Monday, November 08, 2010

Same district, different universe

Great news--a corner grocery store is set to open in the Exchange District, on McDermot Avenue between Main and Albert. Around the corner on Main, a new fitness centre is opening up next door to the Woodbine Hotel.

No one knew where the neighborhood's first corner grocery store would open, but it is easy to why it was this place in particular. The vicinity of McDermot and Albert has the lowest concentration of parking facilities and the highest concentration of buildings and the things that go along with them: small creative firms, storefront retail, and upstairs, scores of residents in live-work spaces.

The joke's on governments, who have wanted things like grocery stores in the Exchange District, and see it as a key to attracting more residents. But when the first one finally opens up, it is to serve a residential population that lives in the surrounding warehouses illegally--outside the sanction of antiquated building codes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I was enjoying reading over this story with cup of coffee until I got to the bottom: "One of the lynchpins of future growth in the Exchange District will be a 450-space parkade, set to begin construction behind the Centennial Concert Hall next spring. Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture Development Corp., which is building the more than $10-million parkade in conjunction with the city, said he considers it an economic development tool."

It seems that the whole point of more than 40 years of public effort into downtown has been that it will be a more interesting place with more busy sidewalks; the kind of place that in the day or evening, one could feel not only safe, but proud walking around in.

Ostensibly, this is still the case. "[Centre Venture head Ross] McGowan said his dream is for the Exchange to one day resemble Toronto's Yorkville, which features a high-density population, a good mix of uses during the day and plenty of restaurants and entertainment options at night."

That's the dream, and here's the reality:

Yorkville became what it was by being largely forgotten by planners and public renewal agencies. Certain physical and economic preconditions that existed there allowed for organic orders to build over time (taking the neighborhood from grimy hipster ghetto to ultra-chic yuppie enclave).

Centre Venture Development Corporation no longer exists to improve the economic viability or the less-tangible vitality of its mandated area. It exists to serve its own preservation by helping other public agencies build their empires--no matter what it looks like physically in terms of bad design, or how it acts in terms of hampering private investment. It's simply easier that way. Jobs are kept, and people can continue drawing salaries sharing with reporters their fanciful dreams about how a little more of this is going to--poof, just like that!--turn into a new Yorkville one day.

Dreams are great. But can't they be done on one's own time?

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