We love our downtown. Nobody seems to argue otherwise, so the real question is what do we love about our downtown and how can we nurture it?
My answer is this:
Downtown offers a unique experience that combines commercial businesses (like retail shops, offices, and restaurants), with public spaces, (like the museum, library, theatre and the river), to create places where social interactions naturally evolve and thus build a great sense of community. You might experience this when you go downtown to shop or eat, and end up having conversations with friends and family you hadn’t planned on having (or visa versa).
This appreciation for unique social and natural experiences goes beyond simple consumption and means that our downtown has the potential to transform our valley into a more economically and environmentally sustainable city. Let me explain…
A city is like a businesses in that it provides services like roadways, water, recreation, fire and police using its assets. The city has one major fixed asset… Land. When we develop the land we create a tax base to fund the services. What has become obvious is that a compact, walkable, downtown development creates a greater return to the city than building sprawl… Not just socially and environmentally, but economically.
It’s obvious how minimizing sprawl can save our natural assets like trees and wetlands, but sometimes its harder to see the how it can save us tax dollars and increase the economic value of our community. In a 2002 study by Tischler & Associates, it is shown that commercial sprawl type developments generate a net annual deficit for a municipality while specialty retail generates significant surpluses. The greatest factors in higher municipal costs for sprawl type developments are higher road maintenance and greater need for public safety services.
The City of Courtenay recognizes the value of our downtown and is in the process of developing a long term vision to capitalize on these opportunities. Our vision statement talks about downtown being the heart of our community and a natural fit for special events and gatherings for both local residents and visitors. It speaks to welcoming a range of housing and lifestyle options that foster vitality and diversity, both day and night.
Some of the most compelling images of our downtown vision show larger sidewalks, pedestrian zones and parks, street markets, sidewalk cafe’s, and direct and easy access to the river from downtown (all the slides are available at courtenay.ca). One of the key elements in my mind is the creation of incentives for downtown residential mixed use buildings and surrounding downtown infill developments. When you have people living close to downtown, you guarantee a healthy downtown!
Investing in our downtown will certainly require partnerships, public engagement, and definitely some patience, but it is key to attracting new investments from the private sector while building our unique experience. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, don’t hesitate, you know where to find me…
For more information about Courtenay’s Downtown revitalization information and Vision visit: http://www.courtenay.ca/EN/main/community/downtown-revitalization.htmlDavid Frisch