Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Bringing Life to the Downtown

Now that the south side is gone the question remains, what to do with the rest of the downtown. It's been mentioned so many times about what people are hoping for the south side and how that development will bring about the Renaissance everybody wants. I do hope so, because Brantford could have a wonderful downtown.

One of the issues is how to bring people to the core. Perhaps this is the salient issue that needs to be discussed. Besides the redevelopment, a lot of people are pushing for the expansion of the University and bringing Mohawk College to the downtown core. Right now Mohawk is threatening to pull out of Brantford unless the city helps with financing the move to the downtown. When I read that I wondered if Mohawk is a College or a Professional Sports Franchise; "Build us a New Stadium or we'll move".

I don't think we can underestimate the positive effect the growth of the University has in the Downtown. There is still a ways to go to revitalize and the University has got it started. Like everything else, there is the danger of putting all the eggs in one baskets.

There is a couple of things to consider; the first is the fact the retail core has shifted south. If you look at the FreshCo plaza, this is growing into the retail heart of the downtown. There are video stores, restaurants, supermarket, dollar store and a number of other store to draw people to it. Of course as it develops and grows it can be an important stimulus to attracting people.

What the downtown needs is two things, first is housing. To bring people to the downtown the best way is to provide good housing. If you have people living downtown then it will bring the amenities for the people. They got to eat, so this means restaurants and store. They got to do things and this brings activities and cultural events. They got to feel safe, well this may be the hardest of them all.
When your downtown is chosen to be the desolate location for a movie based upon a horror video game, it's kind of hard to shake that image.

There is also the need for jobs. People got to earn the money to buy the things that stimulate the commercial/retail segment. A push is taking place for Brantford and area to be a Green Energy Hub. This is good but at the same time I am a bit sceptical, for one thing this will take a great deal of government funding to achieve. I mentioned the eggs in one basket, a problem I can see is everything that has to do with the future of Brantford has to do with government funding of projects. You may ask what is wrong with that, here's my thoughts, the rewarding of funds depends on what projects fit the philosophy of the governing party. You can have a great plan but if it doesn't fit, it isn't happening. So the ultimate decision does take place outside the community. Of course if you have hard working politicians, it may make it easy, but if the local MP or MPP is on the wrong side of the legislature, forget it. Or if the Premier would rather pretend the area doesn't exist, again, forget it.

Here is my own suggestion; we are now living in the Digital Age and our economies are shifting towards a Digital Economy. This is a good thing because the digital economy is geographically neutral. The economy of the factory was dependent upon location, location of resources, markets, transportation and workforce. It needed to be somewhere, which is why when it all shuts down, you have a lot of empty buildings and empty property. None of these apply to the digital economy. You do need the infrastructure, but now instead of highways and railway tracks, a broadband connection is required. While we may think of Silicon Valley, the good news is the new economy doesn't require just one place.

I'm thinking a partnership needs to be enacted, one that includes entrepreneurs in the mix. That seems to be missing in a lot of plans, everything, as I said depends upon the infusion of either federal or provincial money. How about a partnership, between movers and shakers, the university and the municipality- plus the senior levels as well.

You may wonder why I have at the top a photograph of the now empty Expositor Building. What if we made that the hub or at least the first building of the digital economy here in Brantford?

Could it work? Why not? It can't hurt and if it does work, then you will bring people to the downtown. As you bring people in, and offer reasonable housing, then other things begin to happen. Harmony Square is great but it suffers from the stigma that is part of the downtown. There are some great festivals happening, more people will make them bigger.

These are my thoughts for today.

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