In this series, Northumberland artists share their views on issues related to the arts. This time, Dimitri Papatheodorou and Doug Syrota share fascinating ideas on how the arts and housing can live side-by-side at a unique property in Northumberland County.
“If we build something beautiful, then Cobourg can become a leader in healthy housing strategies built on existing infrastructure.”Dimitri Papatheodorou
There is a way to develop Brookside for much needed new housing while simultaneously providing cultural programming, without taxing municipal or provincial coffers. The solution is to use some of the land for private development (housing) and some of it for a new cultural organization, let’s say calling it: ‘Strathmore House’*.
Strathmore House would receive funding directly from the development proceeds of the land – through the parcels that are set aside for housing development – and these proceeds would then be directed towards the creation of the Strathmore House Foundation, complete with its own governing Board of Directors. Cultural programming would be considered carefully, through needs assessment and benefit analysis for the people living in Cobourg. This collaboration between both levels of government can work because the land is already publicly owned. We all own it and must consider how to steward the land with an aim towards its use for public good.
If provincial and municipal governments cooperate toward delivering a well-designed mixed-use development, it will work. First comes a set of guidelines, a master plan, then comes the build-out. There is an acute demand for housing near existing services, places of employment, and popular amenities. The private housing sector together with a collaborative municipal-provincial government can provide it. With public input, design excellence can be achieved. Perhaps Brookside could help grow local construction and design culture. If we build something beautiful, then Cobourg can become a leader in healthy housing strategies built on existing infrastructure**. More housing equals more taxes equals more services.
It’s not that complicated: The land has intrinsic value, it’s paid for by the public, and the financials can certainly be worked out between public and private sectors. We have the brain power, let’s use it.
Through a well thought out design – utilizing some of the acreage for new (innovative) housing and the proceeds from this development toward the renovation of Strathmore house – there can also be money left over for investment in a future arts/culture endowment for community benefit and use.
This balanced win-win approach has been done before, and it can be done again in Cobourg. Future housing on Brookside land should be sensitively knit into the existing residential neighbourhood; it can’t be too tall, or out of step with the charm and beauty of Cobourg. The crisis in housing is partly due to supply and demand, and partly a result of conflicting public policies over the years. We need affordable housing, and affordable housing needs us, the public, to determine it. Housing is a social need, and if we want our children to have starter homes, or if we want our seniors to have the ability to downsize to smaller but beautiful homes, Brookside can offer it all. We need diverse housing because people are also diverse.
Brookside could be a test-case, a launching pad for future housing that respects farmland, natural and cultural heritage and delivers on healthy places for people to live and grow.
Future Brookside housing can have both affordable entry-level market housing, rental housing, and larger units for those who might have larger families, or simply cannot afford larger homes. We are currently witnessing migration from larger communities (Toronto) to beautiful Cobourg; many of these folks are older, empty nesters. Many of them may enjoy living in a culturally rich community. Cobourg is a culturally and amenity rich community. The arts are alive in Cobourg, and people want to live in a lively town. The timing is right to develop Brookside along existing Cobourg patterns of heritage, while visioning a healthy sustainable future for all.
*Strathmore House is a historic building with significant cultural value for the community. Whether it would be appropriate for an existing institution to move in, or if a new institution be required – perhaps through the amalgamation of existing under-housed organizations – this would all be parsed out during a collaborative design process.
**Infrastructure is in reference to existing roads, sewers, water, electricity, which are already built and paid for.
Dimitri Papatheodorou is an architect, visual artist and musician. He lives in Warkworth at “Periphery,” his home, studio and gallery.
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