Wither the Walls?

The first two sections of improved streetscaping went in on Preston Street in 2008 as part of the underground utilities renewal. The remaining three sections of the street will be done in 2009, except for intersection paving which I will address in a separate post.
The second picture (above) shows new concrete walls installed last year in front of residential properties south of the Queensway. There was not time to finish the landscaping last fall, but this spring the lawns will be replaced and shrubs will be planted between the small curb and the base of the wall. The uniform landscape treatment in front of several properties will help reduce visual clutter. The result should be good.
For the sixteen years I have been on the Preston rezoning and streetscaping project, I have always lobbied for including the predominantly residential areas north of Somerset in the project boundaries. This has been a long long battle. One of my objectives was to improve the streetscape and appearance of the dominant row of houses shown above (picture 1). This row of houses, 3 stories high, suffers from neglect, and some uncaring landlords. I think only one unit is owner occupied. I always argued that no amount of streetscaping elsewhere could undo the strong impression this row makes…
Yet the row has lots of potential. Many verandahs have the original wood columns on stone pillars. It could be improved. For several years the City told me they could, as part of the street reconstruction, install a common concrete wall of standardized height and having standardized individual stairs up from the sidewalk to the terraced area. From the terrace at the top of the wall, each property owner would install and maintain their own verandah steps and decorative landscaping according to taste.
Yet in the final open house of the Preston St project held last night, the planners show all the existing mish mash of wooden walls and irregular walk widths and paving materials left in place. When they relocate the sidewalk out about 1 metre from the existing sidewalk, they propose to plant a row of shrubs and a few trees. That’s all. I am so disappointed. This is a rare opportunity to improve a frontage that cannot be otherwise done with 1o individual owners and their diverse interests (a number of which seem to focussed on ‘spend no money’). If the City has its way, the prominence of this row and the jumble of irregular walls will leave the strong impression on street users that nothing has improved. Thirty million dollars of improvements later, the north end of Preston will remain a blot on the streetscape.

One thought on “Wither the Walls?

  1. When my wife and I were house hunting almost exactly three years ago, we looked at two of those row houses. They were only $175K, with three or four bedrooms each. One had been home to an Italian family for years, but the kids had grown up and moved out. It was well worn, but a lot of the original trim and old world touches were still intact. There were votive statues and fancy old wine bottles in the basement. Dated, but tasteful. A couple of proper urban hipsters could have really done it up nicely, but that ain’t us.

    The neighbouring row house had been completely redone in the seventies, and every surface was covered in flimsy wood panelling. Horrible. You just wanted to take a hammer to it. The rest is a blur, but the real dealbreaker for me was that the walls between the houses were like paper. I could hear the neighbour having a phone conversation, and actually had a rough idea of what she was talking about. To fix those places up, you’d really have to buy a group of them and deal with everything at once.

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