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Featured

Downtown Sydney is not a Failed Mall

Pictures courtesy of Declan O'Doherty.


I've heard a wide variety of criticisms regarding Downtown Sydney lately, from "There are too many prostitutes" to "All the prostitutes are cops," all the way to the other end of the spectrum of "The Post just printed my name for being busted by a Prosticop!" However, far and away the two most common criticisms I hear condemning Downtown Sydney are "There's no parking" and "The shops are closing," and personally, I have a hard time understanding these criticisms. It's not because those statements aren't true. To some degree they are. It just, it's a lot like complaining about your spoon being awful at spreading butter. A spoon isn't meant to spread butter, and is awful at spreading butter for that very reason. We actually have knives specifically designed to spread butter, conveniently called "butter knives," so stop using your spoon, ya knob.

I know three things about this guy. 1. He spreads butter with a spoon. 2. He writes five step internet articles on how to spread butter with a spoon. 3. He wears thumb rings. I have a new hero.


And much like spoons weren't designed to spread butter, modern Downtowns aren't meant to be parking lots where you can buy your latest pair of jeans. Sure, they can have those things. There's no law against it, but Downtown Sydney is never going to be as good at parking at and shopping in a facility built specifically for those purposes, which is called a mall. I think I need some visual aids to get the point across.

Exhibit A: Mall.

Exhibit B: Not a Mall.


So what are modern downtowns meant to do? I'll get to that in a minute. For now, what interests me is why people view Downtown as a place to shop, and to do that, we must step back in time, and look at the history of Downtown Sydney.

A little Chunk of Charlotte Street History

(from a completely unqualified source)


Hey, some of those buildings are still there! Those people aren't though. They're, umm... somewhere else.

Very few cities were created by some well-heeled go-getter planting a flag in a random location and proclaiming said plot of dirt to be the site of a future city. Cities historically needed a reason to exist, and most of the time the reason was something like two roads crossing, or it was where a ship hit land. New York exists because it's where the immigrants were dropped off. Atlanta exists because it's where the railroads crossed. Sydney exists because it's an excellent place to put stuff on and take stuff off of a boat. There is a lot of money in getting stuff from one place to another, and in the past it was Sydney's lifeblood. Because all these goods and money were flowing into town from the docks, it's no surprise that Charlotte Street became a bustling center of commerce. At that time all we had to carry stuff around were horses, so city centers usually sprung up around where goods and money either came off the boat or were pulled off a train.


Here we have Equus Ferus Caballus, also known as "outdated technology."

As the inevitable march of technological progress continued on, humans invented automobiles, which are generally better at everything horses did except for being majestic and producing poop. The horses then had more recreational time and lived happily ever after. Meanwhile, humans kept making cars better at being cars, so much so that we had to invent special roads to suit our new, faster, way-better-than-horses mode of transportation. These were called the malevolent highways and bypasses, which brought with them new evils known as Shopping Malls and Walmarts. Downtowns all around the world shriveled up and died, and now the idea of a city center is mostly a distant memory to society at large.

And, just like horses, downtowns don't exist anymore.


An Now, Why That Story is Crap

First of all, that's a picture of Chernobyl, so you can stop trusting me from now on. Secondly, I'm not sure if you've noticed but both horses and downtowns still exist. Thirdly, I totally stole the whole "evil bypass ruining our town" storyline from Pixar's Cars. I love highways and byways, because before they existed it took 10 hours to get to Halifax, and I'm only willing to drive 5 hours to get to a decent Mexican restaurant and an Imax Theatre.

I also love malls. Malls are psychologically designed to trick you into being so monetarily optimistic that you buy stuff you don't need with money you don't have, and I love that feeling. Every light, tile, and wall accent in a mall is designed to instill a sense of financial well-being, and I think that's fantastic. Walmart too. I needed a toolbox for non-tool related objects, and bought one from Walmart for 7 dollars! How did they make a toolbox, which is plastic, which is a byproduct of dinosaur bones, and ship it from some third-world sweatshop for 7 dollars? They're Walmart, that's how. 

Well if the Galactic Empire sold toolboxes for 7 bucks, I might be inclined to side with Vader.


And if you've been out Mira way, you've probably noticed people still own horses, even though cars are objectively better at everything horses do. But why? Well, we changed the definition of what a horse is. They're still defined as giant, strangely obedient mammals, but as cars stole all the good horse jobs, the definition of horse went from "farming hardware" to "expensive recreational hobby." Turns out people liked horses for more reasons than pulling carriages and cavalry charges. 

And just as cars displaced horses as the predominant hauler of stuff, malls displaced downtowns as the predominant shopping district. This isn't just a Sydney story either. This happened in almost every major city in North America in the 20th century, as downtowns 
shriveled up and suburbs exploded in a symphony of Malls, Walmarts, and mid-range chain restaurants. So what did downtowns do? Much like horses, downtowns changed their definition. To my generation, a downtown is not a place to shop. Downtown is a place to live.

Somebody PLEASE tell me why I can't live here. C'mon!, Sydney!

