We should go back to the future and risk being great
A graduate of the University of Toronto, Trevor Hutchinson is a songwriter, writer and bookkeeper. He serves as Contributing Editor at The Lindsay Advocate. He lives with his fiancee and their five kids in Lindsay.
In 1834, a town plan for Lindsay was envisioned on what was then nothing more than a cedar swamp. The planners envisioned something different, and grander than the Purdy Mills hamlet which had been established south of the Scugog River almost 15 years previously.
Kent and Victoria Streets were designed to be one and a half times wider than the standard 66-foot right of way. As the final report on Downtown Heritage Conservation District notes, this was done “presumably to highlight their importance but also to make maneuvering horses and carts that much easier.”
So urban planning for this area of our city has, from its very outset, consisted of a blend of anticipating future transit needs and a vision of something bigger and special.
Kent and Victoria Streets didn’t need to be that wide when the plan was envisioned and that width wouldn’t be needed for a decade or two. It’s also important to note that the very first commercial development on the new town plan wasn’t a creamery or a tannery or a blacksmith shop. It was a tavern, located where the Academy Theatre is now – an historical reminder that downtowns are ultimately about a community gathering together.
As my colleague Jamie Morris recently reported online, the direction of the latest effort of Lindsay downtown revitalization seems to be pointing in a direction where car culture prevails. That approach may well address current transportation needs, and frankly reflect the wishes of a majority of our citizens now. But good urban planning, in the words of urban planner Donald Watson, “is a gift of its designers and makers to the future.”
Countless studies point to a direct correlation between good pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to health, happiness and the overall ‘livability’ of an urban area. To be sure, livability is rather an ephemeral concept but it basically is about ‘ability to access opportunities to improve one’s quality of life.’
And make no mistake, cities compete on the livability index. When a doctor — using just one example — is considering relocating to a small town, factors like livability and culture can be the deciding votes. Getting lost in the 1950’s-era details of angle parking (which by the way should be back-in, or what the British call ‘reverse echelon parking’) kind of misses the point. As Watson reminds us, urban planning can “artificially simplify something that actually needs to be complex.”
While we still have the time, we would be well advised, like our forbearers did for this same stretch of road, to consider the future — and risk being great.