Windsor Council has a new Downtown Enhancement Strategy and Community Improvement Plan. Although it took over two years to produce, it can easily be dismissed. It lacks measurable goals, a timeline, or even a market study.
It also lacks true vision, the kind of definitive vision able to change a city.
This is most noticeable in the plan’s willingness to underwrite the costs of changes to storefront facades. Doing this without deciding on design standards is anathema to good planning.
Without a vision of what the downtown should look like, the city risks becoming even more disjointed and the unwitting sponsor of mismatched storefronts with no glue to hold the whole core together.
Should Windsor’s downtown replicate the pleasantries of downtowns from the last century, as is hinted in the report, or should the city set a standard to create the downtown of the future? This should have been Council’s most important decision, but it was not even on the agenda. Without this decision Council can’t go intelligently into the future.
Enhancement needs design cohesion. Instead, for a city never far from complaining it has no money, the focus seems to be on giving property owners cash to redo their storefront facades without saying what those facades should look like. By providing grants, the city has the opportunity to influence change.
A grand vision can pull the downtown together to create a place which sends a message. Instead, Council, as is its wont proven on so many occasions, goes the half-baked route. Is Windsor Council throwing money at a problem without even knowing if it has a problem solvable with money?
On February 9, 2016, Red Deer, AB, released a report on Stimulating Development on Underutilized Sites. It found that existing conditions of a downtown can impact small business investment decisions. Issues, such as, “… poor building maintenance, deteriorated buildings and facades, lack of new commercial, residential, and mixed use development, and social issues such as crime and panhandling, can have a negative impact on the investment decisions of existing business and property owners and residents, other business owners, entrepreneurs, developers, and residents considering a downtown location.”
Facades won’t solve downtown’s issues. Hard work is needed to make the core safer, more interesting, and architecturally pleasing. That can’t be done without a cohesive vision.