Take me for example. I don't want a lawn. I know that a lot of middle aged white men view mowing a lawn as some sort of zen-North American-meditation-thingy, but to me it's just a chore. Buying a lawnmower does not appeal to me. It would really cut into my Star Wars action figures budget. Do you know what does appeal to me? Drinking beer on the third floor rooftop veranda of my downtown apartment with my friends, as we watch the sun set over Sydney Harbour. Walking to the corner store for milk. Shambling down to Dr. Lukes in my bathrobe to get my morning espresso from Missy. Not having to jump in my car every time I need batteries. These things appeal to me, and who doesn't want to be coffeeshop bathrobe guy?

This could be me, except less attractive or well dressed!

But it seems to me that, as downtowns all around the world were transitioning from a shopping district to a place to live, Sydney, as is so often the case, didn't get the memo. As much as a mall is better suited for shopping than a downtown, a downtown is much better at other things than a mall. See, a mall, for me, is an objective-based facility. I'm at the mall to get something done, and I earn extra points for getting in, obtaining my quest objective, and getting out as quickly as possible. If you see me at a mall, do not say hello or expect a long conversation. I'm there to buy something I need and get out, and maybe pick up some A&W because their sweet potato fries are ridiculous. Otherwise, politely nod and get out of my way.

On the other hand, a downtown is a place to loiter without shame. It's like an 8 block living room with a recurring cast of wacky characters. A downtown has sidewalks, bars, restaurants, and strange stores that give a community an identity beyond "that one place with the Walmart on the bypass." A downtown is where the moose walked down the street in the opening scene of Northern Exposure.

Oh, Northern Exposure. The world might have forgotten about you, but I sure haven't.

And the best part about this story is that we're already close to having that. We have so many ingredients already in place to have a vibrant Downtown worth living in, like the Highland Arts Theatre, 4 different genres of bars, restaurants that serve more than club sandwiches, my nerd store, a quirky used bookstore, and a fantastic gym. Icing on the downtown cake is a variety of specialty stores, our fudge shop, a craft gallery, and a boardwalk. Sure, there are things that we could be doing better, but the transition from a shopping district to a place where things HAPPEN has already begun, and the biggest hurdle in this transition is our own mindsets, because if we keep thinking of downtown as a mall, and keep developing it exclusively for shopping, that's all Sydney is ever going to have downtown.  A failed mall.

That's my opinion. What's yours? 



More Stories From RoryPopular Posts
What is a Cape Bretoner?Why Move to Cape Breton?
New Business Round-Up (YEE-HAW!) Navigate to Open New Tech Incubator in Sydney (Entrevestor)
What does DownTown Sydney Really Need?                      Everything you wanted to know about "Chase the Ace" in Inverness

