Friday, March 23, 2012

Newspapers have short memories

Newspapers have always had short memories. When the pressing demand is reporting today's news, it is hard to find the time to report yesterday's news. So the fact that reporter-poet Randy Richmond doesn't recall the city's previous vision for Reg Cooper Square comes as no surprise.

Yet, it is interesting to take a moment to reflect on the forgotten, but rather recent, past. The London, Ontario, downtown is not what it once was. No surprise here. Most downtowns across North America are not what they once were.

London, like hundreds of other communities, desperately wants to revitalize its downtown. The vast majority of Londoners live outside the core, work outside the core and shop outside the core. Why cities devote so much energy to their downtowns to the detriment of their suburbs is a puzzle.

Today's big idea on how to breathe more life into London's core is to take a fully functioning apartment building, along with the aging city hall beside it, and let the University of Western Ontario take over both. The apartment building would become a student residence, while the city hall would become a major component in a university campus growing in the centre of the city.

Centennial Hall, the third important building sitting on the edge of Reg Cooper Square would also fall into university hands.

To hear these plans discussed, one could be forgiven for thinking that no one had ever had any imaginative ideas about the area. But that's not true. The city planning division put forth a Downtown Design Concept some years ago. The study promised to "encourage new development . . . that will accentuate the Downtown's positive aspects and contribute to its functional success."

This plan had depth. It was the result of work done by the consulting firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd. The well known firm prepared the design concept and proposed guidelines for the Downtown. And what has happened since the release of the report? As far as Reg Cooper Square is concerned, nothing? Unless, you count continuing decay.

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