A Commentary by Dr. Carl Bray
How important are older buildings in a community?
Jane Jacobs, the famous critic of urban planning and supporter of diverse communities, perhaps said it best: “new ideas must use old buildings.” By that she meant that a healthy and robust city needs places that foster experiment, places that are flexible and inexpensive yet close to the centre. As in a natural ecosystem, there must be parts of a community that can accommodate and encourage change while supporting the health of the whole.
Churches are an integral part of this urban ecosystem, for many reasons. Historically, churches were many things besides places of worship. They functioned as public markets, community halls and, in times of danger, places of refuge. Church buildings were the expression of community pride, with the finest materials, best architecture and most prominent locations. But beyond this, churches expressed a community’s faith – in tradition and in the future – as manifest in activities that enhance humanity.
In modern times, as church attendance declines, church properties can come to resemble their forbearers in offering a wide range of potential uses. They can, as the quote implies, be seed beds for new enterprises, both entrepreneurial and social. In contrast to private homes or commercial operations, churches are public institutions that serve non-commercial needs within a city, and thus act as focal points for communal activities such as cultural events and social services.
Within this context, this building is many things within its downtown district. It is an architectural gem, a landmark and an important component of the early history of the city. It is a magnificent venue for musical performances and a location for many community groups to meet and to have office space. By being located in a transition zone between the downtown commercial core and the adjacent residential neighbourhoods, it offers “neutral territory” to those needing a fresh start or a safe haven. By offering affordable space for community use, The Spire supports many local organizations that otherwise would struggle. By supporting a wide constituency of groups within the community, The Spire is inclusive and welcoming. As an anchor building within the Old Sydenham Heritage Conservation District, and as a focal point for a range of uses from within the neighbourhood and from the wider city, this building is an essential part of downtown Kingston.
Carl Bray PhD CSLA CAHP MCIP RPP, Principal, BRAY Heritage
Carl Bray, Principal, BLA MAUD PhD OALA CSLA CAHP MCIP RPP, is a landscape architect and heritage planner with graduate degrees in urban design and cultural geography. He has over 30 years of professional experience in both the public and private sectors and has successfully completed projects across Canada and in the US, the Caribbean and Great Britain. He is an Adjunct Professor at Queen’s University in the Department of Geography and the graduate School of Urban and Regional Planning.
He has provided consulting services for federal, provincial and municipal agencies, for private development companies, and for non-profit agencies and First Nations communities. He leads or is part of multi-disciplinary teams that encompass a wide range of specialist skills including architecture, landscape architecture, land use planning, environmental engineering, museum planning, management consulting, and archaeology.