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Allison MacDonald Follow Me
I really, really take issue when people say there is no parking in downtown Sydney. There is plenty of parking. You may have to walk a block or two, and you are likely going to have to pay a few bucks. (Would love to know how much revenue CBRM brings in from parking meters downtown. If it's minimal, I'd be wholeheartedly on board with making streets other than Charlotte Street meter-free). I completely agree there needs to be more people living in downtown Sydney, and doing things. I live in the suburbs with my husband and little one, and love it there (I get you on the lawn, though, Rory - it is a pain!), but really love spending time downtown on the weekends. Between going to the park, grabbing a coffee, going to the gym, visiting the library or eating delicious food - it's all right in the downtown core. Focus less on retail, and focus more on activities to do downtown, and I'm there!
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
To each his own Allison. Some people always dreamed of a big lawn and garden, and quiet nights on the porch of a farmhouse out in Mira. And why not? It's a beautiful scene. Just not mine. One thing Cape Breton has is an abundance of room, so some people wonder why I want to live in a third floor studio apartment in the noisiest corner of Sydney? Well, if we built the downtown as a self contained universe, with everything you need to live within walking distance, including amenities, entertainment, and meeting places, it would be a dream come true for me. I've never lived in a place where it was so easy to be involved within the community, which really makes me want to be a Townie.
Mathew Georghiou Follow Me
When I dream of being on a farmhouse in Mira, it's usually about all the flying insects carrying me away.
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
I 100% whole-heartedly agree with you Allison on the whole "parking issue" downtown. Go to bigger cities and you have to allot a solid half hour into your schedule to actually find a parking spot and walk to your destination from your vehicle. It takes 15 minutes on a bad day to walk from one end of Charlotte St. to the other, including the streets in-between.
Joe Ward Follow Me
In my experience living/working in San Francisco and Tampa, there is actually very good planning on parking structures. It's just that it is easier to navigate when you are familiar with the area, either living there or commuting for work. If you are a visitor, it can still take some time to track things down. They are obvious very different from our small city, but it would be chaos there if they didn't have these lots available. Note: There was still many times when significant walking is required, part of the city lifestyle. From Caltrain to my office near 6th and Market in San Francisco, I still had a solid 15 minute walk. Note: I abandoned the roller blades ideas. ;)
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
Been to San Francisco twice in the past year! Can't say I've driven there but rather used the atrocious metro. Also take into account the generous amount of ways to get around there- rides hare, über, cable cars, Caltrain (for greater distances), etc etc.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Uber or Lyft is something that we should have here right now. I'm also curious if they could apply those same methodologies to something more on par with airport shuttles or 6-seater transports that might help improve our public transportation given that we have a lower demand versus large metros.
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
I too would like to see some new means of transportation here and I think it would go over well. Taxi services here are essentially a monopoly, I'd love to see über or a home grown app for ride shares. I have the business mind to make it happen but unfortunately not the technical/app making skills!
Joe Ward Follow Me
I'll do some searching later if I remember. But I'm pretty sure there are a few startups that are working on providing Uber like startup apps to the taxi industry, or those that want to run a regional Uber or Lyft-like service. Not sure what the cost would be. One biz plan might be to actually start with a paid service, and then as revenue comes in, invest it into creating your own app to replace the service (presuming the service may not be overly cost effective in the long run). I did a brainstorm blog and video before. And one of the suggestions was that we recruit a Lyft to this area. :)
Joe Ward Follow Me
Check out: http://mowares.com/
Joe Ward Follow Me
http://mowares.com/taxi-script.php
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
thank you!
Marg MacNeil Follow Me
The hills a little steep for roller blades?
Joe Ward Follow Me
Not in that part of the city. Caltrain arrives near the AT&T Park, and it's pretty flat all the way from there up to Market St and the financial district. Other parts of the city, not so much. However, I've found that unskilled roller blading over metal grates quickly changes your impression on how good a method of getting to work it is... ha ha. ;)
Bob Willman Follow Me
This is a brilliant article. I fully agree that downtown would be perfect for housing. I enjoy the little shops that sell things I can't get at the mall.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
Between Charlotte and George and even to the old rail line boundary , the city has all sorts of land that can be transformed to better single housing and certainly better multi unit housing. It takes making a decision on the design theme and architectural criteria , having a good plan and models of what will get permits and the tax breaks . The City has to start dealing with the poorly maintained buildings and lands and vacant buildings in that core .
Joe Ward Follow Me
I'm personally going to lobby CBRM council to make sure Rory gets his apartment. Then we can say hello every time we go to Doctor Luke's or Louanne's and he's out on his balcony pondering the next article... about all the stuff he sees happen from up there! :P
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Plus he will have cold beer in the fridge to share. Where do I sign that petition?
Joe Ward Follow Me
Then he needs a little basket on a string to lower the brewskies down. ;)
Mathew Georghiou Follow Me
Just make sure not to look up when Rory is on the balcony in his bath robe.
Joe Ward Follow Me
We're going to need to lobby for a zoning restriction that only allows espresso on balconies while wearing pants.
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Hmm. Depends upon whose legs. In Rory's case, maybe Unsightly Premises Act would cover.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
One of the best examples of transforming a downtown you'll find in Canada is in Victoria BC. Another is the "market" area in Ottawa . In Victoria ,they transformed their main shopping street and everything in between to their waterfront, maybe a 4 block distance . They also restored or rebuilt every building such that the architecture retained the heritage designs .They did it with a tax deferral scheme that did not really cost city and yet gave the owners the tax break such that in 10-15 years , an area far larger than Charlotte Street was transformed . The municipality has the authority to make those things happen. They control zoning , architectural requirements, and property tax schemes.
Joe Ward Follow Me
