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Chris Gower

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About Chris Gower

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  1. Heartfelt thanks for your extensive and conscientious review of the complex issues in play for the future of an historic precinct: 'Will Victoria's Old Town become a facade?'—indeed a very worthy topic as our community moves into a Council election. Also a salute to Stuart Stark and Pamela Madoff for continuing to uphold important ideals and objectives for maintaining this unique and invaluable urban area. It is indeed a daunting challenge for these times in downtown Victoria, to come to grips with an array of evolving and interdependent issues: Refurbishment of historic buildings; shifting retail, employment, and housing needs; escalating real estate pressures; seismic precautions; long-term strategies for tourism; and care for that ephemeral component of the soul of a city—community memory. In 1971, as a Victoria High School student I first became involved in the early campaign to recognize, protect, and reuse the historic architectural buildings of downtown Victoria—collectively, the rare asset of an intact, contiguous nineteenth century commercial city centre. Through my subsequent career as a Victoria architect and urban designer, the maintenance of Victoria's Old Town remains a key concern. As a City planner I worked centrally on the preparation of the Downtown Core Area Plan—and know fully that one of its primary intentions was to retain the physical character and the authenticity of downtown's vintage districts. A set of strategies were instituted, to encourage development to expand Victoria's downtown east of Douglas Street—with greater allowances for building height and density in these areas—while tightly constraining increases in height and allowable density west of Douglas Street. Analysis demonstrated that growth of over ten thousand new residents and considerable office and commercial expansion—over a million square meters of new building floor area outside of the historic commercial district—was achievable, without compromise to the retention of older districts. Adaptation and renewal of our ever-struggling, but august downtown is not a simple exercise—some innovations and compromises will be inevitable—but to what degree, and with what safeguards? At what point of change or redevelopment does an historic urban area begin to loose its essential integrity? What precautions are needed so that land speculators and developers do not begin to undermine or demolish delicate older buildings—in expectation of easy up-zonings, and for the convenience of parking lots (as have consumed so many older North American downtowns)? Worthy places such as: Quebec City, Old Montreal, and a multitude of historic European cities, hold to strict and intricate constraints to protect their antique centres—areas integral both to their tourist economies, and to their cultural identity. Without similar disciplined self-defense, in a time of hungry real estate appetite, Victoria runs risks of broiling its own Golden Goose. Chris Gower
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