..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 ...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

we've got a "gamechanger" opportunity ... let's not blow it

see also Sept 24, 2012, Feb 13, '13, and Mar 30 '13 posts

With the main street location presently occupied by a discount store about to return to "empty" status, there is a rare and absolutely ideal opportunity to make a very significant impact on the downtown "econoscape", one that would render most of the teardrop measures being assembled under the "vitalization" effort now underway as inconsequential because ultimately they will be ineffective as long-term revitalizers.

At the spirited launch of the "Downtown Vitalization Project" earlier this year, I presented an idea to the folks looking for input. This idea involves changing the focus of downtown from a 'retail centre' to an 'essential services centre'. In today's world, retail is omnipresent to the extent that it seeks to inject itself into every waking minute of our lives. The internet has managed to do that with little effort. Why then do we still 'need' yet another shopping opportunity in the form of a somewhat inconvenient arrangement like a downtown, especially one that can't come close to providing those things that the consumer wants and needs day in and day out? Trying to SELL that concept is resource-intensive and ultimately pretty well unachievable in a long-term scenario. At best, it will spark some temporary interest that will fade even faster than it has all the times before. One of the bigger factors is the unstable nature of the econoscape of the downtown. One never knows what they'll find there from one visit to the next or the next; it's a crapshoot and it feels like a waste of time for the busy consumer.

For the middle and senior age cohort, their non-leisure world is focused on essential services, and many of those services require personal contact and interaction with the consumer. For them, shopping is a diversion and no longer the 'business part of their day' that it once was. For the younger crowd, their needs are being met by the huge all-in-one retailers and on-line vendors far more successfully than a street-front retail location could hope to do. That leaves street-front retail in a squeeze for limited dollars and limited demands.

In its own predictable way, retail keeps turning the same tricks, only disguising them in novel ways that have a very short lifespan. It just doesn't know what else to do in the face of ever growing supply for a stagnant demand. It certainly appears that the concentration of multiple supply chains in those all-in-one locations is a successful strategy so why shouldn't we do something like that by developing a tailor-made strategy for the service sector? After all, human nature is always looking for a faster, cheaper, more convenient solution to fill its needs, and consumer services are really not that much different from consumer goods.

I've got enough grey on my head to prove that I've experienced a number of these revitalization efforts and the significant thing I've noticed is that they all seem to address the same "issues" that are cause for concern at the time they take notice. Another significant observation is that the measures implemented all seem to be the same, and that should be a pretty good indicator of their long-term effectiveness. I have yet to see an original idea be formulated to "change the econoscape" of the downtown in a way that will avoid a repeat of the boom-bust cycle that makes these revitalizations so attractive, albeit so ineffective. Heck, the invention of the "mall" was just such an original idea that changed the "econscape" permanently, as was the evolution of the "big box store". There are valuable lessons here, but we just keep on dragging out the same fancy old dishes for Sunday dinner, not because they're any better but because it's what we do for some obscure reason that has lost its original meaning in a different world. Paint, signs and advertising will never solve anything, they merely postpone.

Creativity is the core part of a solution to every problem. I don't mean creatively repeating the same measures either. I mean creative ideas that have an impact not yet experienced in past efforts at solving a clearly identified and isolated problem.

Apart from any solutions, I'm not aware of any well-defined results being targeted at the other end of the vitalization exercise. Such targets should also include a number of additional measures to be undertaken if the original measures lose their effectiveness in the future. Ultimately, I suppose the measure of effectiveness would be an overall permanent increase in business presence in the downtown but in our situation, that capacity to grow physically is very limited. That would suggest that business activity in existing locations would have to grow to achieve the targeted results.

This brings me back to my original thought. If we were to concentrate the essential services in one major location downtown, it would virtually guarantee a steady, growing flow of clientelle in the downtown, and that would provide the spinoff to the rest of the businesses located there, the very objective behind the vitalization effort. To use a much-used word these days, it would be a huge "game changer" for the downtown, and it would establish its importance for a long, long time. The gate is open, we just have to act now.