Should we be upset about this?


Several beautiful, early 1900s mansions in Forest Hill, such as the one pictured above (images courtesy of google streetview) have recently been demolished and replaced by houses without any architectural integrity. The issue is complicated. When you think of a city’s character you often think of it’s downtown core: these are the San Fransisco townhouses, the Montreal triplexes, the Boston brownstones, the Brooklyn walk ups. One doesn’t often think of a city’s wealthy suburbs, because, they all look the same.

Arguably, we should be more concerned with the heritage of the dense and colourful downtown houses than the mansions in the suburbs: the rich, after all, can always rebuild, and the beauty of the houses they demolish for the modern but ugly new dwellings is wasted on them. It’s their choice, after all, and the common citizen usually doesn’t traverse the suburbs unless they themselves live there.

And yet, it is these inner city suburbs that give Toronto it’s character. A very unique part of the city is the ability to live in a very comfortable neighbourhood, but also be right in the middle of the city, near a subway or bus line, with commerce and mixed use thoroughfares nearby. Toronto is “the city of neighbourhoods” after all, and the beautiful neighbourhoods of many scales the surround Toronto’s financial core are essential in evoking that Toronto sense of place.

One also thinks of similar issues in other cities, notably Vancouver, where wealthy Chinese families have moved into to older neighbourhoods, and demolished beloved old homes, replacing them with lavish, humongous monster homes, without regard to the aesthetics of the area.

One can lament the death of an old neighbourhood. It happens in many ways: all at once, like the urban renewal projects that saw the end of inner city neighbourhoods in favour of modernist towers; otr it can happen slowly, like the neighbourhoods north of Lawrence, smaller homes slowly succumbing to a wave of monster homes. The same thing is happening in Forest Hill, I suppose: older homes succumbing to ones with more modern furnishings. But that’s the city: we have to respect it’s need to reinvent itself and reuse its land, even if that means the demolishing of beautiful old residences. Some will remain, we will learn, but the city will continue to be wonderfully varied, and we will continue to appreciate the beauty of the old.