Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Why?' you ask...?

Why am I insisting that the Stoney Creek News needs to play a pivotal role in the revitalization of Downtown Stoney Creek? Well, let's look at the other participants in the situation.

-Government. It's not the role of Hamilton Council to play so big a part in an area's revitalization. Government's role is to support, to create circumstances within which success can more probably happen. But the particulars of Downtown Stoney Creek, the dynamics involved are not of the variety where we're talking the commerce equivalent of 'disaster relief'. (Make no mistake about it, the downtown is a 'disaster', especially in comparison with what it could be. The irony is that it's been in this state for such a long time that some of the people who still frequent it just can't recognize what's in front of them.)

-Business and Property Owners. This is where the actual problem lies, as I've laid-out on countless occasions, in posts tagged "The 'Downtown' Issue". Land sits barren, buildings sit vacant, the assortment of actual businesses is poor, there is only one 'anchor' tenant...and seemingly, from the outside, the five or so 'Major Players' on King Street either have their heads down and are intent on 'getting through until the end' because they're worn out from just staying afloat all these years, they have myopia or perhaps not at all conversant with the notion of 'synergy' where thriving, vibrant, successful 'main streets' are concerned...or they just don't give a damn.

-Residents. The customers. You know, those people who keep businesses in business by way of their patronage. But they can only do this if there's something to spend their money on. The 'power' they have is usually only exerted in how they 'vote' with their money; either by patronizing businesses...or not.

You know, the idea of a revitalized Downtown Stoney Creek isn't just about more business being done. It's about what happens to a community when there is an actual 'central focus', when there's what they call a 'high street' in Britain. Urban centers are about people. About commerce. About gathering spaces.

And this isn't rocket science. I'm not spouting something hifalutin here, something only those familiar with the writings of Jane Jacobs would understand. This is a time-proven process, an organic one going back thousands of years. A town develops outward, the inner core's vibrancy rippling towards the peripheries. As opposed to the process of developer-driven sprawl, which has nothing organic attached to it at all, the fact that is in and of itself a reason for why this approach often ends up feeling so utterly soulless.

This doesn't mean that other areas of a city cannot be vibrant, cannot be world-beaters, cannot be great attractions, destinations for excursions. But if your 'downtown' has no draw save being a habit to some, or just happens to be where a major medical services building is located, if it's floundering and seems to have no 'zip', no 'oomph', if it doesn't actually play a vital role in the surrounding community, then not only is this's plain wrong.

Unfortunately, this is where Downtown Stoney Creek is. (Don't let the aging voices to the contrary fool you; they're the same ones who leapt up onto their soapboxes and declared as to how paid parking was the equivalent of the sky falling...when in fact a much, much more serious 'ailment' had taken root in our downtown, one that so far outstripped the metered-parking brouhaha as to make it laughable...if the situation wasn't already so pathetic.)

Here's my take on it all: nothing will ever happen until Those Who Currently Hold Almost All The Important Cards are put in a situation where continuing to do nothing proves to be not only a liability, but an unconscionable act. Unless this happens, what we see in front of us now is what we'll see in front of us in ten, twenty years. (Or worse: if the tendency to have 'professionals' make up more and more of our downtown continue, we can kiss the idea of a people-based downtown -retail, services, entertainment- goodbye.)

And these parties will not be put in that situation unless pressure is brought to bear on them.

Pressure from...?

Well, it can't come from government. As I've suggested, government has no mandate to make sure business concerns 'behave' a certain least not beyond the notion of making it more attractive for businesses to consider taking paths other than the ones they're on.

And residents tend to be too unfocused, too apathetic to effect change. Especially when it comes commerce: they like to be led. (Hello, advertising.)

This leaves us with media. Specifically, our community newspaper, the Stoney Creek News.

What's required is that the News actually begin presenting the decaying-and-dormant Downtown Stoney Creek as the news item that it is. This issue deserves to be a series of articles in the News. A series such as this:

1) Downtown Stoney Creek's history. I'd focus on the past 50 years, with a longer overview provided in sidebar form.
2) How Commerce Has Changed. What's been going on in the rest of the marketplace (in Hamilton, in Ontario, in Canada, over the rest of the world) over the past half-century.
3) What Makes for Thriving Downtowns, City-centres, Main Streets.
4) Where Downtown Stoney Creek is Today. An analysis of the current state of affairs
5) What Needs to Be Done. Recommendations, options and strategies.

Some may say that it's not the responsibility of the Stoney Creek News to effect change in Stoney Creek. The only polite response I have to that notion is 'bullshit'.

If it's not the responsibility of the community's newspaper to shine light on subjects that need some illumination, if it's not their responsibility to make the residents aware of a situation that affects their Quality of Life, if it's not within the purview of a newspaper to endeavour to inform, to educate, to provide its readers with what's required to produce informed, qualified opinions in them...

...then whose is it?

Surely to God the Stoney Creek News' only mandate can't be the obvious, what it has long excelled at, to merely regurgitate material already circulated by other elements of media in more expedient fashions, or report on feel-good mush.

Downtown Stoney Creek is the way it is for many reasons. There's no question that the health of the economy in general and the shifting of the area's specifically have been contributing factors to the area being a non-starter. But more than this, I believe a distinct lack of imagination, of entrepreneurial vision combined with an attachment to a time-worn status quo on the parts of land-owners have brought us to this morass. And that customers have progressively registered how they feel about all this by simply shopping elsewhere. Rectifying this situation can't be achieved by the simple publication of a few articles. But the effort can be spearheaded by such a gesture.

Stoney Creek residents deserve a much better downtown than what they've been provided for what amounts to decades, now. The Stoney Creek News can play a vital role in making this happen. It would be a wonderful way to galvanize the community, to bolster the newspaper's fading status, to make a suitable contribution to the lives lived here.

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.