Downtown is the Heart of My London

by

Dan Brown wants me to imagine that there’s no downtown London (“Is downtown the heart of your London?“; London Free Press; 2008/10/03). Well, I can’t.

No matter what we might do to it, it would always be there. Ignoring some peripheral extension like St. Thomas or Ingersoll is one thing. But the core? How do you forget about the smack-dab centre? And why would you want to, since it’s central location makes it the most easily accessible from everywhere?

Dan says that our current downtown is not the heart of the city for many residents. “They don’t venture downtown on a daily basis and wouldn’t be disturbed if it disappeared overnight. They’re tired of the stories about the downtown’s long death spiral. For many of them, downtown has been dying as long as they have been alive.”

That much, I can agree with. Compared to the downtown of my youth, today’s version is like the spot on an apple that, having been bruised and softened, is now slowly spreading inexoribly outwards.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t mean having to continuously infuse the pockets of private business interests with taxpayer money. Better to acquire something substantive from such shared investment, something that’s useable by everybody, and something that’s unique enough from other communities that it becomes a tourist magnet as well.

Dan says “Imagine there’s no Victoria Park.”

Bad idea. Terrible idea! In fact, I think that’s the complete opposite of what ought to be done.

Start with a circle with it’s centre at Dundas and Richmond Street and extending outward for at least 6 city blocks. Now remove all the buildings, all the roads, etc. Colour it green. An enlarged Victoria Park. Now construct a road which circles the enlarged park and from which other roads radiate like spokes of a wheel.

Now we’ve got the beginning of something. And all it cost us was a bit of imagination.

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17 Responses to “Downtown is the Heart of My London”

  1. John Leschinski Says:

    Those buildings you would destroy to make room for a park would be detrimental to the downtown, historical, architecturally, and the economy. I, and many others, would have less use for downtown if it were a large park. Especially considering many live near parks in their own neighborhood.

  2. Phronk Says:

    Downtown is definitely the heart of my London too. I say that not only because I live there; it was London’s heart to me even when I lived way in the North end (where Masonville Place was most certainly NOT the most important location).

    The D&R park-wheel idea is a nice fantasy, but I’d rather see downtown as a nice mix of things that everyone has a use for, given its central location. Lots of places to live, parks, entertainment, everyday businesses, and unique businesses and attractions that are worth traveling halfway across the city for even if people live on the outskirts.

    Which is kinda what it is now; it just needs to be MORE so. I sorta liked the pedestrian mall at D&R idea for sprucing up the area.

  3. fowgre Says:

    John: Did I write anything about destroying buildings? My name is not Tom Gosnell, who led the charge to expropriate private property in order to construct the Horton Expressway. No, I think I would prefer to let them atrophy naturally and then pick them up for the taxpayer at fire-sale prices, instead of what we now see happening with the Capitol Theater.

    Mike: A large central park such as I’ve suggested wouldn’t prevent the kind of mix that you’re talking about. A good example of that is New York City.

  4. John Leschinski Says:

    “Now remove all the buildings, all the roads, etc.”

    That would entail destroying buildings Greg. Unless you think the city should pay to have them moved without destroying them?

  5. fowgre Says:

    John: Remember that Dan invited us to engage in an exercise of imagination. This kind of plan ought to have begun many decades ago, before the construction of hi-rises and taxpayer investments in the Galleria, the JLC, the new library, etc. And I was thinking of buildings that are no longer economically viable, in which case the removal of derelict buildings is a different kettle of fish from one that’s well-maintained and profitable. I think of that as ‘demolition’ as opposed to ‘destruction.’ And I’m slagging all the subsidization of private business that’s taken place in the core over the years. They should have been allowed to sink or swim on their own. Either the business is there, or it isn’t. There are still some things that could be done now, like passing by-laws restricting alternate use (like parking lots) and making owners responsible for keeping the buildings in good repair. The dream of a largely expanded Victoria Park might still be possible in some form, but it would be difficult, would require lots of planning, and would take many years to accomplish. Still, I think that something might be done.

