It’s Time for a Real City Centre in Mississauga
Many moons ago (way back in the late 60s, to be exact), urban planners had a vision for Mississauga that never quite came to pass.
According to the city's Downtown 21 Master Plan document (which you can view for yourselves here: The McLaughlin Group came up with a vision for the Square One area that involved elevated walkways and scenic green spaces. They imagined, I think, an urbanesque mini-city in the center of the yet-to-sprawl suburb. A place for cars and people -- not just people in cars.
Obviously, their vision never quite materialized and, over 40 years later, people are wondering how to resurrect the dream and actually turn the City Centre into a legitimate urban space. The Downtown 21 plan is a good start, but it's seemingly stuck at the starting line, impressing people on paper but failing to take shape on the street.
What's holding the city back? There's no indication that the plan has been shelved, but info sessions and updates have petered out in the past couple years. Perhaps municipal politicians are afraid of the debt Sauga would have to go into to institute the plan -- after all, being a debt-free city was a feather in Hazel's cap for many decades (although, having said that, the beloved Mayor has already said debt is inevitable).
Perhaps they're focusing on the LRT, which is likely a more immediate priority because traffic concerns are looming larger. The good news is that no one is in denial about the sad state of the city's core. The bad news is that all the good ideas seem to have little action, and therefore momentum, behind them.
But while the need for an LRT might trump the need for a better urban space (even though the current plans for the LRT don't go far enough and don't seem to aim to connect the city's major hotspots), it's equally as important to start urbanizing the Square One area for a few reasons, such as:
- Sheridan College and students need more pedestrian-friendly streets and a larger variety of bars and restaurants to choose from. Now that a college is present, business owners have a great opportunity to cater to a young crowd. West 50 and Failtes suffer from a schizophrenic identity crisis thrust upon them unwittingly. They're a lounge and pub respectively that have to act as pseudo nightclubs for the locals. They do well enough, but they might be losing out on older crowds with deeper pockets because they're forced to play discotheque to young suburbanites who don't feel like driving to Toronto on a typical Friday. Famous Nightclub and My Apartment is too far to service the college and university population effectively, especially since public transportation is spotty.
- Everything in Sauga is far away. Square One is far from UTM and UTM is far from Port Credit, which is far from Streetsville, which is far from the City Centre. There's a smattering of urban spaces within the city, and they're too far apart. Making Square One an urban hub will bring even more people to Celebration Square events (and if there's decent transport, the gridlock down City Centre Blvd will be alleviated) and provide a central location for restaurants, shops and boutiques, cafes and bars (preferably with lovely heated patios complete with some, like, flowers boxes or something to give off a fancy "green" vibe). No one will feel compelled to skip out on a Celebration Square show because they have plans at the Port Credit's Crooked Cue. There will be enough to do in the City Centre to keep people around all night.
- The City Centre lacks walking areas. Downtown 21 aims to address that. In fact, the plan specifically states that its goal is to "design streets to encourage walking and cycling" and, most importantly, "promote development patterns that put jobs, housing and services within a walking distance of each other." Walkable spaces are essential in urban areas. When a space allows walking, it allows leisurely browsing. Leisurely browsers can quickly turn into excited shoppers, which means a new window of economic opportunity opens further for small and big business owners alike.
Now, nothing I've said here is a revelation to the Downtown 21 planners and urban visionaries. The plan justifies itself by pointing exactly how it'll enhance economic opportunities in the city and create a vibrant space. It's a good plan. Some might say it's unnecessary, that those seeking an urban outing can head to Toronto, or even Port Credit or Streetsville, but locals should have an attractive, modern, youth and family-friendly place to go to experience culture and fun and cuisine. There's nothing wrong with Toronto or Port Credit or Streetsville. But T.O. is far(ish), Port Credit can be expensive and Streetsville is small. If the City Centre is the hub of the city, it should live up to its reputation. It should provide condo owners, visitors and students with a vibrant urban experience.
It won't take shape overnight (we all know "Rome wasn't built in a day"), but it's time to start. Maybe someone will build a cafe with a nice patio? Somebody? Anybody?
Well, to leave you with another cliche to wrap things up and sum up my point, let me repeat this sage advice:
"If you build it, they will come."
So start building. Now is good.