I love the Ottawa "market" area. It's awesome. I'm also a big advocate for the tax incentives to spark home building and purchasing, and restoration of commercial zones. If we cling to a tax base, it's just going to diminish further over time. Make an investment, and with economic growth we'll see growth in the tax base (of course).
Christian Murphy Follow Me
Various states in the USA have made the interest on mortgages tax deductible from your personal income tax.. What a way to spur growth.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
Interesting article. Let's look at this in a bit more detail. 1) There's a very large parking area littered with meters behind the former Beanbank. I said this before and I'll say it again, this would be the perfect location for a multi-level parking garage that would achieve tow things: Alleviate parking issues and generate revenue. 2) If you want live down town, then there has to be an incentive to invest in all the safety requirements that have been imposed by the insurance industry, sorry my mistake the Provincial Government. The municipality could back loans to help the property owners meet the requirement, create more accommodations and have people paying yearly for the parking garage. Top level dedicated to a community garden. 3) Converting portions of Charlotte Street into green spaces, Obviously not everyone wants a lawn, but they will appreciate a green space. Hide some wires, If we want to build a destination type community to live, love and laugh in, we need to invest in building it. Make it look great. In short, it means making a major, consistently themed investment. As mayor, I will rally the property owners and reinvent Sydney's downtown.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
I am not sure what the sequence was for Sydney , but when they did that facade thing withe the ECBC 50 cent dollars , they basically made a planning and architectural decision. Are they following it and ensuring any new buildings or new renos abide by that facade design criteria ?? Is it by -law protected ??
Joe Ward Follow Me
The parking structure is also a plan for growthing capacity. I like the idea. And I also think we need to be building maybe 9-10 more of those buildings Chernin is putting up to condense our population around our commercial center, like any city needs to do. Of course, that would also have dramatic impact on our housing here. We would start seeing a better business case for home ownership, for avoiding moving westward, and for making investments into income properties, modernization, and major energy upgrades in our existing housing inventory.
Gayle Bird Follow Me
This is freaking fantastic. HOW CAN WE MAKE IT HAPPEN?!?
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
You make it happen by making your Municipality plan it to happen . The best way to argue for such things is to find "models" in other cities that made such a transformation . Also, argue the financials of the increased taxes over the long run . Start by taking an inventory and documenting every building as it exists today and start following that piece of land and building.
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
I would love to see upper levels of buildings in the downtown core become apartments with small patios- it would bring so much vibrant life and character to the downtown, not to mention the opportunities that would arise for services and shops as a result of it. This is a freaking great idea and needs to happen!
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
Elizabeth: One of the key factors that Sydney has to deal with first is their by-laws on architectural features of buildings if they want to retain any street scape that resembles any image of the "old" . Halifax is losing it's image fast as all the new buildings are basically big glass cubes . They don't attract tourists . St John's has retained the old and even builds new to look like the old. Which city gets the most media when it comes to travel articles ?? Look at the Esplanade and how many times you see the back of a building or parking , not a front , and that is the prime waterfront street . Halifax is afraid of the developers , Victoria was not . Compare those downtowns .
Chris Bellemore Follow Me
The reality is that downtown Sydney is an old style mall (shopping centre before malls) with some interesting adaptations going on. You can't really say anything to the contrary and if you are a tourist that is what you see. There have been lots of ideas from many experts in the field of downtown revitalization that have had wonderful ideas on how to fix it. There isn't a need for new ideas. There is a need for new investment from creative people and attracting the right kind of people as the downtown adapts to a more contemporary and resilient use. We can't help that Sydney was designed around industry that hindered it's potential to have a space that people flock to for activity. Most other places have an open waterfront space that is inviting, central and intuitive. We are left with the legacy of the past. The Archibald's Wharf decision flies against what a downtown core needs. Please focus on what is needed. Not ideas, not comments on what it is apparent because we all know. There needs to be a focus on attracting people. People with dreams, ambition and infectious positive influence.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
Well put Chris....
Bob Willman Follow Me
I asked my son what he would prefer; renting a house or an apartment in downtown Sydney. Resounding answer was apartment downtown. Reasons as follows: 1. Low maintenance. Doesn't want to mow grass or shovel snow in the winter 2. Close to amenities. Coffee shops and small shops. 3. Doesn't drive. None of his friends have drivers licenses or cars. They don't want the costs that go with owning a vehicle. Perfectly fine with buses, taxis or Uber for their transportation needs. 4. Likes the feeling of being in the heart of the city. This is where the action is for them. If there are upscale apartments for them to rent, tenants will come. Downtown rentals are perfect for single or young married couples looking for a certain lifestyle. Once they decide to raise families, they will look at family homes to buy or rent.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Absolutely. I know people that you would have to tear out of the cities. They love it. And we would definitely have a demand for it here, making the downtown more interesting - and potentially more viable. Let's do 9-10 more of those buildings that Marty Chernin is building in the downtown area (10 stories, occupancy of 40 plus apartments), and a parking structure to prepare for growth to the area. If parking is a frequent issue raised, then it has the potential to be a bottleneck whether it's only consumer perspective, or consumer reality - both ways that deter demand. I think it's probably a little bit of a mix of both.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
Here's a novel idea , and from Victoria,BC http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/despite-doubts-victoria-s-50-million-homeless-plan-clears-hurdle-1.2062488
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
Here's what they do in Victoria to restore but to also add residential on upper floors . Scroll the whole list and see their 10year tax discount http://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/departments/planning-development/community-planning/heritage/grants.html
Doug Milburn Follow Me
