Friday, June 29, 2007

Centre Venture out of touch

On a post at a local internet forum, a "urban prince" had some dissapointing news and some keen observations:
"A friend of mine that works for Urban Affairs told me that they (the province) will be moving into the Avenue Building next year.
-There is NO attempt to build Portage based on a plan of what Portage Avenue could really become.
[or was even twenty years ago]
-Centre Venture is suppose to be a high-risk development agency. Snatching a 60,000 sq foot government re-location project that was coming downtown anyway is a slap in the face of the commercial realtors with ample office supply in the downtown and owned by the private sector. Anyone can do that job, so why is Centre Venture needed then?
-If Centre Venture passed on the new government office project it would have resulted on TWO new downtown projects. The government office would have gone elsewhere in the downtown (Maybe another private sector vacant building), and Centre Venture would do what is right. Build a mixed use project with rental housing, office space, and retail storefronts.
-I guess no one figured out how to use the new City housing program to stimulate more housing downtown. Imagine that. Another useless program that is not marketed and not used to the advantage of our Downtown.
-Centre Venture needs to do what it was mandated to. Undertake the hard stuff. The stuff that just might make a developer go broke. If CV looses money so be it. The City and Province gains anyways. And the Downtown too. That is why the City and Province funds the organization.
-This is an Amateur move. Maybe the new guy in charge is a bit timid, or his board is a collection of developers that only understand simple market driven development business models and perhaps do not even understand the mandate of their own organization."

Or maybe the new guy is like the old guy, the members of Centre Venture's board, and the staff and board members of other downtown-boosterism agencies: Forks North Portage, Downtown BIZ, Exchange District BIZ, etc., in that he most likely doesn't live downtown or its surrounding neighborhoods. If more of these people did, their organizations might not be so foolishly content with shooting for the middle.

There is a direct connection between the decline of urban centres and the decentralization of where its advocates live. (This was studied in Yale professor Douglas W. Rae's book City) It's hard to restore successful urbanism when you don't understand what that means. It's even harder when you have little interest or personal connection to it in the first place.

The Avenue block is the most crucial piece of real estate on Portage Avenue. Re-used properly, it could do much to turn Portage Avenue around--at least symbolically--from its present decline. If it is true that Centre Venture is simply giving it up to a provincial government agency so quickly, rather than approach it with the same gusto they did on Waterfront Drive a few years back, it suggests that they as an organization are no longer working according to their original mission, and are becoming just another bloated agency that serves no useful purpose.


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