Renovation is the greenest way to build, but so often our older buildings are left to rot and collapse. Toronto's 1850 era Walnut Hall was designated as historic ten years ago, but was left empty and exposed until bricks started falling off it and the City demolished it. The owner quoted Captain Renaud from Casablanca: "We're shocked, we're quite disturbed by the whole thing." Chris Hume notes in The Star that "heritage preservation is a crucial aspect of metropolitan civilization" but in Toronto and most of North America, "nothing should be allowed to interfere with the rights of property owners, even when they are yahoos who would wreck a unique and valuable site to make a buck."
Catherine Nasmith of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario is disgusted.
Surprisingly, Walnut hall was allowed to rot for twenty years by a previous owner, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whose Toronto Headquarters were next door (now an hotel)
She (with Peter Ortved and Tony Stappells) says "Great cities are made up of layers of important places, each generation adding their best. Buildings are more than private property: They are part of the public realm." and notes that "Restored properties command higher rents in both European and U.S. cities. Studies in the U.S. and by the University of Waterloo show that conservation and rehabilitation of historic structures lead to higher property values, increased assessment and greater economic spin-offs for neighbourhoods."
It isn't just historically notable buildings that should be preserved; perfectly boring and ordinary buildings from past eras make up the texture of our cities, and most have the bones to support renovations into modern, energy efficient and useful structures. Yet depreciation for tax purposes and high property taxes often encourage owners to demolish rather than preserve.
Nasmith complains that nobody is willing to "stand up to the juggernaut of a hot development market fueled by let's-make-a-deal planning approvals. Density transfers have saved many buildings in the past but are ineffectual today when density bonuses are handed out like candy."
Demolishing buildings fills dumps, and building replacement structures uses huge amounts of concrete. Nasmith says "Toronto can and must retain its architectural diversity in the same way that it fosters cultural diversity. Let's have landmarks, not landfill." ::The Star
photos this page by Marc Lostracco from Torontoist