Finding Nemo on Preston Street

At a city meeting last night, I realized everything you need to know about the City’s proposed rezoning of Preston Street north of Somerset can be gleaned from Finding Nemo.


The role of the shark was ably played by city planning staff. They controlled the location, the moderator,  the display boards, the agenda, and most importantly the options presented for the public to choose from.

Most ordinary fish residents thought Preston north of Somerset, which consists mostly of residences, and has since 1902, as being a residential area. The zoning, which is all what most fish understand about city planning, has since 1963 shown it as residential.

Therefore, the word “zoning” never once passed the shark’s lips.

Instead, we were told, with semi-sad faces, that the sharks understood it was [currently] residential area, but alas, “planning documents” showed it as a traditional mainstreet since 2001, and without defining what a TM was or how that concept may have changed, and that designation permitted commercial use. They neglected to say that would require rezoning approval. Or that several neighbourhood studies thought there was no need to change the zoning.

Until now.

So to help us little fish, the nice sharks planners had drawn up three options for us to choose from, nicely shown on big colourful poster boards. Did we want a lot of commercial, or just a little?

The little fishies were entertained with cutesy stories of the little cookie maker who bakes cookies in his kitchen and sells them from his living room and grows up to open up a bigger cookie store [in a better neighbourhood, of course]. And of the little old lady making special sauces that displayed in her front window and sold only to neighbours, and only if they walked to her house, and only if they smiled nicely.

Of course, the sharks don’t have the rules nor the interest in actually delivering that idyllic image. It was pure planning porn. Looks nice, but you can’t have it. Why, these sharks are so friendly they are toothless. It’s not their fault if the commercial spaces turn out to be marijuana shops or rub-and-tug parlors or an after hours poker joint.

None of the options included leaving the area residential. Or leaving the zoning residential.

Remember, zoning was never mentioned by the planners. Only mysterious planning documents. And the Supreme Council’s orders that the planners play nicely with the locals only on the sharks’ department rules. Tch tch, our hands are tied, smiled the planners so sadly.

The little fishies in attendance suspected something was wrong. Why were there only choices about how much commercial? Why were the only choices about how much higher or denser new things would be? Why was the existing neighbourhood disposable because of proximity to LRT Stations when lots of neighbourhoods around the city are guaranteed no radical changes in their CDP’s??

But the little fishies lacked the vocabulary to challenge the sharks. A few brave bureaucrat-fishies asked about “proceedure” and “process”. The shark smiled benignly. See, fish and sharks are friends.

The cognitive dissonance between what the residents wanted — to preserve what they thought was good — and what the options were, was too great to bridge. Planner talk was smooth and baffling.

Maybe the sharks did have our best interests at heart?

What was needed, of course, was a Nemo to show leadership, to articulate what the locals couldn’t. The dismay in the room was palatable. As was the sense of being defeated and outplayed and bewildered as to why and how.

Only Nemo could unite the fishes to swim in one direction to break out of the net and escape becoming dinner.  Where was Nemo?

Can anyone find Nemo on Preston Street?

Alas, our rookie councillor, Catherine McKenney stood on the sidelines, smiling with staff, her former colleagues. She was not offering leadership. * The last councillor who played so nicely with sharks was retired from the adjacent ward before she could feed more little fishies to the sharks.

The Disney movie has a happy ending. With room for sequels. Finding Nemo on Preston was a bit less cheerful. Turning the corner, the sequel may be Nightmare on Elm Street.



* this para has been edited from the original version because some readers thought it confused the role of the cartoon characters with today’s sexual politics, which was not intended.


14 thoughts on “Finding Nemo on Preston Street

  1. Awesome analogy to Finding Nemo! This was very entertaining with a sad “ish” ending.. or sad fish ending.

    1. Pat: Glad you liked the movie analogy. Apparently some people didn’t, since the movie Finding Nemo apparently has some sort of secret message about sexual orientation — I confess I missed it. Sometimes life imitates movies, and the planners at last night’s meeting really reminded me of the Fish are Friends theme in the movie. It was a short step to extend it to councillor taking the Nemo vs Dory roles. I had wanted to illustrate it with a photo I took sometime ago of a giant blow up Nemo balloon that was tethered on a Preston Street front porch, but I couldn’t find it all my unsorted pic. That the jpeg of the shark actually moves in this illustration was a real surprise to me.

