Shine On

The fight to save heritage buildings: Woman marries a warehouse, now engaged to a neighbourhood

Against redevelopment? How far would you go to save an old building? (Thinkstock)A Seattle, Washington woman who married a warehouse (that was later demolished) in a protest against gentrification, is now engaged to a neighbourhood. Yes, you read that right.

Babylonia Aivaz, a former Occupy Seattle protester, stormed a city council meeting on Monday, wearing the same dress she donned for her wedding ceremony to the aforementioned warehouse, and clutching a brick she says was taken from what's left of her former spouse, reports SeattlePI.com. She then announced her engagement to the Yesler Terrace neighborhood, an area that's been slated for redevelopment.

In a press release, she asked "that important government officials from Seattle support Babylonia's wedding plans so that THIS TIME her beloved will not be tragically demolished in front of her eyes and replaced with expensive high rise condominiums."

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Helen Edwards, administrative director of the Hallmark Heritage Society in Victoria, sympathizes with Aivaz's cause, but thinks there are better ways to bring attention to a heritage project.

"It draws attention to it but I think it makes the preservation movement look like a bunch of freaks," says the 35-year veteran of the preservation movement. "And we've been labelled that — building huggers and all that stuff. I think we sort of got past that sitting-in-front-of-bulldozers stage. Maybe she thought she was doing the right thing, but that's not how I would have gone about it."

Edwards, who has seen her share of battles over preserving buildings and streets, says that back in the 70s, she did her fair share of sitting in front of bulldozers and even held a mock funeral for a building, one time.

"But that was in the 70s when buildings were coming down like crazy," she says. But now we do it more by talking and thinking and trying to influence people rather than trying to go out and do something silly because it might grab the headline. It makes you look silly, too."

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Edwards says the best way to straddle the line between heritage preservation and city growth and new developments is to pick your battles and to always present an alternative for how the building can be saved.  It's not enough to say "don't tear that down," she says. Developers must be shown an alternative to their plans that will make them money while still respecting the past and the historical and architectural significance of certain buildings.

"We're not anti-development," she says. "We realize for a city to grow, it has to change. But how the change is managed is important to us."

Are you against redevelopment in old neighborhoods? If so, why? Sound off in the comments.

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