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Niagara Falls
Monday, May 20, 2024
Op-ed: The case for good management

Brian Marshall

In the Sept. 16 meeting of town council, Coun. Clare Cameron made an impassioned statement concerning the importance of protecting our town’s heritage assets during the introduction of a motion to force designate three properties on Prideaux Street.

“I don’t know what we have to do as a council to keep getting it across to people in this community that this is something we care about,” she deliberated.

Her sense of frustration is one experienced by many managers and executives, in both private and public organizations. They believe that their verbally expressed direction is clear and unequivocal, but unfortunately what they think they’ve said, and what people understood, were two completely different things, resulting in a mess.

Forty years ago, I recall expressing a very similar sentiment to the president of the company I worked for. In response, he provided me with some invaluable advice. He said, “The spoken word is a slippery thing. I suggest you write what you expect and then expect what you write. Be detailed, be descriptive, be proscriptive and ensure to include a method for handling any unforeseen circumstances. Do it right, and generally you’ll find the results are in-line with your expectations.”

So, with all due respect to both the councillor and all the members of town council, I pass on his sage wisdom. Bite the bullet and get your house in order: “Write what you expect and expect what you write.” And I suggest you do it sooner rather than later!

The current state-of-affairs on both architectural and heritage fronts places our town firmly into the category of the “Wild West.” Anything from “ticky-tacky” developer builds to truly inspired architectural one-offs have been found acceptable in the normal course of town business. Modernist designs have been set within traditional neighbourhoods, and in some cases adjacent to historical homes. When you add a host of apparent inconsistencies across the town, is it surprising that the “people of this community” are confused?

The absence of any written well-defined architectural controls and historical protection guidelines creates an environment in which it appears to be reasonable for a property owner and/or a purchaser of a non-designated property to assume that their vision of its future iteration will be the primary (and perhaps only) consideration.

To allow this chaotic situation to continue is to put at risk the qualities which make Niagara-on-the-Lake a special place to live. We require a clearly articulated and detailed plan which establishes a level playing field that both protects and fosters the town’s built environment to support happy and productive neighbourhoods.

Naturally, there would be some expense attached to this undertaking. However, unless the politicians and bureaucrats run amok in the mistaken belief that they must re-invent the wheel, the cost could be pretty reasonable; particularly if measured against the rising risk/cost of current and future litigation together with being a wise investment in protecting our future.

In reality, our current situation is not unique. There are many other towns and cities who have pioneered the methods to deal with this challenge. Over the past fifty years, there have been a bevy of “design review guidelines” (including detailed addresses for heritage/historic asset protection) which have been developed and tested. At this point, given the wealth of proven guideline documents, it is really a matter of selecting amongst the proven best practices and inserting the details appropriate to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s existing built environment.

Brian Marshall is an architect, expert on heritage designs, and the author of The Lake Report’s weekly “Arch-i-text” column.

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