Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

Speech at Council for why I voted against the 223 Princess St development application

By: James Jeff McLaren
Major Topic:
Minor Topic:

Speech at Council against 223 Princess St.

Kingston is unique. There are many things that make us unique. However we face a serious question: is our cultural built heritage worth keeping unique? There are at least two strategies to maintaining our cultural built heritage: we can preserve its look and feel as close to what it was when built (a strategy followed for example by Paris, Rome, Quebec City) or we can juxtapose it with new redevelopment (for example Victoria, Halifax and London). Both can work. But which is better for Kingston?

Mixing the old and the new through juxtaposition is easy. It can just happen. One mistake or one moment of missed vigilance and a city is almost forced to go down the juxtaposition route. That is why that strategy is so commonplace in North America.

However, might our uniqueness be better served by our own exclusive and particular heritage protection strategy? Do we want Kingston to be naturally associated with the first group of cities or with the second group?

I prefer the second group. I believe the greatest value in the short and long term for Kingston is in the second option: to be more like Paris not London.

This seems to be the choice Kingston made when we instituted the height restriction in the downtown and harbour area bylaw. Is the bylaw still relevant? Yes, of course it is. The bylaw was arrived at with broad public support and it still clearly has broad public support.

This bylaw is a powerful contributor to the quality of place that we enjoy in our downtown. It ensures the investment that many have put into preserving our downtown does not get wasted. Many have invested in a vibrant quality of place that is defined by its surroundings. Surroundings are the greatest contributor to a sense of place. Any business person knows how much effort they put in to creating a sense of place for their business; recall how much effort you put into transforming your house or apartment into your home. We all do strongly value a sense of place.

The concreteness and the stability of a consistent sense of place provides the soil for intergenerational connections through the organic lived experience that link us to our parents and ancestors who shared this place. This is in contrast to sterile and monstrous cyborg-like juxtapositions that rend organic growth, cutting off our roots from our lived connections to our past.

It is these lived experiences and connection to our roots that contribute meaningfully to the authenticity of our city and the uniqueness of our public life. These lived experiences provide a sense of belonging to a place that helps fulfill an inner need for security, permanence and a source of personal identity. Tearing up these connections from our collective experience is unhelpful in building a shared relevance or deep roots within our community and with our city. The law, when directed at the common good, is a guardian of our collective traditions, values, and expectations. The law provides a thread that bind our community’s past to our present and to our future in a tapestry of collective experience. In this sense the law is TO the community what our character is to each of us: a very significant part of who we are and how others see us.

What face do we want to put on the character of our city for the next 100 years? Piercing the heart of our heritage downtown with a modern 21 century prosthesis-like tower strikes me as Borg-ifcation where our resistance to Kingston’s assimilation into a mono-culture where every city is pretty much the same will become more and more futile. If our city’s architecture is just like every other city’s then that is just one less reason to come to Kingston.

Kingston’s current bylaw allows for 3 to 4 times the height and massing of most existing buildings. The bylaw’s intensification allowances are huge. It provides for managed, orderly, and expanding growth. The bylaw allows for the protection and enhancement of our cultural and built assets.

These are all the good things we want in good measure. In short I believe our current downtown zoning bylaw finds the best balance between long lists of competing intentions, interests, and desires. I see the law as a limit to audacity not as an anchor point to negotiate a new level of audacity. To me the reasons given for amending the bylaw seem to be examples of reason run amuck. Reason blinded from reality. The cure for that is to get out of the imaginary world and get into the real world; open your eyes and see: simply put: the building is just too tall.

I have, therefore, not yet been provided with a good reason to unbalance the bylaw or adjust the height element in the bylaw.

Thank you.

Added on: Sept 3, 2016
By: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren