Will actions speak louder than words in downtown plan?

Whatever else can be said about the Trail’s new downtown plan, it doesn’t draw you in with a catchy opening.

Whatever else can be said about the Trail’s new downtown plan, it doesn’t draw you in with a catchy opening.

After the usual boilerplate introduction, I had a sinking feeling when the plan got down to discussing sub-street plumbing and micromanaging the traffic flows in front on the TD Bank plaza. This is the kind of stuff city councils reflexively focus on without the help of consultants and a year of public consultations.

Almost halfway through the main body of the report, a discussion of “primary plan principles” and “success factors” gets underway and the city’s bowels and turning lanes fade finally away.

The ideas here sound good, if not revolutionary: reconnect with the river; celebrate the city’s Italian and industrial heritage; recognize “special places” and landmarks; celebrate arts and culture; promote walking and cycling and green up the place; “harness downtown development opportunities,” “strengthen streets and blocks;” and “establish high-visibility gateways.”

If you are still awake you have realized that this plan, like any other such document, contains no magic, although the curmudgeons among us might argue it contains magical thinking in suggesting that downtown can be dragged out of the swamp and into a brighter future.

But plans are about galvanizing an organization or community and kick starting a process, not eureka moments. In this context, the document is as good a place as any to start and contains plenty of ideas worth pursuing

I really liked the notion of creating a “gateway” to draw people into downtown, with a focus on Victoria Street. Lighting up the bridge, greening up the highway sidewalks, and installing arches across Cedar Avenue and the other entrances to downtown are some of the suggestions. These would create a sense of having arrived somewhere worth visiting rather than driving on by.

The plan stresses the “critical need” to get more people living downtown and suggests singles and empty-nest couples of all ages as a good place to start. This will obviously depend largely on private-sector investment, but it is still disappointing that the one-year action plan at the end of the report aimed at kick starting the process does not mention housing.

The report also makes a case for design guidelines to give the public faces of private spaces a more polished look. These are long overdue and necessary to avoid anymore penal-looking development like the Health Centre should new development occur downtown.

But the plan is just a beginning. While trying to retain the upbeat sentiment required for these kinds of documents, the consultants acknowledge the challenges.

First among these is the projection of zero population growth in Greater Trail over the next 25 years. So, for example, while the plan provides a tantalizing template for what could be done to improve downtown facades with a mock-up of the Ferraro building, where is the incentive to spend potfuls of cash in a zero-growth environment?

The plan suggests an “aggressive” investment program involving tax incentives. These would include property tax holidays on new construction and building upgrades downtown.

These are important but whether, in combination with all the rest of the downtown improvements proposed, they will be enough is an open question.

Council has endorsed the plan that it has been intimately involved in creating. The short-term action plan provides an ambitious to-do list, including hiring a downtown economic development coordinator.

The clock tends to move slowly in Trail but the consultants are implicitly urging council and the community to shake themselves out of their long slumber and get moving.

Is Trail ready to go or will it be reaching for the snooze button?

•••

Speaking of people caught in a time warp, I think I may be ready to consider acquiring a smart phone if a recent innovation is commercialized anytime soon.

Using infrared technology, some bright light has miniaturized a process for testing fruit and vegetables for ripeness based on variables such as their sugar content.

Imagine not having to stand around eating unwashed grapes at the supermarket to figure out of they if they are palatable? Or how about arriving home with melon and not cutting into it to discover that it has all the taste of the cardboard lying around the streets in the Mexican town it was shipped from?

Now that would be information worth paying for and packing around in my overstuffed pockets.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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