Hey Toronto, what’s up with all the progress?


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Toronto looked better in 1904 (Image: Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 4, Item 39)

Toronto is a vibrant, progressive city, and it’s changing every single day. New tourist attractions like the Ripley’s Aquarium are popping up. Bold, architecturally interesting developments like the Mirvish+Gehry towers are being proposed. And new, innovative urban solutions to the city’s retail and residential needs are seemingly unveiled every day.

It needs to stop.

Indeed, the time has come, with our eyes so squarely focused on the future, to ask if we are losing sight of our past. That’s why I’ve founded the Committee to Keep Everything the Same Forever (CKESF).

Sure, the CKESF understands that the population of Toronto is rapidly expanding, and that the city’s infrastructure must be updated to accommodate the growth. But we’d like to counter by pointing out that hey, old buildings look prettier.

In the name of “progress,” the city is losing its character — and for what? Just so people can actually live and work here? It’s disgusting.

Well, the CKESF won’t stand for it. Why build more condos, we ask, when clearly the city’s massive annual influx of new immigrants could live in fashionable, historic lofts? Why build Walmarts and supermarkets when there are so many overpriced boutiques around? Are our values so out of whack that we’d force people to live in some newly built, clean and safe condo — close to a convenient shopping centre — just because people can actually afford to live there?

Where are our priorities?

Some might argue that there simply isn’t room for all of us if we keep designating so much downtown real estate as heritage. Well, those of us who cherish Toronto’s cultural landscape are more than willing to make a little more room in our own homes, and you should too. Bunk up, buddy. We’re not going to tear down a crumbling theatre just so you can have a bed to yourself. Victor Garber once trod those boards!

Others argue about the cost of maintaining all that heritage. Those in favour of “progress” say it’s a heavy burden to ask property owners to maintain historic buildings and, financially speaking, it doesn’t seem feasible for the city to bear the brunt of the upkeep. But to those people I ask, how can you put a dollar sign on the joy people get when they walk by a historic building and say, “Hmm, that’s neat?”

Furthermore, we believe that old buildings actually hold up pretty well. One of the founding principles of the CKESF is, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” Spacing recently uncovered a catch basin grate from 1888, for example, and it’s still working just fine, thank you very much.

Finally, while we know it’s a lot of work, CKESF is here to explain that it’s going to be worth the sacrifice. If we can just look past the desire to have efficient, functioning, safe, appropriate and modern real estate downtown and instead embrace borderline hysteric nostalgia, we’ll all be able to share in simpler joys, like walking past a student learning centre featuring a two-story high neon monument to an outdated technology (fingers crossed!). We’ll all relish the pleasure of explaining to our children what a record is, and then get the pleasure of hearing them say “Oh. Can we go now?”

And who, I ask, can turn that down?

Indeed, for a perfect example of Toronto’s ability to ignore sound economic planning, expert-backed studies, public safety and common sense all in the name of keeping everything the same forever, one needn’t look any further than the city’s transit system, a shining beacon of all the nostalgic wistfulness to which the CKESF aspires.

If we can get by on a transit system designed to meet the city’s needs from 20 years ago, why can’t we do the same with our real estate?

When he’s not forming committees to preserve Toronto’s heritage, Ben Johnson writes about beer on Ben’s Beer Blog. You can follow him on Twitter: @Ben_T_Johnson.

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