That's a well thought out commentary on the role of downtowns. I'v travelled a lot for work and have had the opportunity to see downtowns all across North America. In almost all of them, the shopping function has faded dramatically. We Cape Bretoners really have to learn how to let go of the past gracefully and embrace change (in this case, stop losing sleep about the loss of dominance in shopping and embrace its evolution toward a place to work, live, eat, etc.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Great point, and very fitting with Rory's suggestion that we've been pigeonholing its designation as a purely (failing/declining/other) shopping district. It definitely has a concentration of banking, gov, and legal services now; and the organically generated marketplace that comes as a result: cafes and food options, etc. If, let's say, CBU business students ventured to do a historical analysis of the type of businesses operating within the area considered "downtown", it would be very interesting to see how the segmentation varied over each decade. Was there always a changing share of different types of businesses operating in the area? Were there previous periods of significant growth or decline, or rapid/accelerated changes in segmentation? With population concentration nearby or increased demand of traffic, the area can't help but evolve organically. For instance, as the tech sector involves, we have the tech companies with offices there, and UIT Startup at the New Dawn building, etc. These are the formations of a new industry operating in the area, and also creating demand for stuff like lunch - and may be helping to provide the critical mass of customers for places like Doctor Lukes. ;) Overall, if there is an intent to develop this area further. Perhaps it may be a matter of evaluating options that further spur the organic evolution of the marketplace. So stuff like manipulation of tax policy, incentives for building/renovation, zone changes to allow for apartments, or even parking structures can be advantageous for businesses of any sort seeing a better overall business case for setting up shop there. Of course, I should not neglect to note the necessary tourism focus. So beautification, food and appropriate retail options, entertainment, *safety* (both security and "branding"), and overall enjoyment/impression are all important factors for our cruise ship visitors that must be integrated into any strategic plan.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
We must never forget that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is a community of communities. Any strategy must be designed to give opportunity throughout the municipality. This creates some obvious challenges when dealing with a limited pot of money. The hub and spokes model has yet to manifest real success in our region as each area feels they need the funding for the betterment of their small piece of the bigger picture. Ironically, there doesn't seem to exist a "bigger picture" for what Cape Breton is and where it's going. Scenic views and high ratings in travel magazines have not generated the business needed to succeed and grow. Growth is a rather interesting concept as there are those eager for change while others wish to maintain a declining status quo. I ponder this on a regular basis. For example, a complete overhaul of Sydney's down town would draw people into the district. The question is; "from where?" This an important question as it relates directly to the decline of the outlying communities. It would be naive to believe that this will draw people from other parts of Canada or the world as it's most likely to draw from within. I'll assign a Casino scenario. Where does the casino draw most of it revenue? I would argue that the majority doesn't come from Americans who see Sydney as a destination, but acts as more of a "Fool's Tax" on the locals essentially becoming a transfer of wealth from Sydney to the provincial coffers. In theory, it's my humble opinion that a hub and spokes approach will have a similar impact on the non-Sydney communities. It would solve the downtown issues at the expense of the others resulting in no net gain in tax revenue. Is my line of thinking completely off the mark here? I'm simply aligning with the macro-effects we are experiencing provincially with regards to population movement. Please tell me I am wrong.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
Bang On . It's too bad all the municipal councillors on the whole island don't understand what you are saying . They never seem to make any connection between their municipal financial status and their statistical status . Too bad Stevie Wonder MacNeil shut down that web site that had the stats for every municipality , but then he's now cheering cutting federal military spending ???. Why isn't he advocating for rail investment ???
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Interesting ideas Christian. There does seem to be an underlying resentment between rural communities vs. Sydney, just as there is underlying resentment between Cape Breton vs. Nova Scotia. Seems we're all pretty busy fighting over an ever shrinking piece of the tax revenue pie. Here's something I've given some thought to though. I've read about cruise ships that skip Sydney port during their trip, even though they're scheduled to stop there. I'm no expert on to why they choose to not port in Sydney, but could it be because the cruise ships don't see it as a make-or-break stop for their passengers? If we could have people living in Downtown Sydney, walking to stores, restaurants, and bars, instead of having to drive in from Shipyard or Ashby, we could generate more tax revenue for the downtown. The more people and revenue within the downtown core would create a more attractive and dynamic stop to entice cruise ships not to skip our port. I was in Baddeck the other weekend, and I had coffee and rhubarb crisp on the veranda of the Big Wheel Cafe, watching people pass on the main street over flower pots. It felt like Paris in Cape Breton. If we could recreate that experience on the Esplanade, or Charlotte Street, it would go a long way to creating a memorable experience for tourists and residents alike. Also, I think a Downtown where people could live, work, and play would go hand in hand with our new concentration on the tech sector and startup culture. Having a concentration of highly skilled, motivated entrepreneurs in one place is a proven model of success, as they share skillsets and advice, and I like to think Downtown Sydney would be a great place for that kind of hub. I think Lindsay Uhma and Ardelle Reynolds agree with me on that point. https://capebreton.lokol.me/navigate-to-open-new-tech-incubator-in-sydney And with MediaSpark and Marcato already downtown, we've already got a foot in the door when it comes to a tech hub downtown.
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Also, condensed metropolitan areas have been creating tax revenue for the declining rural landscape for a long time now. I'm not condoning we ignore the rural communities completely, but looking at the urban core as a "tax generator" and investing in urban revenue streams in order to create that tax base doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. Rural communities are essential to the Canadian landscape, but if what Cape Breton needs is industry and growth, I would make our major commercial centre my top priority.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Cities are designed to be more efficient. Though rural areas might not like it, I believe our long term success means that we have to focus on the hub.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
