Local Business Owners Speak Up

Hello Mayor Paterson and Kingston City Councillors,

My brother, Michael, and I are writing to you with respect to some concerns we have over the current proposed development of the Wellington Street Extension, as not only do we operate a growing retail business in the area (which is effectively located at the corner of Cataraqui Street and the future proposed Wellington Street), but I also live on Rideau Street nearby with my growing family. We are deeply invested in this part of the city, and we care very much about the kind of smart, sustainable development here that will see us well into the future. Those of you who were present at the council meeting last summer to discuss an alternate and more favourably appropriate fate for the Bailey Broom Building know that we are passionate about the promise that this area of Kingston holds, and it is our sincere hope that we can have the same kind of collaborative and progressive dialogue with Council once again around creating an alternate and more favourably appropriate development of Kingston’s last stretch of undeveloped urban waterfront – what is currently called the Wellington Street Extension (even the name lacks creativity).
There is much dialogue circulating in the community about the inconsistency of the current proposed WSE with Kingston’s Official Plan and Provincial Policy Statement, about the cost of development and wether we will actually see a meaningful return on investment, about whether the WSE will actually even alleviate automobile congestion downtown by adding a waterfront expressway to bring more automobiles, and whether this development strategy from decades ago is even relevant any longer. While these are all valid points that all seem rather self-evident, we would like to focus in on the impact that the kind of development currently proposed for the WSE threatens for local business owners and residents like us.
A major part of any business strategy, and certainly for a retail business like ours, is bound up in identifying and creating the elements necessary to entice people to your place of business and to keep them there long enough to facilitate an exchange. As such, spaces need to be planned and developed that create the appropriate pace in order for those business opportunities to happen. People need to be able to walk, bike, visit shops, linger in spaces, and have incidental meetings with others. James Howard Kunstler, in his book the Geography of Nowhere, calls this “creating spaces worth caring about”. This does not happen at 70 km/h; it does not happen with spaces that are planned and developed with the automobile in mind rather than people; and it is bad business for us to persist in the dying paradigm of designing public space for the movement of cars. It is neither innovative nor responsible, and it does not connect us to our history or to who we are as a community. The kind of development that the current proposed WSE would only succeed in creating is something that future Kingstonians would look back on in embarrassment and resentment (because they would have to pay to have it fixed) the way we now look at the currently unfortunate state of the rest of city’s waterfront.
Other cities in Canada and all over the world are realizing their past development mistakes of urban plans designed for the benefit of cars rather than people – for creating streetscapes rather than humanscapes. Portland, Oregon tore up roads to revive their street car system, and that city has never moved better; Oxford in the UK actually closed off their city centre to cars, slowing the pace and making it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and they actually saw a sharp increase in their local economy because if it (this successful model is now being adopted by others); Copenhagen is a vibrant city that is renowned the world over for its considerate urban planning to the point that it actually attracts tourists because of it (when I was there just last year, they were proud to announce that they had the most cyclists per capita in the world); and expensive waterfront causeways in cities such as Toronto, Boston, Niagara Falls USA, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Madrid, Soeul, NYC, and more all the time are being converted at great cost back into appropriate humanscapes for greater long-term benefit.
Michael and I are not originally from Kingston. Instead, we chose to locate in Kingston because of the promise that this city holds to become the kind of city that people from other countries would want to come and experience, and as such would lend itself to the success of our business and allow us to enjoy living in such a great place. What currently sets Kingston apart from many of these cities that are removing their waterfront causeways and updating their urban planning objectives is that we still have the opportunity to avoid and learn from their mistakes. We have the opportunity to take advantage of our many rich natural and heritage resources and, together, to re-imagine and create something better for ourselves.
As we were with the City Council that had the foresight to correct our direction and re-imagine the potential of the Bailey Broom Building, we would be really proud of a City Council that would have the foresight to correct our direction once again and proceed to scrap the current proposed WSE in favour of re-imagining a new plan for the smart, sustainable, and ultimately profitable development of that space into an urban space worth caring about.
We look forward to seeing you all at Tuesday’s Council meeting to continue the dialogue together.
ps. A link to a short presentation by James Howard Kunstler that underscores this discussion currently being had in the USA.
Many thanks and all the best,
John and Michael Sinclair
Living Rooms, EcoLogical Living + Building
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