A recent column in this corner of The Square, on Tecumseh’s massive spend on a proposal to remove utility poles along Tecumseh Road and to bring café society to its main street, as well as the hopes that a small parkette will reverse the fortunes of Ford City, caused reader Jenny Kimmerly to take umbrage with some of the points.
The parkette is planned for the northwest corner of Richmond Street and Drouillard Road. Right now it is a small grassy area with one poorly cared for planter and someone’s truck, possibly, illegally parked.
Kimmerly was particularly taken aback over the assertion it is, “… just another scheme, following many other hopeful plans, to return the area to its former prominence.”
She wanted to know the statement’s precise meaning.
For her reference, the reality is Ford City’s revival is often touted but never achieved. Every once in a while a new plan is publicized in the Windsor Star, but disappears before the ink dries.
As recent as April 22, 2014, the paper talked of considerable change on the area’s doorstep, including the arrival of new residential development. A year and a month later, the CBC covered the I Wish This Was campaign. Residents pasted suggestions on empty store windows on uses for the space.
As naïve as this sounds, the campaign was said to be designed to prove demand existed for, “… certain types of businesses in the area.”
Unfortunately, nothing happened.
Store operators are very particular about where they open their costly retail units, particularly in a city with high property taxes. One of their most important criteria is a generous base of customers.
Ford City’s Achilles Heel is a population density of 832 households. Such a small base is why the commercial strip failed in the first place.
Urban designers Gregory Easton and John Owen, in a 2009 paper entitled Creating Walkable Neighbourhood Business Districts, calculated that a small neighbourhood business district needs 2,000 households.
With such a tiny market, merchants long ago lost their survival battles and, apparently, simply locked their doors and walked away. Unfortunately, landowners took extreme measures, such as adding bricks, steel, or stucco, to permanently close many storefronts.
One of the most poignant cases was the area’s bakery.
Time stood still behind the dusty windows of the Adler Baking Company. However imaginary, the aroma of fresh baked goods seemed intact before it was all destroyed in a 2009 fire.
Too often the overly optimistic among those in the area talk of things coming. A Blackburn News report of September 30, 2014, promised a new bakery and an art shop. They failed to arrive or, if they did, don’t seem to be there anymore.
The longer the street sits, it decays. A good example is the SJ Kosman Building, the long-time home of the Square Deal Market, which now operates as a tasty sausage vendor. The bricks forming its facade are sinking. Patchwork efforts at restoration, like most fix-ups, have not solved the problem.
Much could be done to create something in Ford City, but it will take considerable creativity, a solid plan, a big budget, and a courageous council willing to develop a prized historic area, rather than lavish millions on a foreign swimming competition.
Windsor also suffers from a council with little interest in neighbourhoods. It prefers to continually shutdown prized arenas, pools, community centres, and parks.
Change has to start at the council table. Good luck with that.
Robert Tuomi can be heard at noon every Thursday co-hosting Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor on CJAM 99.1 FM. Listen on demand to previous episodes or catch the discussion live and join in. It is also streamed online at CJAM.