Good points Rory, again I asked people to tell me I am wrong. I also think of the New York/New Jersey scenario where no one wants to live in New Jersey. The recent sale of the North Sydney downtown green space, is this setting up the industrialization of the the Northside, which is my home community....well the closest town. The reality is, there is no overall vision for what Cape Breton could be or should be. Creating a startup tech hub in Sydney is not a bad thing, I am an advocate for anything that is going to help us survive and grow. I do however want to pose thoughts and ideas to ensure we are thinking as a community of communities....in context, the tech hub is a community of itself. It has a role to play in the bigger picture. Remember, many county residents feel that amalgamation simply increased taxes for services they don't receive. Under the current system, who is really financing who? Do you feel Sydney is financing rural residents or are rural residents financing Sydney. I use the word feel, because I don't know the answer. I can say, I have a well and a septic bed, so tax investments in sewage treatment and waterworks bring "me" no direct benefit. Should I receive a rebate for not using these systems? But hey, I also have "Water View" which demands a premium on my tax bill. Understand, I am a fan of progress, so would I oppose actions that would support our tech community, absolutely not! But there are those who don't have a vested interest. That is where the risk resides.
Joe Ward Follow Me
If the primary source of revenue for the CBRM is housing tax, then the more densely populated areas are going to be providing the majority of that income. Though I see your point about having your own water and sewage, thinking from the perspective of where I grew up, I can see the alternative view. Our closest neighbour was about 1km plus on either side of us, on a lowly populated rural dirt road. Thank goodness we didn't have to pay for the plow service in the winters, or road maintenance, etc. North Sydney is a little bit different however. That's a very important town for us with the Ferry service as a standout. It's also very nice. I'm also not impressed with liquidating a municipal asset (when alternatives more than likely did exist).
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Hey man, if we can't share opposing views or play devil's advocate, it's not worth having these discussions at all. No offense taken or given, because I honestly don't hold enough pride in my knowledge of the situation to get pissy about people setting me straight. Also, I know nothing about taxes and property expenses. I've been a nomad for quite some time now, and this is the longest I've lived in a place in 5 years, so when it comes to the division of revenue to expenses between rural and urban centers, I'm not going to stand my ground and die pretending I know what I'm talking about. My primary point in writing this article was to change the way people define downtown Sydney, and to share what I believe downtown Sydney can be. I haven't had the chance to apartment shop around Cape Breton yet, but I'm certainly going to look at my downtown options when I do. As far as the "call-to-action" that I'm advocating, it was just to change the narrative more than anything. I believe that the stories we tell ourselves are just as important as the stories that are actually happening, and I didn't agree with the dominant narrative people keep telling me about Downtown. As far as government action is concerned, I don't know enough about the hurdles and pitfalls of the downtown business community or landscape to come up with solutions. I've heard people talk about zoning laws and tax incentives, but I've yet to gather enough qualified sources to make an opinion on what the government can do to facilitate the shift from a Downtown shopping district to a Downtown where people want to live. I'm just trying to start a discussion, ya know.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
To be quite honest, neither do I. Tossing out ideass and yes the second "s" was on purpose. I love the Tech Hub that is developing and now that we have enough victims of the past; there exists more of a chance to do things correct.
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Sorry, Christian, but I don't see the problem here. Why do we need a top-down strategic plan to do anything? All that is required is for folks who own these buildings to make an investment to convert the top floors to decent apartments or condos (and yes, the vision to see the opportunity). There's no "pot of money" here that needs to be divvied up. There's no gov't involvement required, nor permission needed (as long as the zoning allows it). It's a free country, and building owners in Sydney can make this choice, as can owners in North Sydney, or Glace Bay, or anywhere there is a market opportunity. This is not a Sydney vs. everyone else issue. Everyone has choices here. The market will ultimately decide if the investment will pay off. So, why is our response to every challenge: "it's the government's job to fix the problem." That attitude is what leads to the scarcity of resources and bitter political infighting that holds us back as a community. DIY, folks. DIY (BTW When you hear "We're from the government and we're here to help," please understand they are being sarcastic.)
Joe Ward Follow Me
Does current zoning prohibit it? Upper and lower Charlotte definitely have lots of residential homes and apartments. I was under the impression the middle zone might be different?
Christian Murphy Follow Me
All valid points, as stated, I am attempting to generate ideas and evaluate it from all sides. To your point, I am making the assumption that we involve government. Seems a mental default albeit the reality is, we as a community have to make it happen while government creates the environment where it can happen.
Parker Donham Follow Me
I don't understand, Rory. What's stopping you? Rent an apartment downtown. None available? Buy a building and turn it into apartments. Seriously, what is the obstacle?
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Touche'!
Mathew Georghiou Follow Me
Rory notes this in subsequent COMMENTS, but I think his objective for this story is to change the NARRATIVE of Downtown Sydney. He is advocating that we should stop thinking about downtown as what it used to be and instead focus on what successful downtowns are becoming - and what ours could become. And, by focusing on what we WANT Downtown Sydney to be, we can then take MEANINGFUL ACTIONS to support this objective. And, I think he is right. Until we have some vision for a FEASIBLE future for Downtown Sydney and how it fits the overall economic profile of our municipality and Island, then every action we take will just be a temporary bandaid that will never truly help us make progress.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Well said. I concur. Rory is fantastic at creating alternative perspectives in a style that is accessible to almost everyone in our community. VERY refreshing voice indeed.
Bob Willman Follow Me
In the states, a lot of small towns have developed what is called "Black window" syndrome. This happens when Main St has shops on the first floor and the top floor(s) are left empty. This gives rise to the name "Black Windows". Many of these towns lament the imminent death of their Main St to the evils of the box stores that spring up on the outskirts of town. The smart towns have decided not to try and compete with them but instead cater to the niche markets that the big stores can not service. The property owners rehab the upper floors to nice rental properties and appear to be thriving. These are not low income rentals but very nice upscale apartments. This is just my observations on the matter.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
