Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fixing Downtown?

How does Peterborough improve our downtown? Seems to be a pretty popular question and everyone’s got their two cents worth to throw in to the mix. He’s mine.

First, I think people have some pretty high expectations of what our downtown should be. But what you got to keep in mind is; Peterborough is not Toronto, it’s not Ottawa, it’s not Montreal. Peterborough is a city in the middle of rural Ontario with a small population. It is for the most part a blue collar town where the majority votes conservative and is more likely to be interested in sports then the arts. There is very little opportunity in the creative sector here causing a creative brain drain which draws talented young folks out of our community to the larger centers. The group of people that are involved in downtown and in the arts and in music, and that have decided to stay here, we’ve got a cool little thing going on. We’ve got to keep in mind we’ve done pretty well with what we got.

I am tired of idealists that have this, ‘if you build it they will come’ attitude that just isn’t true. If you build it, a few may come, a few may poke around then leave, but most still probably aren’t going to bother coming at all. The masses have poor taste. They listen to Nickeback, hang out at the mall and buy their art from Homesense. The champions for the downtown/independent/cultural cause are already downtown and their buying power is reflective of the current state. If you want to bring the rest of the population in, it takes more than a great town square, restored heritage buildings and some more independent shops. Someone has to sell it to them that this is where they want to shop, eat and spend their spare time. In addition people resist change, it has to be easy. There must be lots of parking, less unsavory characters about, comfortable amenities, restaurants they recognize. It has to be dumbed down and polished up. Is that really what’s best? I want to see improvements but not on those terms.

Driving unsustainable development is bad practice and just plain stupid. You have to develop the need first or else you’ll just have some lovely looking empty parks and deserted shops and cafes with for lease signs in the windows. Trying to sell Natas and Plush to a population that prefers Tim Hortons and Walmart is a pretty tremendous feat. This is a complete 180 in the culture and habits of an entire tribe of people. If we as a city want to see downtown improve, then we need to not hope to change people but to focus on developing the foundations for support by growing the faction of the population that cares. Foster the creative industry, and other industries for the matter to create good jobs that will draw in the young people and creative people with disposable incomes and the desire to live and spend their time and money in our downtown. Once that need is there, I’m sure there will be no problem finding people and organizations willing to develop a means to satisfy it, that’s the easy part.


  1. Good post Lyall. I appreciate your point about not wanting to see improvement if it is on unsatisfactory terms. What would be an example of a foundation of support to foster the creative industry?



  2. Thanks. That's a good question. Keep in mind when I say creative industry I'm not limiting that to artists, designers, photographers, cultural workers, etc. There is only so much of a market for that locally. I include engineering, computer science, project management and many others in the creative class. Many high tech, software, gaming companies, etc. that serve a global market don't need to be in larger city centers, they just gravitate towards where the talent is. A big thing I'd like to see happening here is instead of dumping money in to keeping a few jobs in a decreasing manufacturing sector, invest in expanding the post secondary programs to train the talent these companies are looking for. With the talent pool here, the city should be able to put together an intiative to use the benefits of doing work here (low cost, beautiful area, etc)to sell the city to these companies.