Downtown Decline: Myth or Reality

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The work I am engaged in on a daily basis requires me to continually be surrounded by research on the City of London, both Historical and Contemporary. Being surrounded by all this information always brings up a vast amount of conversation and opinion in the work place.

Working with the people I do its hard to imagine or believe that there is anything positive about the City of London and its direction or rate of growth.

Working with one person, an American, that likes not a single thing about the city is often hard to swallow, but what is even a harder concept to deal with is how you can hate everything about a city but devote 2 + years of your life and the focus of your research on that city, but want to leave it right away and have no ties to it. Blows my mind.

Then there is another person who never has a positive outlook for anything in this city. He lives downtown but other than doing his research there (and drinking) he finds no use in the downtown area. He eat and sleeps downtown, but goes out of the core for everything else. Having devoted 4 years to the topic and a couple more to come he thinks that his opinions are all mighty and that his grim outlook of decline for the city core is the reality of how things are. I very much think that he has taken things to the extreme.

These two among many others believe that there is no hope for the downtown core. They may think they are the experts, but I think they are far from it.

Just like these two, many of the city councillors think that they are experts on the topic, but what really makes them the experts? They have done research, they have the degrees, but is that really what it take to be an expert on this subject?

I think not.

You can have all the education you want but if you don’t live in and around what you are talking about, if you haven’t done so for some time and don’t support the concepts and ideas that you preach how can you really call yourself an expert?

Far too many people support sustainable development, are against urban sprawl and are all for walkable communities but many if not most of these people do not “walk the walk”. Many of these people live on the outskirts of town, own 2 + cars, have never taken the bus in their life and only walk to their neighbors, they have never actually lived the lifestyle that they preach of.

Some people seem to think that gimmicks like a Pedestrian Mall (on Dundas between Wellington and Richmond), or a Light Rail Transit system bi-secting the city would solve problems and be the greatest thing for the city, sadly the people that think this (many councillors I might add) apparently do not live in the areas or use the services that they speak of.

A pedestrian mall in the downtown core would not solve problems but create a vast amount more, its not something that London actually needs or could support and its just one idea that has been tried in too many cities and has failed. As for the LRT, those that suggest that and support it, in my honest opinion, do not take the public transit on a regular basis, have not taken LRT in other cities and do not understand the dynamics of installing, operating and using a system like this especially in a city like London.

These are just a pair of example, of which there are many, of ideas that are out of the scope of helping the downtown core.

With all of this said there are a number of things that will help the downtown to grow and are not crazy or unattainable ideas.

Removing the walls from part of or all of the Rotary Reading Garden would open up a beautiful space to a greater number of people and make the spaces actually usable and make people aware that it is there. As of now it is hidden and even those who know of its existence fail to use it.

Bringing new positive development to the Richmond and York area of downtown, an area which has been neglected in the past and needs some help with rehabilitation. Currently there is a YOU cafe being worked on that will hopefully support this positive growth, but there needs to be other support in this area as well.

Then there is the issues of a grocery store in the downtown core. Many people complain that there already isn’t one, but what people fail to understand that a store of the size and type that people want must have a certain population to support it. This is something that is easily attainable for the downtown core in the coming years, people just have to be patient and move downtown. A grocery store (full scale) will happen, you just need to be patient.

These steps and others are being taken one at a time. New business are coming into the core (Moxies), business that will generate more people and that should bring more businesses with them.

Im not an idealist and I don’t believe things will be as great as some people think it will be, but its a downtown on the mend and despite what some people think, it is going somewhere.

Listen to the people who live in the downtown, those who use it on a DAILY basis and those who rely on its people and its services. Listen to those that use the public transport and not those who although they live in the downtown choose to drive to the suburbs to do their errands. Listen to those who live the downtown, not simple those that read about it and pretend that the reality of things are simply the words in a book. Listen to those that live downtown and want live there and not those that simple sleep there and would rather have nothing to do with the place.

The experts are not those that “lead” us, not those that do all of the research, the experts are those that live the downtown, those that are the downtown.

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12 Responses to “Downtown Decline: Myth or Reality”

  1. John Leschinski Says:

    Having lived here for a year now, if you asked me to come up with the positives of London I’d be hard pressed to think of some.

    It would be even worse for the downtown as the need and desire to venture down there is null.

  2. Kevin Says:

    John,

    Just out of pure curiosity, what brought you to London a year ago? Work, school, etc.? just wondering as its always good to know what brings people to London. If I’m prying feel free to ignore my question

  3. Jesse Says:

    We’ve lived here for four years and never heard of this Rotary Reading Garden. We try to go downtown at least once a week but it’s an intimidating place that always smells of garbage. It could be so much nicer, there are some wonderful building facades up high. What can the normal person do to help?

  4. John Leschinski Says:

    For a relationship, ended up commuting to school in Toronto 4 days a week for a while.

    I know where the Rotary garden is, I just have no idea on how you’d access it.

  5. fowgre Says:

    Directly from Dundas Street (provided that the gates are unlocked/open). There’s also an exit from the library’s first floor in the area where Red Roaster is located.

  6. KVL Says:

    The Rotary Reading Garden is one of the best features in downtown Urban London, in my opinion, however, it is often gone un-noticed by those just passing by because it is closed off to the general population, something that I have issues with. One of the mandates (if you want to call it that) of Sean Galloway, London’s Urban Designer, is to remove the walls/gates that surround the park and make it truly an open and public place.

  7. John Leschinski Says:

    So take down the walls then, whats the hold up?

  8. Kevin Says:

    Politics more than likely. Not sure of the details, but when the initial use was for library users and it has a Rotary logo on it Im sure that those two parties as well as the City itself would need to be involved.

  9. John Leschinski Says:

    Get a team together in some city construction uniforms and take it down, by the time anyone realizes it will be too late.

  10. Jesse Says:

    Are there any other hidden gems in town we should check out?

  11. Kevin Says:

    Jesse.

    There are many all over town, but since we are talking about downtown here are a couple of my favourite:

    Restaurants:

    Nooners (off of clarance south of queens)
    Spaghetti Eddies (off of richmond across from carling)

    Both in alleyways and hidden from most people that dont take the time to look down the alleyways

    Parks:

    River Forks Park (near Wharncliffe). Usually quiet and a nice alternative in downtown London.

    Piccadilly Park (off Waterloo St) Great use for an oddly shaped piece of land, one of my favourite places in downtown London

    Peace Garden (adjacent to Ivey Park) great quiet place to enjoy a book.

    Other:

    I think people really underestimate the Market and everything that is held there. Outside in front of the market and upstairs (not to mention the theatre there).

    There are many great places downtown its just the people that disregard the downtown are the ones that dont “live” downtown and therefore do no really know what is there to use.

  12. Kevin Says:

    Another Hidden Gem:

    http://lfpress.ca/newsstand/News/Local/2008/08/30/6615601-sun.html

    (this link will self destruct in 10 seconds)

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