During the day it is hard to find a good parking spot and one can eat anything from sushi to hamburgers at lunch. Unique shops abound. Yet, there is a sense of incredulity as well, that the downtown core could be subject to such ravages as the demolition of the Odeon Theatre and 100 George’s. (I find it incredibly ironic – and exciting – that there is talk of a school of architecture possible in our city.)

The election of new board members for the Downtown Sudbury organization is an interesting development. Mr. Wygant, one of the new members is quoted, saying “We’re going to try and kick start some creative endeavors throughout the downtown core…”, and that the downtown can “… be the place it was back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when thousands of people would be roaming the streets …”. Unfortunately, in those days, CVRD/INCO alone had tens of thousands of employees and Sudbury was a nickel mining boomtown. While a sense of optimism is a good thing, the mean-spirited attitude toward the former board is disturbing. Beware those who blame the past as a way to highlight future, unproven success.

What is most troubling is the focus of the new board, on Sudbury’s Farmer’s Market. Has the new board studied efforts of other Canadian cities to revitalize downtowns? Mr. Wygant sounds as though he and the new board have already decided to move the market and have it set up on different streets each week, with the current building converted to an arts facility. At the same time he states that he and the board are “… open to all good ideas.”

Moving the market defies common sense. Would Mr. Wygant be willing to move his business around every week? The Farmer’s Market may be struggling because it’s not marketed properly, not enough food is grown locally to supply it, and Sudburians are deeply ingrained to get in the car and drive to a mall.

The current market location provides easy access for vendors and patrons and it is centrally located, with two parking entrances. Having the market function with artists included as vendors, is already happening on a small scale and there is room for growth in that idea. The market building is simply not adequate as a proper arts facility. The Windsor Farmer’s Market, in a huge, former Armoury building, serves as an excellent example of what the Sudbury farmer’s market could be, on an appropriately smaller scale

Why the rush to uproot the market and turn it into a wandering minstrel show? One could be forgiven for suspecting that the land the current market sits on is being eyed up for some development. Why? Because it seems rather cavalier to simply assume that the farmer’s market will thrive, rootless in the city. The new board would be wise to consider the idea that the downtown is not theirs; it belongs – inasmuch as it can belong to anyone – to all citizens. It is up to our representatives on city council, working with the Downtown Sudbury group, to plan together how to attract people to downtown. This can only happen by thinking in the context of what Sudbury is today, not what it was 20 and 30 years ago.

Sudbury is in near crisis; desperate for a vision and a clear sense of what and who we are; for one thing is certain – we are not, and never will be again, a booming mining town. We need to ‘boom’ in other ways.

Economic development is not just the purview of an elite group of business owners. It is a political issue and there should be a moratorium on any major changes to the downtown. We need a well-thought out, long-term plan for the city core. Included in a series of public debates, should be issues about affordable, mixed dwellings; adequate public transit from all areas of the city and regulations concerning existing buildings. Regulations would assist in deciding what and who to attract to the downtown. Other cities and towns take strident measures to improve and grow their downtowns. Port Hope, Ontario has made a name for itself as a Bed and Breakfast, artsy haven for stressed out urban dwellers. By-Laws are strictly enforced regarding any changes made to historical buildings. The buildings became historical because they were allowed to exist in the first place!

A multi-use, arts and community centre has been a dream for decades. The area around the existing downtown arena should be considered. A second ice surface, developed with an enclosed space encompassing Minto and Shaughnessy Streets, housing an arts and multi use facility has been suggested in the past. The 5000 seat auditorium at Casino Rama – and I am not suggesting a casino be built – is a good model. A museum and multi-media arts gallery would complete the plan and this all could be done in stages, over a period of several years. The existing, nearby businesses could be incorporated into the facility; a link – either an enclosed overpass or underpass to the YMCA – should also be built. Planning for such a centre should be a priority.

The downtown is our downtown. To the new board: hands off the downtown until we are able to come up with a plan that works. Research efforts in other cities and think big. To the new city council: move as vigorously as possible to democratize the planning process in Sudbury. The Farmer’s Market needs to stay put. It was and is a good start.

Paul Chislett is a Communication Studies student at Laurentian University.

This article appeared in an edited form in the Feb14 issue of Northern Life

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Filed under Downtown Cores, Economics, Economics and Society, Politics

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