Thursday, June 28, 2012

Another Sign of the Times

A group called Our Street London has started to hang signs downtown. These brightly-coloured messages give directions to local landmarks, businesses, museums - even the river.

Mind you, I'm not sure how the organizers decided it takes exactly nine minutes to walk from Dundas and Clarence to the Forks. I suspect the timing might depend on the age and energy of the pedestrian. Not to mention the weather - in January I walk a lot faster. However, musn't quibble. The signs are a new great way to help folks explore London's downtown. And a great many of them point the way to historic sites.

One feature in particular should appeal to younger  hikers - each sign has a QR code. For those of you not up on your technology, a QR or Quick Response code is that cute little barcode you may have already seen on items at the grocery store. Hold your smart phone camera over it and you'll get a webpage that will tell you more about that wonderful site you're walking to. Of course, those of us who only have stupid phones will have to wait until we get home to Google.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dwelling on the Positive

Since most heritage commentary dwells on the negative - that is, yet another neglected building in danger of demolition - it's good to occasionally point out a heritage preservation success story. One of these is the so-called Kenross House at the northeast corner of Waterloo and Piccadilly. A Priority 1 building on London's heritage inventory, the Queen Anne style mansion was built about 1908 for Charles J. Somerville, mayor of London in 1918-19. Architectural highlights include half-timbering, a round tower, wide verandah, and the Dutch gable pictured at left. Owners Timothy and Natalie Tattersall won an ACO-HLF Heritage Award in 2009 for restoring this building. An especially nice touch is the small garden on the corner with a plaque dedicated to Jean Ann Hills, a former owner who passed away in 2007.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Heritage Myth # 5: Heritage buildings aren't green.

The environment seems to be what everybody talks about these days, whether they're environmentalists or not. The way trendy people converse about greenhouse gases, fossil fuel emissions, and deforestation, you'd think they actually know what they're talking about. Meanwhile, of course, they continue to drive SUVs, sit around their backyard pools, and forget to recycle.

New buildings are often billed as environmentally friendly and quite often they really are. Solar houses like this one are just plain cool. And earth-sheltered buildings are beneficial for tempering inside spaces. The trouble is, projects like these tend to be expensive, even taking into consideration long-term energy savings. And when a historic structure is torn down to make way for a new one, the developer is usually more interested in making a buck than creating sustainable architecture. 

A more practical way of greening architecture would be to stop tearing down so many heritage buildings. Currently about 35% of the contents of Canadian landfill sites are building materials. Then there are the unofficial landfills. The remains of our very own Hotel London, torn down in 1972, were tossed into a field beside Vauxhall Park at the end of Price Street. An ignominious ending for a local landmark and more garbage in the ground.

So the modern world isn't just covered with buildings, but with the remains of buildings. How about restoring or renovating the heritage structures we already have instead of tearing them down and creating more structural waste?