..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

... just to remind myself why I'm doing this ...

Depending on our personalities, the world can be a crowded place or a very lonely one. For those who seek comfort in numbers, there is no shortage of hangers on, but for those who avoid that circus, keeping thier own counsel can leave them feeling quite alone and disengaged from the mad place we call home. Life is a trade off and most of us choose how we live it.

For me, I'd rather work things out as best I can, using my own thoughts and feelings to sort things out. Following the crowd has never been a temptation to me, but that has its price, one that I'm totally comfortable with every day I get to stand up and be the person I aspire to be. When I sometimes lose track of who that is, I come here to remember, to reconnect and to resume my quest.

These posts are a reflection of some of what matters to me and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to collect these thoughts as they form in my head, as they prepare the way for my life, as it evolves from one day to the next. They re-inspire me when things seem to be floating about, with no particular aim or purpose, and it does happen from time to time.

So, today I had these thoughts that I think are worth writing down for the future me to look back on when I need to ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just what is "Downtown revitalization"?

It's hard to not dismiss this latest initiative by our Council as another bullet-point on their 4 year checklist that has limited chance of being fully implemented as a standalone project which will have any long-term impact on the Downtown. In my opinion, initiatives such as this focus on immediate concerns and short-term solutions rather than the systemic weaknesses that underlie the perpetual cycles of vitality and decline that are evident in so many smaller communities such as ours. In this era of 'meg-opolises' the raison-d'etre's of smaller communities are too volatile to sustain their steady existence and up and down cycles of prosperity are to be expected. It's a see-saw existence that comes from erratic patterns of development in residential, commercial and industrial sectors that wrestle to either keep pace with or catch up to each other in an endless game of leap-frog. This initiative may well be one of those leaps trying to jostle the downtown's position vis-a-vis the peripheral commercial growth brought on by recent reckless over-development. But, is the vitality of downtown such that it needs boosting or is it at some point in its natural cycle?

First of all, just what is it that needs revitalizing? How do we know it needs revitalizing? Why do we think it needs revitalizing? What has led us to this need? What happened to the last revitalization's initiatives and accomplishments? These are the questions that need answering before anything can proceed in the latest incarnation of a plan for the revitalization of downtown.

   “I am looking forward to working with the Downtown Revitalization Task Force, the community, Town staff and other key stakeholders and helping steer the process of enhancing Cobourg’s downtown to foster both short term and sustainable business growth.”
writes the newly hired Business Development Officer in his first press release.

  He says   "...foster both short term and sustainable business growth"
That's a pretty broad stroke and is a lot more general than it is specific in its objective. Generally, it's no secret that downtowns are hugely dependent on strong downtown residential populations which is in direct contrast to the fringe commercial districts that draw from much larger areas and are dependent on unrestricted mobility of consumers. Fostering growth is different from sustaining viability which I suspect is the goal, not more growth. However, if the new Officer's statement is accurate and fostering sustained business growth in the downtown is the goal, I question the objective from the outset. Sustained business growth requires ever-expanding markets, whether it be in physical size or consumer demand, or both. How does that translate in our downtown where there can be little physical growth and only marginal business growth? In my view, fostering an environment that sustains the viability of the existing business centre is the objective most likely to be achievable, especially given the level and variety of restrictions imposed by our heritage concerns. That objective needs to be an ongoing part of the town's economic policy, not just an occasional and temporary project for a cobbled-together focus group with a typically descriptive but impotent statement of objective.

This exercise of developing a strategy is what the town calls a 'first step' in the revitalization of Downtown Cobourg but what I call Cobourg's latest foray into "fixing" something that some think needs fixing, as evidenced by the statement
        “there is a lot of work to be done in the revitalization process and we are confident that Mr. Narraway will take a leadership role in driving this process forward."
The potential for getting mired in process as opposed to actually carrying out an action plan in its entirety is always a strong concern, having seen what happens in so many of these scenarios.

 I get stuck on what they think needs fixing. My question here is "What's the problem being addressed, what will be the end result, how will we recognize it, and does it solve the problem it is meant to resolve?"

As part of my election platform in 2010 I advocated for developing an environment of co-operation between neighbouring municipalities to present a much larger, more developed opportunity within which industry and business could establish and grow. This is in contrast to the spirit of "us, not them" competition that sought to claim new development for the benefit of individual municipalities.

        "Working with neighbouring communities and Northumberland County will add breadth to the scope of my role and allow for integration with larger initiatives, while ensuring alignment with Cobourg’s local strategies,” added Mr. Narraway.
 Judging by this comment, that thinking has taken on some life now. The only thing I don't see as a critical component is the "county" aspect. Our current county structure harkens back to an earlier time in the history of our economic basin. I don't think it has the significance it once did and therefore it should not be part of the definition of our economic basin as it develops today.
 If this is what they are talking about when they call for a revitalization of our downtown, it's actually far more than that and that needs to be made clear. Furthermore, if that is so, I have to ask what our Economic Development Department is up to these days. If I understand what is being planned, Economic Development has been asleep at the controls for some time, or just as bad, we're going to spend more money to duplicate what's already on the plate. Either way, it comes across as a stab at trying to do something, anything, to become relevant in the Province's economic planning process. Calling it a revitalization of downtown is either a con or an indication that nobody involved understands the issues they're trying to resolve.

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