Maffeo Sutton Improvements
I wrote the following a few days ago at the Nanaimo information forum. There was a thread there where people were talking about the recent reno/reinvention of Maffeo Sutton Park. I decided to offer my two cents worth and felt it was well received so I thought it worth putting up here. I’ll be sending this to someone at the city as well in hopes that they see some benefit in it.
I have mixed feelings about the project now that it’s mostly finished. I think it’s great that they’ve created a large public space downtown, and that the quality/colours of the brickwork looks quite good. I think it has the potential to become a centre for a wide variety of social events. However, I also feel that they took down too much of the green that was already there to make it and that there is now too much of a feeling of a vast brick/concrete landscape, and the tiny parking ring that only fits a few cars that only have one way in and one way out is dysfunctional and awkward. The trees they’ve planted will one day grow to be big and full but I don’t thing they will ever be as nice as it would have been had there been more green left alone/built into the project. When they first started, I thought they were going to expand the grass and trees area, and I was totally into that, but like I say, I have mixed feelings about the result.
As it’s too late to go back to what it was, the most sensible thing to do is to make the best possible use of what it is now. I still see potential there that, if used, would make Nanaimo an even better place to live. I think it would behoove the city to start hiring a professional street performer or two (like a really good magician) to be in that location regularly during the summer months. I think the extra cost of hiring someone like that would be offset by the financial benefits to the businesses of the area.
Let me paint my mental picture of it for you. In the new square, you have this really experienced professional performer who is hired by the city, the sort of person that all people of all ages and interests can appreciate. I’m thinking of the sort of magician/performer who does lots of tricks with audience participation, breathes fire, tells jokes, juggles dangerous things etc. If they are proficient enough at handling a crowd, there will always be at least a few people around but probably quite a few. Set up nearby are all the french fry/hot dog/shaved ice or whatever food trucks that are already there anyway. People will be attracted to one, and end up making use of the other. Thus, both benefit from each others’ prescence and the number of people in the spot will grow. You see this sort of strategy all the time in other cities all over the world, it’s not like I’m proposing any new ideas here. A low hourly wage plus the donation of the audience would in my mind make it a worthwhile gig for a performer of a calibre generally too in demand to do the work just for donations.
Doing this will mean more people in the park for longer, which if combined with the buskers and the other various businesses on the waterfront, will hopefully mean that more people are hanging around the waterfront and thus the downtown as there is more of a sense of a ‘happening’. This plus the numbers of people who are moving into the two new strata complexes downtown (three if you count Vivo which is just up the hill from downtown) will certainly help to snowball the effect of a happening downtown. The more people that stay there for a bit longer, the more they spend their dollars down there, the more they do that, the more unique and interesting businesses will pop up in the down town area, the more that happens the more people want to go downtown. Ultimately we will end up with the sort of downtown where many people just go to without any particular plan in mind because there are always so many things to do that you don’t need a plan, you just go. That to me, is a sign of a healthy and vibrant downtown. Something we don’t have right now, but something that I don’t think is far out of reach.
A vibrant downtown life is something I’ve seen in so many places. Ironically we have so much more to work with than most other towns/cities. We have this awesome waterfront park area with a great view of the mainland for starters! (Which on another note, makes me wonder why there aren’t more ocean view restaurants and bars downtown. The opportunity is certainly there.)
We already have something nice downtown, I think we’re really close to having something great but we just have to take a few steps to get there. I just hope that there are enough people in Nanaimo who are willing to see the positive side of what is possible and within grasp rather get wrapped up in thoughts of what is wrong or should have been.