Thursday, March 07, 2013

Blog Guelph: Shall We Gather

Moon, Fire & Ice by peterkelly
Moon, Fire & Ice, a photo by peterkelly on Flickr.

There was a meeting last night at City Hall on something called "placemaking." The meeting focused on the idea that we need to create a destination, an attraction, a deeper social retention in Guelph and particularly, in our downtown. All kinds of ideas were suggested from creating temporary turf pathways with potted trees to art installations to creative seating arrangements and "pop-up cafes" out on the street.

Since the presentation, I've been thinking about this idea of making a place. What is a place made of? Things or people? 

And how do you make a place? Can we all make a place?

There were plenty of examples in the presentation - everything from Cambridge to New York. Times Square was pointed out as a "placemaking" community space. 

Unfortunately, I think Guelph lost its Times Square in the last half century. 

Centralized, activated, public space is not something that was always valued in communities like Guelph. It is only now, decades down the economically-driven urban development road, that these spaces are being recognized again. Not purely for their community potential, but rather, for their opportunism - their capacity to create a more lustrous economy in city cores which are losing ground to outlying shopping malls.

The public meeting last night took place after a day of private consultations with business owners and some other specially invited groups. I'm not sure how I felt about that.

I do know that I believe everyone has a stake in this issue, not just specific people with specific interests, like money or audience. I mean, if the Historic Society had been consulted sixty years ago, we might still have our "Times Square." We might possibly have one of the most beautiful and magnificent communities in Ontario with a thriving economy. We might not have to be talking about "placemaking."

You can not predict from which sector, which group, which house, which society, or which income, your civic wisdom and vision is going to come. 

Sometimes the people that have the most interest have the least perspective. 

And it's important that as a community, we don't perceive these divisions of businesses / community / culture as real segregations. The optics should be sharply focused on communal collaboration rather than special groups.

Because it's only when we come together, outside of artificial or perceived boundaries and roles, that we are able to really connect with each other. This is where community building really happens - when you take off your hat and I take off mine, and we leave them at the door, as we step out to take a fresh look at the big picture together. That's called community. And that's how it's built.

So, shall we gather?

~ Aidan M.D. Ware

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