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Wide-angle image of the Y-Lofts building taken from the north-west corner under a colourful winter dusk sky. Photo by Rishabh Joshi.

Perspectives on the Y-Lofts

Written by
Lauryn Sloos
and
and
February 10, 2022

This article quotes Atria’s statement that the former YMCA building was abandoned. A community member, and long-time advocate against gentrification, Anne Jaeger, connected us with the longer, more complicated story of how the YMCA building came to be owned by Atria. You can read more about this building's history here.

Perspectives on the Y-Lofts
Wide-angle image of the Y-Lofts building taken from the north-west corner under a colourful winter dusk sky. Photo by Rishabh Joshi.

As you walk through downtown Peterborough, one can recognize the history of our city in the buildings and architecture that line the streets. Long-term Peterborough residents will remember what used to be on the corner of Murray and George Street. Since 1895, the historic red-brick YMCA sat on this corner. This building served as a community centre for the city for over one hundred and twenty-five years. 

In 2007, it was abandoned and went on the market. Toronto-based developer Atria bought it in 2014 and started demolition. In the last four years, renovations have begun and in its place now sits the newly renovated Y-Lofts apartment building. Five floors of the new 136 apartment units started construction in 2017 and are in the process of being completed. 

This new addition to Peterborough’s downtown core has received praise from some for the development’s unique style and heritage acknowledgements. However, the project has not gone without critiques; some members of the public have argued that the building could have been developed to better serve the community. 

Arguments For the Y-Lofts

Since it is recognized as a heritage site, there are many guidelines and provisions that Atria had to abide by while refurbishing this building. Heritage designations aim to regulate alterations on historic properties to guarantee that they maintain the historical features that make them unique. 

Maintaining YMCA’s Historic Integrity 

Many elements of the old YMCA are incorporated into the building's newest form. According to the Built Form Heritage Framework, restored buildings must keep the original façade's height and alignment at street level and display window treatments; this could include height, size, proportions and transoms. Atria kept the exposed brick in some units, high ceilings, refurbished wood doors, and an original fireplace in one of the apartment units. As the YMCA is recognized as a historical site, The City of Peterborough had a hand in creating a limit to the height of the building to keep it consistent with the existing structures of the downtown. The heritage committee further required that Atria not add or take away elements of the original building’s exterior. So, Atria refurbished the black trim, half-moon-shaped windows facing Murray Street on the first floor.

Atria was obligated to abide by the restrictions of the heritage department of Peterborough in terms of renovations and the physical structure. However, the development has also been met with backlash within the community, with some arguing that it will introduce a new demographic and possibly bring about gentrification. So, for Y-Lofts to integrate into the community, what has Atria done about preserving the nostalgia? 

Original fireplace maintained in the Y-Lofts. Image by Lauryn Sloos.

Nostalgia and Community Engagement

For starters, Artia has gone to social media. They have created a Facebook page hosting a photography contest to honour this architectural gem. The biography of the Facebook page states “After 9 years of abandonment, the historic, landmark YMCA building in Peterborough is being given a new lease on life, being thoughtfully restored and transformed into residential apartments. We’re asking the community for their input, creatively documenting the old structure through photography.” Atria offered $2,200 in prizes for photographs that showcase the impressive building inside and out. Atria also contributed to downtown businesses by offering the winner $2,200 in cash or Peterborough DBIA (Downtown Business Improvement Area) gift certificates. The Facebook page has been met with positive feedback, with one anonymous comment remarking, “These photos are awesome! Thanks for sharing. It brings back many memories. I took lessons there [at the YMCA] growing up, I was part of the nursery school they had. I have many memories of the place.” 

Close-up image of a historical plaque on the side of the Y-Lofts building. Photo by Rishabh Joshi.

Atria has also been sure to include photos of the original building in its lobby to preserve the memory of the YMCA. They pay homage to its history by implementing commemorative letters that locals have sent in about their memories of the old organization. These extra-mile touches have been attributed to the ideology of heritage planning and its efficacy in creating a sense of place in our downtown. Although numerous large cities have dismantled their heritage through urban renewal projects, Michael Burayidi, editor of the book Cities and the Politics of Difference, acknowledges that small-city downtowns, such as Peterborough, still have a plethora of such sites and buildings that can offer tourists the experiences they desire in their travels. Old buildings provide significant ties to and serve as reminders of the past, which often have economic worth and serve as a basis for future development. 

