I have from week to week wanted to remain rounded as a columnist and talk about a variety of issues. It has garnered a wide array of responses as well which, once again with a column, you hope is the case. I will continue to do this as it is good to be rounded in my approach, but for a single week I thought I would share a concept that is near and dear to my heart.
It would come as no surprise to some that this week has been a busy one for members of Renaissance Brandon. We had the opportunity to present at a regular meeting of council. An opportunity to share a long-term vision for Renaissance Brandon, a board of directors that, as my tagline shows, I’m proud to act as chairperson.
As was also mentioned in a recent article by Jillian Austin that appeared in the Brandon Sun, we took some time to share our vision on a very powerful possibility for the downtown, the idea of population growth and building on urban density.
I was able to share a long-term vision for the HUB that would hopefully see upwards of 1,800 new residents over multiple years come to the neighbourhood by targeting development of upper floors in many buildings throughout the core, which as I had noted is a "lofty but attainable goal." It is the design of a "growing up" as opposed to "growing out" model and it has been a model that has been highly successful in many areas of North America.
Larger centres like Seattle, for example, focused on urban density in singular areas of their city. It has provided tremendous opportunity for both business and residents by creating a mini-village model. Through this model, it provides for the opportunity of business and industry to surround the most important aspects of their business, customers.
On a similar scale but with a local feel, look at the strides the city of Winnipeg has taken with Osborne Village or the downtown model, the latter driven through the organization Centre Venture. The benefit of urban investment and a growing up residential base is evident in both neighbourhoods as is especially in the case of Osborne Village, named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood in 2012 by the Canadian Institute of Planners. The market feel of "the village" is truly unique but can be something our community could learn from and adapt.
As reported, there are more than 8,000 people living in an area just over 230 acres, which although it sounds large is not really the case. A number like this is managed by focusing on local establishments and urban population density as well as strong transportation corridors and pedestrian friendly experiences. The model works in spite of the fact the climate is so harsh.
There is an obvious return in both these cases when the build up model approach is taken. You gain the ability to add density to a population while being restorative with heritage a concept most politicians and developers are happy to be on the same page with. From a political standpoint, more people in an area means more opportunity. In the case of development, there are often developers who have struggled with the side of policy but this model could potentially benefit both well.
While some residents may not completely agree with the mandate of an organization like Renaissance Brandon, very few argue there is not significant benefit to bringing people down to live in our historic neighbourhood. As has been the case in communities similar to Brandon countrywide investment in the downtown is often indicative of a bigger picture mentality when outsiders look at a city.
To be realistic and have an initiative like this work, there has to be incentive for developers to buy in to the concept and realistically see a return on the investment, a key to business and growth.
Secondly — and most importantly — it must have a buy in from the general public as they will be the ones who spurn the opportunity in the downtown. Both are possible and within reach for a city the size of Brandon.
It is a lofty goal as mentioned and as much as I would like to see it come to fruition quickly, it is going to take time —probably past the time I will have the privilege to sit on this board as chair, but never more than the present has the case existed to turn the corner and harness the power of the village model right here in the Wheat City. Couple that with arts, culture, heritage, appeal and density working to complement strong developer involvement, not opposed to it. And when that happens, what a fundamental shift for the better that will be for the entire community.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.