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The Battle for Barriefield

Barriefield Village, historic, Kingston, OntarioBarriefield Village was founded in the early 1800’s on the eastern bank of the Cataraqui River, while it’s settlement was closely tied to the increased activity at the nearby Kingston Naval Dockyard, and later, the construction of Fort Henry. Since then, the quaint neighbourhood has retained much of it’s original charm, thanks in part to the establishment of the Heritage Conservation District, and the tireless efforts of village inhabitants.  A tour around Barriefield will yield postcard-worthy views of cottages-like, historic homes, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, and Kingston’s waterfront.  However, a recent proposal to construct affordable, social housing nearby has the potential to put unnecessary strain on the historic village, and alter it’s majestic chemistry.

If the deal goes through, the federal government would reportedly transfer surplus land, located on the northwest corner of the intersection at highway 15 and 2, to the City of Kingston for $1.  The rock bottom sale price is based on the condition that the land be developed as low-income housing, which is arguably something the Limestone City needs more of.  Further, the apparent scheme for development would see the creation of housing for as many as 100 families, who would be spread across multiple family dwellings.

Ultimately, Barriefield residents are concerned that the socially-oriented development will detract from the overall historical worth of the Village, and although they aren’t saying it, this would in turn curtail property value.  Some may interpret their opposition as elitist or label it as classic NIMBYism, while the latter may not be too far from the truth.  On the surface, most proponents of low income housing are all for it until it creeps up on their doorstep, or hits their pocket book.  And so, the folks residing in Barriefield Village might not be so different from the rest of us.  That said, if the fairytale, heritage neighbourhood is immune to social housing projects, where does that leave the rest of us?

From the Queen’s Village Ghetto to Rideau Heights and North of Princess (NOP) in general, Kingston has it’s fair share of misunderstood, and less desirable neighbourhoods.  That said, in a perfect world none of these seedy districts would exist, but we can’t all live in mansions, or Barriefield for that matter.  If you’ll humour an agricultural analogy, can’t dandelions and thistles grow next to tulips and tomatoes?  Wouldn’t such an arrangement near Barriefield Village result in a more sustainable, and long-term solution to social housing in Kingston, rather than expanding the size of an already troubled neighbourhood?  Although I expect that this proposal will end up going nowhere, the final decision should give some indication as to how the City of Kingston intends on building sustainable communities in the future; with or without Barriefield.

Thanks to jdww for the photo of life in the Village.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

4 thoughts on “The Battle for Barriefield

  • October 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm
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    I’m a bit concerned with the lack of public transit to the east end of town coupled with services like a pharmacy, grocery, etc., not being close by or easily acceptable.

    Also, won’t building these units in accordance with the strict historic guidelines in Barriefield end up in a significant cost increase? I don’t know for sure, but it seems like it would.

    I just think there are better places geographically for the people who will live in these housing units.

  • October 22, 2009 at 6:27 am
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    It would appear that the city simply doesn’t get it. Forcing social housing into a neighbourhood where the existing residents don’t want it will hardly lead to harmonious relations between the two. Rather, if Kingston is at all serious about providing social housing it should require that all NEW developments of any type (high density high rise, through to low density suburban tract housing) include a percentage of social housing units in their development plan – integrated, planned etc. Continuing to build income segregated ‘communities’ of single type housing is no way to build liveable cities. Social housing as a percentage of new construction works best in high density construction, but can be made to work in suburban areas, so long as from the inception the housing is planned. Don’t use set asides, but rather enforce that developers bear the costs of designing social housing into their plan and require that they build units as they go.

    And, no I don’t live in Barriefield, so I don’t have a dog in the fight so to speak.

  • October 22, 2009 at 9:18 pm
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    This whole issue centres around NIMBYism… plain and simple.

    I am a former student of Betsy Donald, the Queen’s prof leading the charge against this development (which just happens to be in her neighbourhood). I was a student in a few of Betsy’s classes throughout my years at Queen’s. In every class we learned about the benefits of social housing developments and how they are can play a role in creating vibrant sustainable communities. Betsy came across as a tireless supporter of these types of projects to her students, and raised awareness through her passion. Unfortunately it now appears the mask has come off. Betsy Donald is now leading the charge against this development. She is one of the 3 citizens who spoke to council last week, and has been the central focus of the Whig’s articles this past week. Her image as a true supporter of mixed-use, vibrant neighbourhoods to benefit all (without discriminating against socioeconomic status) has crumbled. It appears preserving this elitist enclave is more important than practicing what she preaches.

    To all the naysayers who point to transit and access to services…

    – There is a bus line that runs right along highway 15 into downtown Kingston. This bus runs late at night to serve Startek, and would therefore provide easy transportation to and from the downtown to people living in the new development.

    – A grocery store does in fact exist near this site. If you have ever been to the east end you would realize that there is a grocery store up highway 15 past LaSalle High School. Some may argue this is a long distance to travel for groceries, but most people in the west end live further from a grocery store, as do I on Bagot St.

    – Preserving the heritage community? A simple look at Barriefield through Google Earth shows at least 6 swimming pools in the community. Have these pools been restored to their original historical conditions? I somehow doubt in-ground swimming pools were a part of Barriefield prior to its gentrification.

    – There are elementary and secondary schools located within minutes of this site. A newly renovated library is also within walking distance near LaSalle H.S. A strip mall is located up the street, and if one were inclined, a walk directly into downtown would only take a few minutes. There is no shortage of amenities in this area for people who would qualify to live in this type of development.

    I live in one of the ‘seedy’ neighbourhoods mentioned in the article, near the Boys and Girls Club on Bagot St. Whenever I tell people where I live they seem to be in shock that I would move to such a ‘rough and dirty’ neighbourhood. Their idea of this area couldn’t be further from the truth, the same goes for all areas of Kingston that are labeled this way. Barriefield won’t turn into a slum due to the construction of this development. Pimps and drug dealers won’t intimidate the residents and lost children won’t run wild in the streets (comment from someone on the Whig website).

    The city needs this type of development, and it needs it badly. If there is a chance to purchase a large tract of land from the government for only $1 without them trying to force us into taking the LaSalle causeway along with it then we should support our mayor and council and jump at the opportunity. If social housing is forced into only one area of our community the mentality of segregation could take hold and create a real ‘ghetto’ problem within the city, one with much worse problems than those perceived to be occurring within my neighbourhood.

  • October 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm
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    @Andy Williams I also took a course or two with Bets, and agree that her stance here just does not add up. Great points on the transpo, schools and swimming pools. Nothing costs a dollar nowadays, but when presented with an offer such as this, you’ve got to have a stronger argument than theirs to justifiably say no to something that will benefit so many. Still though, I think the Villagers have squawked loud enough to make council back away from this one. That said, I hope I’m wrong.

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