Westboro Resident Max Finkelstein: Thoughts on Intensification in our Community

7 11 2018

A letter from Westboro resident Max Finkelstein: Thoughts on Intensification in our Community

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Lot after Lot, Thought After thought: The Westboro Story

Or:

Pontification on intensification: the Westboro story

 

This year has seen a bumper crop of little black and white signs all over Westboro.   Back in September, a couple sprouted up on the lot next door informing us of a request for two ‘minor variances’ to allow the construction of two triplexes on the property. Another black and white sign appeared at 514 Roosevelt, just south of Kenwood, also seeking approval for two tripleses and  the same two ‘minor variances. And so began what we have come to call “Westboro and the Creeping Triplex Menace”.  For those of you who actually live in triplexes, please understand that we are not against triplex residents, nor are we against triplexes, but we are against development that contravenes the spirit of the zoning bylaw and that is unplanned, unsupported by the community,  and opportunistic.

For the past few weeks, we have been pouring over the official plan, zoning by-laws, streetscape analyses and other planning tools. Coffee has been spilled many times, as we drift off late in the night trying to understand the complexities of urban planning. But all this research has reinforced what we, and you, already know – that the factors that contribute the most to making a neighbourhood feel like an extension of your home can’t be counted or measured. A house, whether it is a single family home or a triplex, is an expression of values.

When we moved into Westboro two decades ago, we noted its tree-lined streets and unique homes. Attention to detail, pride in workmanship, artistic and innovative design….these homes spoke loudly, and those that are still there, still speak loudly, of these values and more. They looked as if they had grown there, and, like a mature tree, emanate a feeling of stability, of a place where the rate of change is just a little bit slower and saner. It was a neighbourhood that was a mix of small homes, stately homes, apartments, with the Jean d’Arc Convent, with its housing for single women, as one of the anchors of the neighbourhood character.  When we moved into our house at 487 Edison Ave.twenty years ago,  the house was divided into two apartments, and had been that way since about 1944. We lived in the downstairs apartment, and rented out the upstairs one. At one time, in our 1500 sq.ft. home there were seven people, and a few dogs, living there. Our tenants included students, and young families new to Canada (and some squirrels in the attic, and chipmunks under the front porch). It was only when our growing family made us feel cramped in the downstairs apartment that we decided to renovate the house into a single family home.

The first infills on our block, just after the new millennium, were aimed at middle income families. But intensification in the neighbourhood has taken the form of ever-bigger, and ever-more unaffordable, homes. Even the proposed triplexes next door would rent for $2,500 – $3,000/month, which limits them to high income earners. The one new proposal that has received strong community support is the Cornerstone housing development of 42 apartments for single women in the old Jean d’Arc Residence.

All neighbourhoods have a life cycle. Change is inevitable. But change needs to be planned so all the values that come together to make a great neighbourhood are not lost in the rush towards intensification and maximization of tax revenues – both good goals – but at what cost? We know the four tests to evaluate minor variances do not consider any of these values.  But we all know it when we see them, and when we don’t, in building proposals.  When we see identical ‘cookie-cutter’ designs plunked on lots that leave no room for mature trees to survive, when we see concrete and stone from lot line to lot line (‘intensification does not have to be ‘asphatification’) , when we see roof-lines as flat as a left-over morning-after  beer, everybody knows what values are being chosen, and not chosen.

Ottawa’s official plan states up front that  This Plan manages [this] growth in ways that reinforce the qualities of the city most valued by its residents: its distinctly liveable communities, its green and open character, and its unique characteristics that distinguish Ottawa from all other places….The qualities that make neighbourhoods special and contribute to their identity are valued in any consideration of land-use change.

The challenge to planners and politicians, the art and the poetry, is to balance change with community values. We can do both. Let’s work together to make it so. We can do better.

 

“If we add beauty to the world, we can be sure we are doing the right thing.”

 

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