "decades ago". Decades ago there were effectively one-and-a-half more city blocks down there and 10-12 more buildings than there are now (the tallest building being three stories). There were no traffic islands. There were no parks or even any trees.

Back in those days the Northern Junk buildings were not isolated and removed from everything else. They were part of the urban scene, tightly integrated into the streetscape. That's one of the reasons why I really like the Northern Junk proposal. It will restore the streetscape on the west side of Wharf Street and it will undo the isolation of the old warehouse buildings.

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#19 Bingo

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 09:15 PM

Isn't heritage in the eye of the beholder?

Ask any old-timer and they are usually sorry to see some old landmark threatened that was a presence in their life when they were younger. The fact that the landmark may not have any significance to the younger generation of today, might be a sore spot for the seniors that have lived here for years.

In 50 years we could see todays younger generation being upset if developers want to replace an obsolete building like the Atrium.

#20 Mike K.

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 09:23 PM

But that's the thing, the younger generations in Victoria have no desire to do away with the City's stock of old buildings.

The generations of Victorians that once razed much of historic downtown Victoria in their days of young adulthood (or stood idly by while political agendas of the day allowed such things to happen) seem to believe that the young adults of today are equally as unmotivated and disinterested in the urban form of their city.

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