Toronto’s Distillery and Buffalo’s Canal Side

26 Nov

Via Richard Florida, I find this entry at Toronto’s “Move Smartly”, which laments the “Disneyfication” of the Distillery District. You’ll recall that the Distillery District was one of the myriad places brought up by, e.g., Donn Esmonde, as examples of what Buffalo’s Canal Side should be.

I pointed out then that the Distillery District was a poor example because (1) it’s far to the east of the downtown core, (2) it’s a restoration of actual old buildings; and (3) there is massive-scale modern development happening all around it.

The Jacobs urbanists at Move Smartly added this brilliant paragraph to their post about the Distillery:

Now, it’s not the ‘condos going up on artifacts’ thing that bothers me. I am not one to oppose building on history in some misguided attempt to keep things ‘sacred’, which in the sociocultural realm of North America, all too often means keeping things dead and preserved in underutilized museums. No, I believe that finding new reasons to visit old things makes a whole lot of sense. So revitalizing this beautifully historic area is a no-brainer.

In Toronto they build. In Buffalo, first they complain, then they protest, then they sue.

7 Responses to “Toronto’s Distillery and Buffalo’s Canal Side”

  1. Bill Altreuter November 26, 2007 at 8:37 am #

    In Buffalo there is also a history of getting this sort of thing wrong– a history that people are trying to get out from under. There is also the fact that most of the projects that inspire the complaints are, to one extent or another, public projects, projects built on public land, or projects that are substantially underwritten by public dollars.

    The Distillery District– which is terrific– is on private property acquired by private investors who used their own money.

  2. hank November 26, 2007 at 9:11 am #

    BP Sez: “In Toronto they build. In Buffalo, first they complain, then they protest, then they sue.”

    No Dirt on BP’s watch–he can tell what time it is.

  3. STEEL November 26, 2007 at 9:37 am #

    The comparison is a bit unfair.

    In Toronto they shovel money off the streets in Buffalo money is flushed down the toilet.

    If money was flowing in Buffalo there would be more building. The complaining and suing would also increase. There is a myth that other cities don’t fight projects like they do in Buffalo. Other cities do (and probably on a higher level) The difference is that easily available money keeps things moving

    In either case Disnified urbanism is dull stuff.

  4. Paul Mc November 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm #

    I have personal experience in Toronto and even visited the models for the condos adjacent to the distellery. They have been so successful that extra floors are being added. If one were to visit there, they would find the distellery to be perfectly intact with develpoment to the periphery. This is no different than our canal district being rebuilt with new development, i.e. Bass Pro being built on the peripherey. So what’s your point?

  5. Denizen November 27, 2007 at 1:36 am #

    Glad to see some Jacobite Urbanists who actually understand the writings of Jane Jacobs. She would certainly frown up the revertionist historicim approach that many preservationists take when it comes to preserving old buildings and clumsily trying to recreate some idealized version of the past.

    Many self-described urbanists like to take her writings out of context to justify their own vision of what a city should and should not be.

  6. Paul Francis November 27, 2007 at 2:51 pm #

    Denizen, FYI. Jane Jacobs was one of the opinion leaders that helped found the Distillery historic district and craft the planning model for its redevelopment. I think Jane Jacobs can be counted among the people who understand the writings of Jane Jacobs, don’t you?

  7. Paul Francis November 27, 2007 at 3:02 pm #

    And Pundit, sorry to break it to you. There is no perfect model for the Canal District. Each model, each precedent, has its own comparative limitations. Does this mean Buffalo should ignore the lessons other cities provide? Your thinking is below par.

    The valuable lessons the Distillery are as follows: it shows how a pedestrian focus, genuine historic artifacts (the Commercial Slip and the streets are restored originals, which you consistently fail to acknowledge), good urbanism, a residential development focus, and local character and local businesses can attract people.

    In fact, the Distillery District has minuses where we have pluses. The Canal District has direct access to the water, Distilley is cut off my a noisy elevated highway (we have that problem too, but perhaps not for long, and we can at least still get to the water). The Distilley is in fact far from downtown or any dense, established residential area, and has weak transit access. The Canal District is already in the shadow of hundreds of potential consumer residents at Marine Drive and not far from high-income condo residents at Erie Basin. The Canal District is at the terminus of a light rail system that brings 9,900 people downtown on an average workday. For a city of our size, we have greater per capita capacity and lower rents than Toronto to sustain local business start-ups.

    Yes, Pundit, the Distillery comparison is not a copy of what we should do. But it’s a darn good study of many things we should do!

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