By: Laila Zarrabi Yan
The argument between the Councillors regarding downtown revitalization reminds me of my days studying landscape architecture. In our studies we were taught that, for a site to work, one needs a viable combination of three things: functionality, sustainability and aesthetics.
This in mind, when looking at these beautification efforts for downtown Brampton, I can’t help but sympathize with Councillor Dhillon when he says that the plan is ‘good but not good enough’. This is because efforts like these only focus on the aesthetic side of architecture and city planning; making something pretty isn’t enough to draw people in. There are examples throughout history of places that were designed to ‘look pretty’ but failed and decayed over time because they weren’t functional or sustainable enough to draw people into actually using them.
To put it bluntly (and forgive me if this seems callous), spending all of your time and energy on beautifying a decaying city district is about as useful as painting a smile on someone with depression.
If they want to truly revitalize the downtown they have to actually consider what people want (and will use) and how to make these amenities functional and long-lasting. If you build a downtown that no one, or only a select few people, want then it’s going to collect dust and you’ll end up throwing more money at it in a couple years’ time trying vainly to get something to work as it continues to fall apart.
I put emphasis on amenities that people will use because that might actually be the biggest crux of the situation here. There are always things that people say they want, yet will never use when they get access to it. There are also things that people think would never be used yet become astoundingly popular. It’s why downtown has The Wee Shop and Culture Rising despite the amount of times I’ve heard people speak of them with disdain. It’s also why Heritage Theatre hasn’t been torn down and yet just sits there, closed and rotting with an alleged hole gaping in the ceiling. And, for the sake of a non-downtown (and personal) example, it’s why I’ve only been to the Caffe Demetre at BCC twice despite spending my adolescent years wishing and praying one would finally open up in Brampton.
The problem here is that the movers and shakers of this city keep talking about how things ought to be instead of actually considering what we need and taking the time listen to what the majority of us want and are willing to use.
Here’s another thing that needs to be brought to the attention of our downtown cohorts. Of all of the people that frequent the Four Corners, how many of those people are actually from outside of the Four Corners? From Bramalea, and Springdale, and Castlemore, and so on? Because, I have to be completely honest with you, I doubt it’s all that much.
We are a very fractured city with little inter-district mingling. So if you think beautification is enough to convince people of other districts to come downtown, you have to ask yourselves one question: would you go to their area because they prettied up their buildings?
See, a part of me would like to answer ‘yes’; but, when I think about it, no matter how many times I’ve heard people rave about the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood it never got me to take a gander at it. So what are the odds that other people, even those living downtown, would travel for that reason? With that in mind, it might be a good exercise to revitalize the Four Corners by taking into consideration “What would another district have to do to get me to visit them?”, and then act on the answers that come out of that brainstorming session.
Making a site work takes a lot of planning, and is by no means an easy feat. But, to take on this challenge and make it a success, Council has to keep in mind many factors: What do people want? What do they need? What amenities will honestly be popular with the public? How do we make things functional? Will these changes still be popular 5, 10, 20 years down the line? And then, at the end of the day, how do we make it look good? If all of these things aren’t taken into consideration, the downtown will continue to decay. Nobody wants this to happen. So if things are going to be done, they need to look beyond the façade and to the core of its vitality.