Heritage Toronto might need more political support to make their preservation priorities a reality.
Heritage Toronto released its State of Heritage report [PDF] this morning, detailing policy strengths and weaknesses when it comes to preservation of the city’s historical buildings.
Despite efforts to close loopholes and strengthen the heritage policy framework, significant gaps remain. Among the issues cited in the report are short demolition application timelines, a need to expand interpretations of Toronto’s heritage “beyond traditional pioneer history,” and trouble reaching new audiences—especially new and younger Canadians. The report also cites a need to better represent First Nations heritage.
While the report is filled with good intentions, it will be difficult to fulfill the various goals with current City resources, seeing as heritage buildings have become a recent target for the budget committee. Last week, Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) put forward a surprise motion to re-allocate $500,000 that City staff recommended go toward heritage projects. The move, which passed the committee stage and still has to through the executive and council, reduces heritage staff by 33 per cent, bringing staff levels to pre-amalgamation levels. The money would be re-allocated to fund a student-nutrition program.
The budget change would delay several proposed heritage district conservation studies by years, including areas like West Queen West, the Kingsway, and Baby Point.
The budget proposal would also cut positions from the City’s planning division, which has struggled to keep up with the rate of development.
A Heritage Toronto representative said the budget decision would have a “significant impact” on ongoing preservation efforts.
The context of budget cuts shows the difficulty in making heritage a policy priority, in spite of publicized heritage events like the recent demolition of Stollerys at Yonge and Bloor.
State of Heritage mentions the much-discussed but unrealized City of Toronto Museum, a proposal that has existed in various forms for years without the political will or budget funding to make it happen. But these policies and their goals don’t appear from nowhere: they’re the result of actively making heritage a priority, and acting on ways to make those priorities a part of how we experience and better understand our city.
The report also cites a number of goals between now and the next State of Heritage report four years hence, including the following items:
- Weave Aboriginal origins and oral traditions into City-run museums and
- Develop opportunities for various neighbourhood and heritage organizations to share success stories about educational initiatives in their respective geographic areas;
- Develop opportunities for the Inventory of Heritage Properties to be used more
widely, such as for educational and tourism purposes;
- Take action on the long-awaited City of Toronto Museum and ensure it includes
a breadth of voices as well as strong partnerships.