Renewing the vitality of downtown

Can we expand the conversation about renewing the vitality of downtown to include the human and social aspects for what attracts people and commerce? Tempo interviewed a few people to find out.

“A buzz in a downtown area surely starts with busy streets,” said Brian Shemilt, a new permanent resident in downtown Knowlton. “Busy streets mean many residents carrying on their lives on those streets.” Jack Walker, his landlord, added. “Without residents on the street, downtown has little life.”

Why live downtown? Brian and his wife, Pam, gave up their house and their garden on the outskirts of town to live steps away from all the services that they require. They are part of a new North American trend, a return to downtown living.

They are also part of an interesting trend of young seniors who seek to simplify their lives. Living downtown for seniors may give back independence, creates community and takes away many of the burdens of home ownership. It also means that you don’t need a car much.

For the same reasons, this trend to living downtown is also shared by many young people. Lee-Anna Chartrand, 19, is moving into a downtown apartment that has been renovated by her father, Dave Chartrand. Lee-Anna walks to work. She finds lots of choice for food, for refreshment and for entertainment only steps away. Her friends share her enthusiasm for being downtown. “Many of my friends hang out here with us because its much more fun to be downtown than to be back at home.”

The physical infrastructure for a vibrant residential downtown exists right now. Downtown Knowlton already has a dense mix of restaurants, cafés, bars, banks. It has a pharmacy, post office, hardware, theatre, gym, library, dentists, Town Hall and many hairdressers. All are just yards away from each other. All the people interviewed agreed on one missing item, a shop, something like a cross between a depanneur and a local market, that would sell sold food and meals.

“If the town understands this opportunity, then all it needs to do is to make high-density downtown residence a policy priority, concluded Shemilt. “With more people living downtown, there will be more of a market for downtown goods and services. Downtown business will pick up and then the buzz will spread to visitors.”