Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Tale of Big Cities: The Issues of Culture in Large Urban Centres

At the ACO/CHO conference, I had the honour of being able to sit in on the Culture in Big Cities workgroup. Consisting of members from the Region of Waterloo, Toronto, and even Winnipeg, the group was filled with vast experience in big city planning.

Two major considerations were discussed in this group; what the evolutionary steps of cultural nodes are and, how to protect them long term. It was agreed that when cultural activities take over a derelict site or neighbourhood, the area is in a state of rebound. Buildings become occupied by tenants, streets became filled with people. These are signs of a healthy neighbourhood. As areas become the “it” places to live and work, gentrification begins to occur. It was argued that in big cities this is the beginning of the end for these cultural centres. With gentrification and new development comes the displacement of those that made the neighbourhood what it is. When this occurs a dark picture was painted, one of tall condo buildings and late night bars, an area that has lost its “sense of place”. An example of this is Queen Street in Toronto. As development and gentrification happens, as every other building becomes a condo tower, the artists and working people move further west.

A City of Mississauga Heritage Committee member offered solutions to this issue. He contested that municipalities need to be active in designating/developing cultural nodes around their cities. While they do not have any direct protection such as a Part IV or V designation, they offer the municipality a tool to limit development and allow an evolution of these areas. Considerations when designating a cultural node are varied. Municipalities will have their own list, but some suggestions were rent, visibility, transportation, existing artists’ live/workplaces and number of galleries. The member finished the meeting by commenting that for a stool to stand, it needs three legs. For cities to work, they need developers, municipal governments and the community standing together.

Written by Paul Dubniak

Paul Dubniak is a graduate from the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo. He is currently employed at the Heritage Resources Centre on the Historic Places Initiative.

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