It's really the business owners and the developers who really call the shots when it comes to development in most cities . Look at how Halifax evolved since it started it's downtown renewal in the early 1960's . Sweet after street of small businesses , the whole waterfront of businesses changed to Scotia Square ,the Metro Center , the Convention Center and office space mainly rented to government . Only when the waterfront was developed at Historic Properties did they realize an opportunity . In the meantime all the "shopping " left the downtown , instead it's polluted with bars , which is really a nighttime clientele. It was maybe not until 1990's that residential came to that Halifax downtown. Now there is no space left for residential as land is too valuable as office space . The Sydney Council needs to be pushed by the public or else they'll simply agree with whatever the developers want .
Christian Murphy Follow Me
I personally love the idea of patios overlooking the downtown, parking garages and green spaces intersected by streets. Techies camped out on benches connecting through Wifi converting coffee and pizza into code. It's all possible! Now, I don't know who owns the downtown properties nor do I know their individual motivations and commitment to their community. Beyond this there are implications that stifle growth, first and foremost is the ability of a property owner to make changes. Now, I am not a commercial property owner, but I understand that older buildings are subject to what I have heard referred to as a "Grandfather Clause" which excludes them from full compliance with accessibility legislation and other such rules that can dramatically drive up the cost of renovating. Bringing a building up to current building codes for example. Ask anyone that has decided to remove an old wall in a house only to discover there's asbestos. Welcome to financial hell! Toss in trade unions demanding commercial activities all operate with union members and trust when I say, the costs go beyond just the salaries and well a property owner is between a rock and hard place. The tenancy act was put in place to protect renters. It does little to protect property owners. I have listened to many stories of renters causing significant damage and the property owner left holding the bag. Will downtown rent cover these costs? Will they see a return on investment? Can they even finance through traditional sources within the current economic landscape. The complexity of urban renewal is well beyond my expertise. It would require a real visionary, buy in from the property owners and a major financial commitment.
Elizabeth Arsenault Follow Me
My parents own a century+ old home in the north end of Sydney. They've been renovating it since they inherited it, which is essentially as long as I can remember. The house has been a financial burden in terms of constant renovations (wormholes), heating, etc., however, the house is near completion now and will have doubled, if not tripled, in value when it is finished. On the topic of apartments, the house truly could be two-three apartments for its size. I can understand the financial burden of renovating these old buildings downtown; they are similar in age to my parents home. However, like my parents home, the return on investment that comes from renovating these buildings is enormous. Owners of the apartments would be able to justify a high cost for renting the apartments based off downtown location, new value of the building etc. My question with these downtown apartments is: how will these high-value apartments cater to our local demographics? The current apartments on Charlotte St are low rentals. Will the apartments fit in with low rentals just near the end of Charlotte St? Who do these apartments target - older millennials? Baby boomers? My thought is perhaps retirees living on the outskirts, their children living on their own now, looking to sell their family-sized homes and live closer to shops and services. In a bigger city, such as Halifax, you may see more older-age millennials living in apartments such as the ones proposed because there are more meaningful career opportunities for them. In our case, As much as I'd like to see a younger generation downtown, I think that these apartments would be a great fit for baby boomer/recent retirees. It just makes sense.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
There are many ways a Municipal Council can help ensure that land is developed to meet very general or very specific criteria . If they want ,simply by establishing design and architectural standards they begin to set in place a framework . If they were smart , they'd buy the land and they 'd be the developer , but since government is usually poor at managing housing , they'd have to sell it . The better option is the old public private partnership concept where they invest but the private sector bids on a proposal call . If there's a will , there's a way. sector builds and owns .
Joe Ward Follow Me
I think the only way the older homes are viable now is conversion to multi-unit apartments. Several seem to be doing so quite well. Though there are people with incomes that can afford the heating, it's just a really bad investment in general to sink money into energy inefficient heating. Much better to either pay down debt, or deposit it into investments and retirement funds. I'd love to see more income property conversions by homeowners (versus multi-home landlords) in Cape Breton.
Gary LeDrew Follow Me
I dont have a problem with living downtown wtc. But the empty stores exhibit a failure and that is all our cruiseship tourists and other visitors get to see. This is not good.
Belinda Macleod Follow Me
Does downtown Sydney have a medical walk-in clinic? I have never seen one. I am still living in Toronto and curious.
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
The walk-in Clinic used to be on Kings Road, between Downtown and Sydney River. It wasn't within walking distance, but it wasn't the worst location. It has since been moved to the third floor of the health center, which is the building beside the hospital. I can see why they did it, having access to all the medical resources so close at hand makes sense. But, it's on the outskirts of town, and centralizes all medical utilities in a place where you absolutely need a car to get to. As for medical utilities within the downtown core... I could be mistaken, but I'm almost positive there are none.
Sharon MacPherson Follow Me
I can see a part of Charlotte St with cobblestones, tables set up in the summer , unique shops selling things that will appeal to everyone. Items we can't find in the big box stores. A place to sit and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine. Parking is not a big issue and what is the problem with walking? We all need to exert ourselves more and before i get comments about health issues , i have my own but still walk. Why can't there be rooftop patios and apartments downtown? We cannot rely on the Mayor or council , it is up to us the citizens to take matters into our own hands . We can make Sydney and Cape Breton better if we just get off our butts and do something. Remember this in the next election...we are in control of who represents us.
Joe Ward Follow Me