Even though these are admirable efforts to gain favour in the community, there is still some uncertainty about the development. 


Arguments Against the Y-Lofts

Expansion of Highway 407 and Demographics 

Similar to most Canadian cities, Peterborough has faced numerous challenges due to market liberalization, foreign shifts in industry activity, and plan restructurings. Despite the uncertainty regarding the future of local automotive plants, Peterborough is becoming incorporated with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It will become even more so incorporated once Highway 407 is linked to Highway 115. This connection could result in increased economic activity in a multitude of locations. As a result, the proximity of Y-lofts to Highway 407 may encourage potential GTA tenants to relocate east to Peterborough, resulting in increased growth. Although there could be benefits of having the 407 closer to Peterborough, there are drawbacks. The City of Peterborough's planners are not anticipating a large influx of population due to the 407, and thus they are not preparing for an expansion. Other concerns include the possibility of easier access to people looking to target Peterborough for crime and illicit activities, as Kaitlin Brillinger, author of Growth and Revitalization in Peterborough ON: Myth or Reality? suggests. As it is still a possibility, not much has been stated about rules to prevent or prepare for increased crime rates in Peterborough. Also, those who would use the 407 would usually have higher-paying jobs on the outskirts of the Kawartha Lakes and would need accommodations that are in line with a high-income budget. Y-Lofts could satisfy the needs of those people, however, it excludes the growing population of people who need affordable housing in Peterborough. 

Tumultuous Gentrification

Atria states that their tenants are primarily empty nesters, retirees, commuters using the 407, some students, and young professionals. The higher-income demographic they invite into the city has brought the possibility of gentrification to the surface. This is one facet of the critical issues related to more significant trends in urban planning. It includes adjusting the number of occupants with the ultimate objective of attracting new clients with a higher financial standing. Through investments in fixed capital, it has an impact on lower-income renters and a corresponding shift in the assembled climate, author of Heritage, gentrification, participation, Chiara De Cesari, states. In other words, gentrification, at its worst, monopolizes the city's disenfranchised residents. This movement frequently revolves around real estate. The condo lifestyle is gaining appeal since it fosters seclusion while simultaneously providing wealth as a long-term investment. However, the condominium concept does not include the community-building aspect of 'social mixing'. Sharon Kelly, the author of The Figure of the Condo Owner in Toronto's Regent Park, suggests that while the notion of 'social mix' has gained hold in the Western world, administrative criticism can lead to adverse effects such as migration, social conflict, and, ironically, increasing social exclusion for marginalized people. Consequently, gentrification, previously considered a new city regeneration ideal, has devolved into class warfare and division between two factions. As a result of desegregation, monopolization of the disadvantaged, and favouring the rich, some experts feel that gentrification in heritage planning is detrimental to the community and its residents - especially in Peterborough, where low-income demographics represent the majority.

Image of the Y-Lofts development from George Street. Image by Rishabh Joshi.


Affordable housing

However, gentrification isn’t always the enemy. The most favourable way of gentrifying is by honouring a building's heritage while serving its community. There would be less homelessness and violence in Peterborough's inner-city neighbourhoods if more clean and well-maintained lower-income housing options were available. Scholars, such as Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and heritage activist, would suggest that abandoned buildings be repurposed to their full potential while benefiting the City's original population. A historic structure can be equipped with living quarters that are adequately kept, offering a tourist attraction while also gratifying its residents. There might be integration for both affluent company owners to build stores and employ the lower-income employees if there was less attention on profits and more focus on the people who could use this area.

Ultimately, Y-Lofts has been an aesthetically pleasing addition to Peterborough's downtown streetscape, and Atria's efforts to preserve heritage aspects of the YMCA have not gone unrecognized. Nevertheless, its usage could have been more thoughtfully determined to suit the locals' economic statuses and contribute more to the future of Peterborough's Official Plan targets. If the YMCA building had been radically converted into affordable housing, density targets and integration into the Peterborough community could have all been met more efficiently and could have benefitted more people. This proposed alternative is intended to reflect on the fundamental goal of Peterborough’s planning, which is to bring together current and historical features through planning policies and initiatives. 

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"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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