    1. There have been several stories on this subject since last august. Try using the search button near the top right and enter key words like Preston North or Preston rezoning. The first the community assoc and BIA heard about it was last august when the city held a session at city hall and told us we had been consulted. There were lots of people, associations, and residents that were shocked.

  2. I don’t see what the problem is here. It makes sense for this stretch of Preston to become mixed use. More stores in this area will be a valuable asset to the neighbourhoods surrounding.. right now, the northern area of Centretown West has little retail around and people have to drive to go grocery shopping… how is that a good thing worth preserving?

    It’s right by the intersection of two transit lines and adjacent to the existing commercial area along Preston… this is a logical evolution of our city.

    I don’t get or like this notion that just because this area has been residential for a hundred years it must remain residential for the next hundred. Our city changes and evolves as it grows. It’s important that we continue to allow this rather than force everything to be stuck in time forever.

    1. Scott: I agree with you that neighbourhoods should evolve and change, and we shouldn’t try to preserve them in brine. But … In the story, I related what I saw and heard as neighbourhood concerns which was the opposite of the city’s version, which lead to the cognitive dissonance that was not resolved at the meeting. I am quite conflicted on what the planning and zoning rules should be for this stretch. My problem was that the city meeting did nothing to clarify or resolve things. The area from Somerset to Albert is unlikely to ever support a grocery store, as it would cost too much to assemble the land and demolish the houses, whether for a Loblaws or a much smaller Farm Boy. The lack of grocery stores isn’t about the lack of commercial zoning, the Chinatown – Little Italy area is full of vacant storefronts, vacant lots, and land assemblies waiting for viable projects. This neighbourhood has lots of commercial mainstreets, there is a shortage of occupants. All those new high rises promised by the city may go some way to rectify that.

  3. I don’t disagree with your overall points, but you are pretty gross and misleading with language such as “It’s not their fault if the commercial spaces turn out to be marijuana shops or rub-and-tug parlors or an after hours poker joint.”

    1. Tiana: Main streets have a lot of uses, some less savory than others. Marijuana shops are already coming to neighbourhoods like ours, very nearby. Poker rooms are not uncommon, altho less so than in previous years. Might there be prostitution-type services on our traditional main streets? you bet, it’s a recurring problem that requires continual vigilance on the part of community association safety committees and community activists to keep it under control.

      1. I agree that these are places that exist. I disagree with your fear-mongering characterization in-lieu of fleshed out, educated arguments against re-zoning.

        1. the fear mongering is in response to the city’s over-the-top sentimental description of these converted houses being occupied by oh-so-cute micro-businesses.

  4. What would be the value in keeping that stretch residential?? I am thrilled every time I see a house anywhere on Preston (including north of Somerset) converted to a shop. We need mixed use development because I am tired of having to get in my car and drive a couple neighbourhoods over anytime I need ANYTHING other than a dinner out. There is no way a main street like Preston, especially near the intersection of another main street like Somerset, should be residential.

    1. Heather: this story was not about the merits of the zoning / plan for the street, but about the way the city conducted the meeting and what I saw as a missed opportunity for leadership. I have in previous stories talked about the shortage of viable neighbourhoods in the core, and what I see as the city’s propensity to sever these off into smaller chunks and then plan them out of existence, one bit at a time. A sort of municipal block busting. The Preston-Carling CDP is a prime example; the near full-term Gladstone CDP plan has similar elements. The earlier plans for the neighbourhood — the Commonwealth plan, the city’s Preston rezoning / harmonization plan, and the Bayview Station CDP, all looked at the all-residential zoning and decided to leave it as is. The theme of the Bayview to Carling CDP’s was to intensify the underused industrial and railway lands, while preserving the viable residential areas. Once those lands were rezoned for very intense development, the city turned on the traditional residential areas and catered a developers land rush on the residential areas. There is a real risk that the low rise mixed density residential areas will disappear. Community distrust of the City planners is high.

  5. I get what you are saying. The city has an agenda and they push it, overtly at times and subtly at others. They say they take community feedback during these consultations but since they control the parameters it’s like the decision is already fait accompli and the consultation is a show to say they consulted. As for this specific decision, Preston should be mixed use but it’s hard to see how organic small shops can form, when developers will claim they need a high rise on top of commercial for it to be viable, and the you lose the residential feel. I’m ignorant of zoning, could the city zone it with a height restriction or something that would prevent the lose of residential feel while allowing small shops?

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