These are some wonderful ideas. I would love to see a Charlotte St area configuration like that. It's quite common in many of the places I've lived. Even a poor town in Puerto Rico had a nice central pueblo where people gathered. I don't see much reason for anyone to be compelled to walk Charlotte St. There are reasons to visit with some of the businesses that are there, banking, or the YMCA. However, the street itself is not that visually appealing, and it has a lot of traffic from addicts/dealers that make it a less desirable place to walk, especially for seniors. However, one tremendous risk factor is an expectation that people will change. Parking will remain an issue for as long as people perceive it to be an issue. People know the benefits of exercise and ignore it. And there are people with health issues or advanced age that longer walking distances simply become a bad idea. And our wet maritime climate doesn't always cooperate, and therefore has an immediate impact on configurations that require longer walking distances. We just can't project our own comfort with downtown parking, patience, or commitment to health and good habits onto others. However, some form of comfortable parking along with the plan you've described would be fantastic. :)
Michael MacNeil Follow Me
My opinion is that the Downtowns of Sydney and North Sydney should work together. It is a short season to make your money and they should be trying to attract every passenger that they can on both the Cruise Ships and the NFLD ferries. There is a small town called Yarmouth that survives off the passengers that arrive once a day into their community and that is Seasonal. North Sydney has probably double that docking two times a day and it is year round. Has a municipality we are failing to capture a lot of that market. The solution is actually quite simple. Fix up North Sydney's Downtown and Waterfront along with Sydney's and add a Seasonal water taxi. Start working together because it is a short season
Joe Ward Follow Me
There are many things we could do with the harbour that would bring people to the downtowns, beyond those who can afford yachts. I had suggested a "houseboat marina" in a previous article and video topic. The water taxi would be great. And many harbour or river communities actually have either casino boat tours and/or dining boat tours which would be great fun and I'm sure a great draw. Of course, with those ideas I get discouraged after hearing that the harbour is filling up with untreated waste and the municipality doesn't have a plan to move forward with it despite Federal requirements. So I'm sure lots of people were thinking. Ya, buddy. Sure. Let's put houseboats and dining boat tours into that harbour. Right. Great idea. ;)
Michael MacNeil Follow Me
Living in a houseboat would be kind of neat, even in the winter with lots of insulation and a heat pump. However you are correct, they have to do something to deal with the waste water soon. I could handle a few cold days but watching sewer floating by,,no thanks
Joe Ward Follow Me
Beyond the sewage issue, it would also be something really cool to do only seasonally. Imagine coming to spend a summer living in a small houseboat, with a dock in close proximity to either downtown Sydney or a reclaimed Archibald's Wharf greenspace. They could actually be stowed on land during the winter season somewhere from a Sydport launch point. And of course, with someone like McKeil, with tug services in the harbour, it certainly wouldn't be hard to get them to their destination. Just need some electrical and sewage infrastructure in place along with a seasonal floating dock. Spend your summer floating in the Cape Breton harbour, walking up to the sunrise and water, and watching the cruise ships come into port. For many people, that would be an irresistible offer. It becomes a zone where tourists and locals alike will like to visit. Small businesses like food trucks, the Chill Zone, and everything in walking distance gain more (and more frequent) business. It becomes a harbour element that is featured in our tourism marketing, a stunning backdrop for pictures, and a sign that we have some imagination still.
Sharon MacPherson Follow Me
Michael a good idea but most of the traffic coming off the Newfoundland ferries are headed to the mainland and therefore just drive off and head for the highway.. We see very little traffic from them unless they are here for a specific reasons such as vacation, doctor's appointments or hospital.
Michael MacNeil Follow Me
Sharon you are 100% correct!! Kind of sad that our elected and the local business operators don't see that also
Sharon MacPherson Follow Me
Michael, It is sad but as i said in an earlier post. We are the tax payers and it is up to us to elect people who will represent us in Halifax . I am in my 60's and would like to think i can do something to make Cape Breton a better place for my grandchildren.
Peter Sheehan Follow Me
CB has lots of land and lovely locations. We have to come up with a "package" that we can offer to new residents and/or retirees to move here. Yes , it may sound like a subsidy but it doesn't have to be . Once they are here , they then spend their money here and start to pay back ,even if it takes 20 years, you will bring in $50 K at least per couple in spending that will then spin -off to everyone .Municipalities have to get into land development the way they do in Saskatchewan.
Sharon MacPherson Follow Me
I agree with everything you're saying , but we have people who have retired and "moved back home" who are now packing up and moving again for lots of good reasons including the lack of good health care , the poor condition of the roads just to mention a couple..What do you consider a package to entice these people to move here?
Joe Ward Follow Me
I've talked about a housing tax incentive. It probably frightens them (i.e. the CBRM) to hear the idea of 10-years no tax on new homes built - when it's their core revenue stream - but, people who don't live here don't pay any taxes anyway. And they also don't spend a cent here. So I'm without on developing incentive programs to get people to come here. It might even be a reasonable gesture to former Capers who lost their homes in the Fort Mac devastation. Rebuilt at home with us. 10-years no housing tax. I also think that housing development needs to happen as well. There are a lot of intermingling economic factors at play in that market. Some strategy could help a great deal. So far, they only thing they are paying close attention to is how to break through the tax cap.
Michael MacNeil Follow Me
That is an excellent idea Joe. It should also include any business that wants to set up or anybody already here that want to start a small business. like you said they are not here so not paying any tax anyway, but they do need to buy groceries and other supplies for example building supplies and hire carpenters and others to build their homes
Michael MacNeil Follow Me
Sharon again you are correct and that is why this article and forum is so important. It lets people running for office know that we are not giving up and have ideas to make Cape Breton better.
Sharon MacPherson Follow Me
How do we get them to see it? Retirees don't want to move here , the health care sucks and we can't even get the lines on our streets painted. I was speaking to a lady in Halifax this morning who was in Sydney last weekend and was almost in two accidents because she didn't know where the lanes were!!.
Joe Ward Follow Me
We would probably be more successful marketing as a summer vacation destination. They would be here for our best season (2-4 months), and could go home if they needed medical attention.
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