Colborne attracting unwanted attention

Hear that?

That’s the sound of people from across Ontario turning in their seats to cast their gaze on downtown Brantford.

Newspapers and TV crews from Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener have flocked to Colborne St., realizing the news value in a story about old buildings being knocked down against the will of (some of) the public.

But it seems that the further the media comes from, the less they really know about Brantford and about this story – and the more likely you are to hear from misinformed out-of-town friends and family.

For example, a report from the Toronto Star. Trying to paint a portrait of Colborne for an audience unfamiliar with the street, the writer describes a stretch with “the few businesses outnumbered by drug dealers and prostitutes”. While, at certain times of the day, this might actually be reflective of the truth, anybody who has spent a decent amount of time in downtown Brantford would resent the implications of that statement. Colborne is not nearly as bad as the author would suggest.

Most reports are nicer to us, with Colborne described as ‘decrepit’ and ‘run-down’, codewords that may suggest other things, but are not unnecessarily cruel. A more pervasive problem, though, is reporters who fail to realize that Brantford has had heritage concerns in the past – as if there is this stretch of Colborne which contains old buildings, surrounded on every side by modernity.

The Hamilton Spectator comes closest to getting it right. They understood that while Colborne might be rough by Brantford standards, most cities have areas which are far worse. They were familiar enough with the story to know that renovating old buildings whenever possible is part of Brantford’s modus operandi.

However, the writer then opines that “this decision to demolish flies in the face of everything this community … has gone through in the last decade”. What have we gone through? Keeping heritage buildings standing? Tell that to Brantford Glass and the building that became the Student Centre.

Maybe they’re aware of those cases, and they mean that Brantford has previously gone to great lengths to preserve its heritage. Truth is, though, we haven’t. How many of those great heritage buildings in the downtown belong to anything other than Laurier (who, now that they’re on good terms with the city, prefer to build from scratch)? If Brantford is full of people wanting to reuse heritage buildings, why has nobody come forward with legitimate plans for Colborne that don’t involve demolition?

Colborne is a tricky situation, with no clear answers or best solutions. Despite what some may claim, it’s not a fait accompli – the city may yet change its course if enough people convince it to do so. But when deciding which side of the issue you are on, what you would like to see done to the south side of Colborne, base your opinions on what’s in your head and what’s in Brantford – not on what you read in a newspaper that can’t possibly understand the complexities of the issue.

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