I’d laugh, if it were funny. Sadly, here we are again. I have reviewed the “Reimagine Downtown” materials, went to a public open house presentation, played with cut outs of trains and pedestrians, filled in the online survey, and my heart is broken because all of it misses the point. It doesn’t matter how much lipstick you put on poor little Babe, Babe is still a pig. What am I getting at? Let me summarize the project by linking to a Bike Brampton article on the topic, (a great group, I am big supporter). You can find the article here: http://bikebrampton.ca/2017/06/21/downtown-reimagined/
What caught my eye, and I apologize as I don’t know who to credit, is the following image. Now, before you look, keep in mind, I’m not picking on Bike Brampton, or the author of that picture in the slightest. What follows is not about them at all. It’s about the City of Brampton, and the decision makers, and the myopic vision of what “Downtown” Brampton can and should be. This picture is just very familiar, very typical, of the dialogue around Downtown Brampton, the Downtown Brampton facade improvement program, the Downtown Brampton Business Improvement Area, Downtown Brampton event planning, etc. So without further adieu, I present, Downtown Brampton in all her glory:
The picture is a familiar one, if you have followed Brampton politics at all. Downtown Brampton, as envisioned as one intersection. Queen and Main. Sure, this particular rendering goes a bit west of Main, but in essence, this is it folks. One intersection. This is our “Downtown” and if you know the area, you realize, it is pretty much what people mean when they say “Downtown Brampton.” So what’s my beef?
If we truly want to build a Downtown, we have to start thinking about a 3 Dimensional Downtown, one that expands north and south, east and west, and encompasses more than just one intersection. I’m no graphic designer, but the area inside the yellow line should look a lot more like this one:
Union Street, home of the YMCA, is part of our Downtown. The intersection of Union and Church houses no less than 3 apartment buildings. There are 2 more on Maple Avenue and Scott Street with a direct pedestrian link to the YMCA lands. And another apartment building on Scott Street north of Church in easy strolling distance of Ken Whillans Park. Yet, despite having more apartments than the intersection of Main and Queen, and hence more population density, still, we don’t consider those areas to be Downtown Brampton. We don’t move our thinking north of the GO tracks to think about how we could reshape Union Street or Nelson Street East. Nope. Always Queen Street and Main Street.
Let’s look at Ken Whillans Drive, a goregous stretch that houses the beginning of one of city’s beautiful Riverwalk areas. What have we got planned for the residents of Greenway? Certainly, no direct pedestrian access to Main Street seems to be in the works. It’s down Ken Whillans and along Church Street, or perhaps along Sproule than south on Main, despite the fact that a quick and simple link to Alexander Street would allow them to get to Four Corner 5 to 10 minutes faster.
Market Street and Church Street West, home to two apartment buildings, a GO Station, the Old Shoe Factory commercial building, what have we got planned to improve those streetscapes where people live and work? My family lived for about a year on Mill Street North, before Vodden extended past Main Street, and I would ride my bike through that neighbourhood. It’s a walkable, and bikeable neighbourhood, with no signs of ever changing or growing, despite it being adjacent to the GO Station, being a beautiful area and having great potential to be rezoned into a mixed use area to allow more small businesses to take up residence in a quiet and peaceful symbiosis with the neighbourhood.
George, Elizabeth, Mill, Park and West Streets? If I were a City Builder, I’d put a Byward Market style installation there, a year round farmers market like London’s Covent Garden Market, or move the Powerade Centre to the area. I’ve already written about George Street and the area between Queen and Gage Park, and how it’s leaps and bounds ahead of Main Street in terms of gentrification. We have to take that north, past Nelson, and along Railroad Street all the way to McMurchy. As Downtown Toronto has clearly proven, the Rail Tracks are no excuse anymore. If we can envision it, our engineers can build it.
The Southwest Quadrant, along Wellington and Mill Street South and Elliot? A quiet expansion of the mixed use commercial zoning, changing the streetscapes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, linking Gage Park to Memorial Park with shops and cafes.
The Southeast quadrant, with its mix of historical buildings, commercial buildings, library, Bell, rooming houses and parkland frontage? The Riverwalk Proposal will basically terraform that area in any event. But its an area that is completely underdeveloped in terms of walk and cycling usage. I think the area would make a great place to hold a “Crit” or a “Criterium” race. It’s Downtown, but its just out of the way enough to not cause a major disturbance to the area during the race.
How many times are we going to put a fresh coat of spackle – erm, excuse me, streetscaping – on Main Street and Queen Street buildings, while we continue to ignore the potential of the surrounding areas to become more vibrant, more liveable, areas? How many facade improvements will we subsidize along “Only Street Brampton” before we take a look at Nelson Street East with an eye to fostering 3 Dimensional Growth and Development along the gateway to the YMCA?
Brampton is a beautiful place. Our obsession with Four Corners is the problem, not the solution. Like shoring up the foundation of a house, if we can grow the downtown into a 3 Dimensional and highly liveable and workable complete area, then the epicentre, the Four Corners, will not only take care of itself, it will be the core of the Downtown, instead of it’s outer limits.
And that will do Pig, that will do.