Today was the Emerging Leaders Idea Salon about what downtown could be, which was a follow up to last night’s Downtown London AGM featuring a Toronto urban planner as guest speaker. There was a great turnout and some great discussion. You can find out more about it by searching the #mydundas hashtag on Twitter, but some of the basics discussed were:

  • Living space! Downtown is never going to compete with White Oaks and Masonville as a retail centre–and it doesn’t have to. Those places are just shopping places, Downtown is a community hub. So give it a community, of people that live there!  Refurbish the upper levels of buildings for “loft” style living space–it’ll attract students and young professionals, but housing hopefully can still be kept affordable, and downtown businesses will benefit from having more people around.
  • Change peoples’ perceptions of the area. It’s not dangerous. It’s not dirty. Smokers and panhandlers and youth and people in line for OW and other such services are valuable parts of the community. No need to fear them or dis them or assume they somehow detract from downtown’s viability as a pleasant place to be.
  • Engage youth. They’re already spending time downtown, what with highschools and community groups (like Original Kids, etc.) that have a base downtown. We just need them to keep spending time downtown as they get older.
  • Should buses be redirected around Dundas using King and Queen Streets? Some businesses are wary of this–will people still spend money on Dundas if the bus doesn’t drop them off right at the door of where the want to go?–but a lot of residents are pretty enthusiastic (Dundas is a hella congested street with all the buses).
  • Should on-street parking be reduced to make sidewalks wider? Just like the above point, merchants and residents have different views on this.
  • Events–cultural, artistic, community based, whatever–are key! Car-free Sunday, for example, has been a resounding success at getting people downtown this year. The London Fringe has that sort of success each year as well, as do the Victoria Park festivals. But there could still be more! What about spontaneous artistic events in unused spaces like abandoned buildings? What about street theatre, busking, etc.
  • Networking is important as well. With so many widely variant community groups trying to do what they can for London, things can get fragmented and there’s sometimes not enough communication. Emerging Leaders need to work with City Council or the London Downtown Business Association, etc. because communication and cooperation are always key.
  • WHEELCHAIR ACCESS is a problem downtown. This wasn’t mentioned explicitly during the idea salon, but it was implicitly present throughout the meeting, which was, by necessity, held at a non-wheelchair-accessible venue and thus was exclusive to walkies. Boo.

Anyhow that’s just some of what I gathered from this lovely little meeting. Emerging Leaders is doing a great job in London (if only there was more opportunity for wheelchair access at their events!) and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. Great job folks!


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