Uh oh, Big Brother Toronto Noticing Brantford's Skirmishes at the Kiddie Table, aka Opinions and Observations on Brantford's Downtown Debate

Yesterday morning, I was partaking in my daily ritual of reading (skimming) the Toronto Star when I came across an article about the growing debate in Brantford, in regards to what to do with several buildings in the core of the downtown. I found it very interesting that this issue has reached a major paper like the Star, since this demonstrates that this is a 'conflict' that concerns more than just the small city of Brantford. Considering it is now being covered by major city papers, I feel there is a small chance my readers, (how ever vast or possibly minuscule that is) who are not from Brantford, may have an idea of this issue thus worthy of discussing here. Of course, I'm sure most of the people who are outside of this province would not even have a clue that Brantford even existed, let alone that it was home to a small yet growing issue. To those people I say, shame on you because this is the home of Wayne Gretzky and the telephone (well, the latter is debatable but the inventor did live here for a few years).

Brantford's downtown has been finally revitalized due to the addition of Wilfrid Laurier in 1999. The downtown has seen an influx of businesses and the restoration of some buildings, along with great additions like the Harmony Square which holds a stage, some restaurants and a skating rink. Despite all these great advances, the area has been plagued by a collection of buildings that are, without a doubt, hideous eye sores. Most of the building along this stretch are boarded up and have paintings that are best described as 'faux businesses'. Along the strip you'll see a 'pet store,' 'movie theatre,' 'a bank,' and 'grocery store,' except they are actually just empty buildings with paintings of these storefronts on them. It is like we are being told ' these type of businesses could be here but we'd rather house rats instead.' The area was so bad at one point, a movie about a ghost town was taped there. Simply put, it is an embarrassment for an area that is trying to grow and improve.

Needless to say, things needed to be fixed. Finally, the city bought up this strip of buildings with the idea that they will be renovated and draw new businesses. This lead to a split in sides with one side wanting to completely tear down these building and another that just wants to refurbish them. I was originally on the side of tearing them down and would have been more than happy to bring my own sledgehammer to assist in the smashing of things. I have now changed my opinion and this is why.

There are two major problems I have with the idea of completely destroying this strip of buildings. Mys first gripe is that not every building in this area needed to be changed since a few of these building actually did have some business. There was a restaurant called 'My Thai' that resided in this region which, for Brantford, was a pretty nice Thai restaurant (thought honestly, it isn't like they have a lot of competition when it comes to Brantford Thai restaurants). Sadly, the idea to completely renovate/destroy this section of buildings has forced the Thai restaurant to move. My Thai has been annexed to another area in Brantford, which I think is unfortunate. The restaurant was near the University which means My Thai would have been able to cater to a fairly diverse clientele (as many students are from Toronto) thus would probably be able to acquire a decent customer base. Plus the restaurant was near the Harmony Square, which holds events like the Fall Jazz festival, that attracts a lot of diverse people from outside of the city who may be interested in some quality Thai food. Unfortunately, the new location is in an area that has a more traditional small city demographic which means it is not very diverse at all. Plus the restaurant has been pushed in this small corner of a street which is makes the restaurant harder to find unless you are actively looking for it. I find this sad because I feel it may harm its business and I really want Brantford to be able to have a more diverse array of restaurants (because when it comes to cultural diversity, I always think with my stomach).

My second problem with the idea of the comeplete destruction of the strip is the fact that it has become clear the people in charge are not 100% sure of what they want to do with this area and also don't have the budget to immediately put new buildings in place. This gives me the creeps, since we may be left with a nice pile of rumble for the time being, not exactly the view I want from Harmony Square. I fear the rush to get rid of these eye sores will only leave us with a new eye sore. I am beginning to fear they haven't quite planned out how they are going to properly fix this region. I am starting to believe it may be much smarter to just get a concrete plan in place (a sign I don't understand how city management works) and maybe refurbish the area instead. After all, while the buildings are not beautiful, I feel with some work they can be. These building hold a lot of history and when you actually give them a good look over, you notice they have a lot of potential. At this point, I think the more gradual refurbishing of the buildings is the more effective strategy.

On a semi related matter, I want to bring up two things I read in the actual Toronto Star article that slightly irked me, which having nothing to do with the debate. The first is the fact they referred to the downtown of Brantford as 'small.' This adjective immediately struck a chord with me, and maybe it is my own small city insecurities that caused this, because I instantly saw this as the Big City downplaying the smaller city. Of course, you compare the Toronto downtown to the Brantford downtown then it makes Brantford's look very small. If Toronto could talk, I'm sure it would be bragging about how it can fit 9 Brantfords into its downtown, but Toronto is also the biggest city in the country while Brantford is a population of 90,000 + (and growing, mind you). I don't think Toronto being huge necessarily makes Brantford's downtown 'small.' I lived in a town where you could blindfold yourself, hop on one leg and if you took more than 5 minutes to get through the downtown, then it would be considered an epic fail. The fact is, Brantford's downtown consists of several streets, few small parks, a fairly large library, all the lecture halls for Laurier, an assortment of restaurants and shops, and the Harmony square, which itself has a stage, restaurants and a skating rink. I wouldn't really consider that small, and the use of that word seemed to just scream big city arrogance.

The second irksome comment in the paper is how they reported the downtown mall lead to the destruction of the downtown. I do agree with that statement to a degree but feel, the way the paper reported it was false. They made it sound like this large mall barged into the downtown area thus causing all the Brantfordians to rampage towards it thus causing the' mom and pop shops' to go out of business. The reality is, the major problem with downtown is a lot of shops and restaurants lost customers thus either went under or moved to the northern part of Brantford, but t definitely was not because everyone decided to go into the downtown mall. All one has to do, in order to test this theory, is to walk through that desolate and barren cavern of a building. Essentially, the entire mall is a giant headquarters for the NGO calling agency, and I don't see people flocking inside to watch a few telemarketers harass people during dinner, mainly because I don't think the company would allow you to turn their business into a spectator event. Or maybe the Star was referring to that dollar store that is in the mall because I am sure they just do killer business. The reality is, the mall was a massive flop and failure, and definitely did not cause people to go there instead of the 'mom and pop shops'. The successful mall is in the north end and there was never a reason for another mall since at the time we already had two. I do want to make it clear that the mall hurt the downtown but just not in the way the newspaper seemed to claim. Also, I do realize there is now a Williams in the mall too, which does do great business with the students, but it's only a few years old thus not a reason for any destruction of small private businesses.

Now back to the original point of this post (and the end of rage against Toronto Star reporting -- which I think is a fine paper and I subscribe to, by the way), the next few weeks should be a very crucial time for Brantford and the decisions will play a major part of the future of this wonderful city. First of all, there is the mayoral election this fall and this will be a hot topic. I believe we will quickly learn what the majority of the citizens of this city feel about this topic through how they vote. After the election, I assume will be when the major movement is done (or if movement is done before hand, those events will play a big part in how people vote). The choices made will definitely decide how the downtown continues to grow. I feel that strip has a lot of potential to aid in the growth and, for me that is the most important part. I don't necessarily have any attachment to those heritage buildings and won't necessarily cry if they are torn down. My worry is what happens after the fact and how it effects all the surrounding businesses. In the end, I just hope it aids in the continual growth of a downtown that has needed an injection of life for a very long time and has finally been getting it over the last few years.