These are my speaking notes to the Downtown Guelph Business Association Annual General Meeting:
Good evening everyone. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your AGM. It’s great to see so many members here, and also a number of City staff and Councillors.
I think it is fair to say we part of a renaissance in thinking about downtowns across the country. Perhaps, not everywhere but certainly in cities that have learned how to build creative and resilient economies.
Did anyone see Richard Florida’s column in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail on Canadian cities?
Florida puts Canada’s economic future firmly in the hands of its cities and their ability to release the “innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship” of their citizens. A strong sense of place, he believes, is the key to attracting, retaining and developing such talent.
In the new Canadian edition of last year’s “Who’s Your City?” he ranks the best places to live in Canada based on who you are. Guelph scored in the top 10 in 4 out of 5 groups including singles, in mid-career, families, and the retired. The only group for which we did not make it into the top 10 was “empty nesters”.
We are rubbing elbows with the likes of Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver and Quebec City.
This is remarkable!
We are very fortunate to have established a good working relationship between the City, the Downtown Guelph Business Association and other key community stakeholders so we can build upon this strong foundation.
How have we done that?
I meet on a monthly basis with the DGBA, along with senior staff, and we have found these meetings helpful and productive to share information, opportunities and concerns.
The Downtown Coordinating Committee and the Nightlife Task Force are two examples of how we are getting all the players at the table to problem-solve and take advantage of opportunities.
And, Association members have been active contributors in the City’s work on things like the Downtown Action Plan and our growth plan.
I know that Council and staff really value the participation of business owners in these initiatives. So I want to thank you for your ongoing contributions. They are essential.
As you know, there are a lot of major initiatives that are either in progress, or on the horizon for our downtown.
In my comments tonight, I want to take a step back and talk about the context for all these initiatives.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the success of our community as a whole over the next 25 years will depend significantly on the success of our downtown.
The reason for that is Places to Grow.
This is the Provincial legislation that mandates that Guelph must grow by 54,000 people and 32,400 jobs by the year 2031.
As a community, we have determined we will accommodate that growth within our existing city boundaries to be true to the primary goal of Places to Grow – to curb urban sprawl on to farmland and natural areas.
The downtown will be expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting in meeting these targets.
Specifically, the downtown residential population will nearly triple, from 3,000 to 8,000 people. Haven’t we been saying for decades that we need more people living downtown?
We’ll also need to add 1,500 jobs. Too often we forget to recognize the economic significance of our downtown.
Our ability to grow our community while maintaining our unique character is going to depend in part on how well we attract and accommodate people and jobs in our downtown.
There is a whole lot of work going on to make that happen.
I’d like to talk about two main categories of work: planning and capital projects – though the two are certainly integrated.
The Planning aspect includes a whole host of projects that our City Planners are working on to ensure that we grow in a careful and well-thought-out way, and that we maintain our community’s character.
These include the Urban Design Action Plan, the secondary plan for the downtown, and the update to the City’s Official Plan.
But, it’s the capital project side of things that tends to get all the attention and press.
We tend to talk about these projects in isolation – the Wilson Street Parking Garage, the Baker Street redevelopment, the Transit Terminal.
I think the context for all of these capital projects is important – and that context is certainly Places to Grow – but more precisely, it is the principle at the heart of Places to Grow and that is building great urban centres where people can flourish.
We need transit, homes, services, and parking in order to attract and accommodate 5,000 residents and 1,500 jobs in our downtown. This Council is committed to that – like none before.
I think the more we can tell this story in the community, the more understanding and support there will be for the investments in our downtown. It is a good story. It is a story about building a vibrant and sustainable city for our children and grandchildren.
I know there’s an update on City projects on the agenda tonight, so I don’t want to take too much time in my remarks to talk about specific projects.
I did prepare a handout that I’ll leave with you, with a list of projects and opportunities for input.
I want to stress how important your input is to us – both on the Planning side of things and on capital projects as they move forward. Please don’t hesitate to share your insights with us.
And let’s recognize that we won’t all agree on everything. Every decision – regardless of how well thought out and how extensive the public consultation – will still have its detractors. Detractors almost always improve a final decision. But let’s not get confused by different perspective. We should embrace them but they are not a reason to spin our wheels.
Guelph has a huge advantage over other communities, in that our downtown is vibrant and appealing, and we are well-positioned to attract and accommodate new residents.
Our other advantage is what I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks: the solid relationship that we have built among the City, downtown merchants, and other stakeholders.
This relationship will be vital as we move forward on our agenda for the next several years.
Thank you very much.