  6. John Leschinski Says:

    The problem with the economic viability of downtown is the nature of the services and products being sold. I can think of maybe 5 stores on Dundas that could make a case for downtown being relevant, but the rest are outdated or in poor standing. Bring in some businesses people will go too, and stop supporting bodegas and novelty stores.

    Think if they had an Apple store downtown. All the hipsters it would inject into the area, which then in turn spur other more relevant options.

    I also wouldn’t be opposed to putting Dundas or Richmond underground and have a pedestrian mall on top. Not to mention some plentiful free parking.

  7. fowgre Says:

    John: It’s too simplistic to blame the problem on the core’s retailers. Previous members of City Council made the decision to aid urban sprawl and all of it’s consequent problems. A deteriorating core is only one of them. Free parking isn’t something that I could support, because it undermines the effort to reduce SOV (a key TMP component). However, I would like to hear more about underground commercial topped by a commercial mall. Sounds like a good article submission 😉

  8. Dan Brown Says:

    Greg: Thank you for your positive feedback. I think your idea of an expanded Victoria Park, one that joins with Harris Park, is an improvement over the current downtown. Imagine!

  9. Phronk Says:

    Isn’t Victoria Park London’s version of Central Park? It’s smaller sure, but it’s gotta be proportional to the population.

    I do like the idea of more parkland and pedestrian-friendly stuff downtown, though. And an Apple Store too. 🙂

  10. John Leschinski Says:

    Parking, and the lack of anything useful is 90% of the reason I don’t bother with downtown. It’s popular to blame urban sprawl for the decline of down towns, but the fact of the matter is that down towns don’t offer what people want commercially anymore, and no one would let relevant retailers build downtown if they even wanted too.

  11. fowgre Says:

    Dan: Thanks for stopping by. You should try it more often! 🙂

    Mike: Why does it have to be proportional to the population, and what proportion would you suggest?

    John: There are reasons that urban sprawl gets so much blame and most of them are valid. What’s a ‘relevant’ retailer? Do you have to be a big-box store to be valid?

  12. John Leschinski Says:

    No you don’t have to be, but it certainly helps. If there was a major grocery chain in the Galleria, or even a department store like walmart or target it would certainly bring more people in. Name a good, non food, store downtown. I can think of 5.

    Also, cleaning up the rift raft downtown would help. Move the meth clinic out and maybe less sketchy people will populate the core. Most girls I know would be happy about that.

    More residential development, condos, downtown would help as well. Inject some new people into the area along side the new stores. But build these new buildings with first floor retail, and preserve historic facades while doing so.

  13. fowgre Says:

    Being a strong proponent of intensification, I’d want to see a healthy amount of the kind of development you’re talking about all around my central-park dreamscape. Residential on top of retail, absolutely!

    As for the ‘sketchy people’ that you refer to, we’ll have to part company. People are not disposable. You don’t solve social problems by simply shoving them out of sight so that you can forget that they exist. What would you do with them? Stick them in a work camp behind barbed wire and patrolled by vicious German Shepherds?

    Not in my London.

    And the meth clinic is located downtown because that’s where it’s accessible to the greatest number of people who need it.

  14. John Leschinski Says:

    If you want an improved downtown then safety should be a priority. When people are concered for their safety at night and day then they are going to avoid it.

  15. Dan Brown Says:

    Greg: I will try to make my visits more frequent from now on. Read Saturday’s Free Press for my latest editorial. The topic is the sex show. I think you and I are on the same page on this one.

  16. fowgre Says:

    John: People are every bit as safe at Dundas/Richmond as they are any other place in this city.

    Dan: I’ll read your editorial (I always do) but you should note that it was John who wrote the article about the sex show. I didn’t get to it so I can’t comment about it at all.

  17. John Leschinski Says:

    That’s not the perception people have. I know plenty of people, mostly women, who avoid the core at night and are on guard durring the day if they are forced into making a trip to the core for some reason.

    I don’t blame them either. I make sure I have my wallet on me repeatedly while walking downtown durring the day, and avoid venturing downtown late at night.

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