Commitment is there – but is the core the centre of a donut or is it the tasty outer ring you can sink your teeth into.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 24, 2011 – It started with Direction from the Mayor to city staff to provide an update on the status of the Core Commitment Initiative that would include a plan for delivering the vision. There hadn’t been much activity on this file but there had been lots going on in the background for some time and the Mayor wanted to bring things forward. Burlington’s Downtown Core Commitment was getting attention.

The Mayor had perhaps been influenced by comments made by Christopher Hume, Architectural columnist for the Toronto Star who was the Mayors guest at the first of his Inspire Series held at McMaster DeGroote School of Business on the South Service Road in April.

Mayor Goldring commented after the speech that much of what Hume said was “painful, but all too true”. Unfortunately there was only about 50 people in the room and what Hume had to say should have been heard by hundreds – if not thousands. “What you have done in the past and are continuing to do” said Hume “is not sustainable and this city as you know it cannot continue.” Some in the room did not want to hear what Hume was saying but because this is Burlington everyone was polite.

Council committee agreed to let the building go up.  Councillor for the ward and local residents oppose the deal the city made with the developer.

Council committee agreed to let the building go up. Councillor for the ward and local residents oppose the deal the city made with the developer.

The first person to put a question to Hume said: “We like Burlington just the way it is” – and that of courses is the problem; a serious one for Burlington’s long term existence. Mayor Goldring says frequently that Burlington and its suburban sprawl was created when gas and land were cheap. With gas having touched $1.40 a litre and land getting more expensive every week, the sprawl we have cannot be maintained. Will people want the homes with large back yards and swimming pools forty years from now ? Will they be able to afford to heat them and be able to pay for the gas to get home at the end of the work day. Provincial policy and a need to make better use of the land we have has started the city on a process of intensifying development. The recent decision to permit significant intensification on half acre lots in the Queensway area and the vote to be taken at Council tonight on a 14 storey apartment building just to the west of the downtown core are signs that the process had already begun.

City staff are working from a document written in 2005 – called the Downtown Core Commitment, which sets out goals and objectives and ties those tasks to the budget.. Each year, Jody Wellings, Special Business Area Coordinator and a certified planner, reports, to Council on where they are with the work plan.

Mayor Goldring asked for an update of the Core Commitment Plan which is now being worked up and that is where things are today. The report that Wellings will present to Council will talk about a significantly different downtown Burlington. Many of the retail establishments that were part of the Village Square fled to Brant Street when rents and management practices at the Village Square were felt to be onerous. Management at the Square is now in the hands of the owner’s daughters and new tenants are slowly returning. But they aren’t pulling any traffic from Brant Street – so it would appear that there is enough retail trade for both locations to thrive.

A large part of the difference is that there are now a number of condominiums that were not in place when the last draft of the Downtown Core Commitment was released. And a building that will contain both housing units and offices for the medical community in the northern part of the downtown core should see ground turned, probably sometime this year.

Council committee agreed to let the building go up.  Councillor for the ward and local residents oppose the deal the city made with the developer.

Council committee agreed to let the building go up. Councillor for the ward and local residents oppose the deal the city made with the developer.

The Pearl Street Café closed a few months ago and the two buildings sold as part of a land assembly that will run south to Lakeshore Road. The developers of that project have a part interest in Pane Fresco on Locust Street. Downtown Burlington is evolving and the task for Wellings is to keep ahead of the change and at the same time loop back and ensure that it is all moving along the way it should.

A downside to all this development is that property values have been driven up which results in property tax increases for the retailers and that has resulted in a few stores with sheets of paper in the windows.

Getting the right feel for the streetscape was one of the several points Hume made in his presentation and he put forward the notion that there is no public realm in Burlington. “Streets” he said, “are the destination” in vibrant cities but the streets of Burlington are not vibrant. “Burlington” said Hume “is indifferent to the public realm”, which he defined as that space that gives life to streets and creates spaces for people to gather.

Hume was close to scathing in his comments about the moral failure on the part of McMaster University when they located on the South Service Road, outside the downtown core. His belief is that the university had a moral responsibility to the people of Burlington to settle in a downtown location – but that one got away on us.

And so what does Jody Welling do with all this? How much can the planners do? Create reports; keep them up to date; make presentations at city council meetings. Wellings explains the document is a ‘guide’ – it sets out the vision but it isn’t a manual and “because streets are dynamic and change easily” all it sometimes takes is one “hot spot” to change a whole city block

Burlington explains Ms Welling “has always been good at public engagement” – a point on which the writers of the Shape Burlington report didn’t appear to agree with – and there have been, adds Wellings “some really hot public meetings”.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly

Pages: 1 2

Comments are closed.