What makes a town like Niagara-on-the-Lake special for both those who live here and the visitors who flock here annually? Further, why has it been often described as the “prettiest town in Canada?”
In part, it is our built heritage, but I’d suggest that there is more to it.
It has always been my contention that architecture, no matter how good the design or finely wrought, does not by itself create a complete tapestry in which people can experience the full spectrum of beauty.
In fact, it is the gardens, the flowers, the shrubs and the trees that put flesh on the bones of a built landscape. It is the art of the landscape designer and those who nurture plants that give life and beauty to a town.
This observation was brought to the front of my mind on a recent visit to the new gardens at the Pillar and Post.
As my wife (who possesses 10 “green” fingers and a profound talent for recreating Eden) verbally painted a picture of how the gardens would eventually mature, it struck me how diminished our town would be had Simcoe Park never existed or if the grove of trees surrounding the Wilderness had been cut down.
Adding to these larger islands of green is the warp and weave made by the mature landscaping surrounding a multitude of individual homes whose gracious lots support a sense of natural continuity throughout Old Town.
It is this living component that, when combined with our built architecture, makes Niagara-on-the-Lake distinct and deserving of the descriptor “prettiest.”
It seems to me that in our headlong rush toward intensification it is this vital component that has been forgotten, resulting in the urban deserts of the GTA and other towns and cities.
We allow, dare I say, encourage, developers to buy their way out of creating parks. We allow subdivision builders to remove all the top soil off the land and leave behind ground that stunts the growth of trees because it is too poor in nutrients to support healthy plants.
Then, we support the creation of building lots that are too small for any form of garden beyond potted plants or a token “feature” planting in soil that must first be remediated.
Look, I understand that there are lots of folks who are, for one reason or another, not inclined to garden and who prefer to have no property to take care of. However, I have rarely met an individual who does not appreciate the beauty of a living landscape or a simple walk in the park.
Although my small talents are much more aligned with designing buildings and hardscape, there is something about strolling under trees or simply sitting in a garden that revitalizes my spirit, to say nothing of the completion that these spaces provide to architecture.
I think it is past time that we stop ignoring encroaching urban desertification, develop creative solutions in accordance with a commonly held vision for a living town and impose legislation accordingly.
Perhaps we could start by increasing the representation of landscape architects on the town's urban design committee?