Heritage Conservation Districts in Toronto Blog

Yesterday, the City Planning Division launched Heritage Conservation Districts in Toronto, a new blog dedicated to helping Torontonians learn more about the Heritage Conservation District (HCD) studies and plans happening throughout the city. On the blog you’ll be able to find detailed background information, study area boundary maps, read community consultation presentations and use feedback forms on each HCD study/plan. The blog also has historic photo galleries and a page dedicated to answering frequently asked questions. This is a really exciting initiative that creates a meaningful way for us to share our work with the public, while also creating a vehicle through which we can collect feedback that will in turn shape our work. Below is the text of my opening remarks that were posted on the blog, entitled “Why Do HCDs Matter?”

As we grow and change, the identity of our city is nurtured and cultivated by the choices we make. We recognize that some stories, and some of our built identity, adds value and tells us something about ourselves.  We see this heritage as an asset; the future city needs to draw upon it to be authentic moving forward.

HCD’s are a policy tool designed to ensure we do just that.  By managing growth to be in keeping with our heritage, not only do we reinforce a distinct sense of place in our city, but we also add economic value.  The Brookings Institute states, “As a local economic development tool, heritage preservation has more than proven its value.  While it is often more efficient and profitable to redevelop buildings, even more importantly, heritage preservation boosts land values.”

But in Toronto, hasn’t so much already been lost, that it’s hardly worth saving it at all?  I often hear this refrain.  And its true – we are late to the game and we do have some significant catching up to do when it comes to protecting our heritage.

I recall, however, a few years back, while working on the Queen Street West Heritage Conservation District, and in consultation with Anthony Tung (author of Preserving the World’s Great Cities), I learned that when New York City implemented some of its key districts in Tribeca in 1991 and Soho back in 1973, the same argument was made.  Today, these Districts, as a result of clear regulation that has shaped growth over many decades are more unified, more distinct, and more desirable, than they were 50 years ago. In fact, these districts have been so successful that the Tribeca district was extended in 1992 and 2002, while the Soho Cast Iron District was extended in 2010.

Heritage Conservation District studies are such a useful tool precisely because they allow us to look at a cluster of heritage resources, and to put a policy framework in place that ensures new development builds upon distinct and valued characteristics over time.  As districts evolve, the change that takes place enhances, rather than detracts from, the uniqueness that already exists.

So I am thrilled that you are reading this blog.  It will be your one stop resource for information from City Staff and the consultants we are working with on the implementation of new HCD areas in the city.

We trust you will find it to be a valuable, interesting resource.

Jennifer Keesmaat

Chief Planner and Executive Director,
City Planning Division,
City of Toronto