Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reviving the EOA commercial area

The Lilley's Corners building goes back more than a hundred years.

The area of London known as EOA (East of Adelaide) is a textbook example of a once bustling commercial area that has deteriorated over time. When I moved to London, the stretch of Dundas St. immediately to the east of Adelaide St. appeared to be a vibrant, thriving commercial area.

It had a number of important stores attracting shoppers from all parts of the city. There was a locally owned department store, Hudson's, an appliance outlet, a London Wineries retail store and much, much more --- including some unique businesses. For instance, there was a tinsmith shop. The London Free Press had custom, made-to-measure, galvanized steel, open-top boxes made there. These were used to file the hundreds of thousands of negatives the photographers at the paper shot every year.

Newspapers no longer shoot film. They no longer file negatives. And no one needs a tinsmith shop today. The tinsmith is gone.

More than a hundred years ago East London was the largest of the London suburbs. It was incorporated in 1874 as the Village of Lilley's Corners and the building at the corner of Dundas St. and Adelaide St. still carries the Lilley's Corners placename. In 1885 East London ceased to exist as a separate community and amalgamated with London.

Unfortunately, EOA has suffered greatly over the intervening years. The oil refineries were the first big employers to go, forced out when London, after amalgamation, banned oil refineries as too dirty and too dangerous to be located within the city limits. 

Fire was a constant threat in those days. In fact, the large East London Imperial Oil refinery was destroyed by fire in 1883 after a lightning strike. Imperial Oil relocated to Petrolia.

When it became clear the EOA commercial area along Dundas St. east of Adelaide St. was dying, the city tore up the main street and replaced it with a one block stretch of curving roadway. This would slow traffic and attract shoppers, it was said. It half worked. It slowed traffic.

It cost the better part of a million bucks to curve the street but there were still no shoppers. Businesses closed. It cost the better part of a million bucks to straighten the street and there are still no shoppers. This should come as no surprise as there are no crowd-attracting stores.

Now the city and the local paper are all puffed up over an apartment / store front development going up on the site of the former Hudson's department store. It is hoped this development will breathe new life into the old East London downtown.

Sadly, if it does breathe life into the area, it will be awfully stale breath. Walking down the street, the shops will have all the architectural warmth of a strip mall.

Across the street from the new apartment / commercial development, an heritage building restoration is nearing completion. Now this is something to be proud of.

This heritage structure, with its colourful slate front, is undergoing restoration.
Maybe if London used a form-based code approach to regulate development, as is done in Birmingham, MI., the horribly out of place apartment / commercial structure would not have been built.
A development guided by form-based code in Birmingham, MI.

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