Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unconventional Wisdom in the T&T

Saturday, July 10, 2010. Moncton Times&Transcript. pageD9 - the op ed page (page opposite the editorial page.)

A columnist begins by noting that he saw very few prostitutes or panhandlers or homeless in downtown Torntol, ditto downtown Montreal. He felt safer in those cities because of that. He also felt safer because of the large numbers of people using the downtown streets. He feels very vulnerable in downtown Moncton.

Then he mentions that Moncton has one of the lowest crime rates in Canada. There must be a logical link between those two statements. Somewhere. Maybe. But it's hard to follow the thinking patterns of a person. who doesn't even see prostitutes and panhandlers in Montreal.

In Montreal, I have, on an overspending evening in a crowded downtown, had to step over the bodies of sleeping homeless to get to an ATM machine. In downtown Toronto, I have walked through downtown streets with a friend who always had his pockets full of change which he handed out constantly as we walked, and without a break in our conversation.

As for hookers, they are all over downtowns. After all, they aren't going to find many customers on woodland trails. The higher priced ones work downtown restaurants and clubs, usually paying a cut to the proprietors who also rent rooms to them. The economy hookers use the alleways of nearby residential districts.

As well,  mobsters are regulars among the downtown crowds in a city. Of course. They're selling drugs through the bartenders, checking the hookers for their cut, and sharing the bar with visiting journalists who can't see any hookers or homeless.

Ask any urban planner, he says. The best and most memorable cities have the best downtowns. Really?  Perhaps we could have the names and writings of some of these urban planners. Obviously, they must have missed much of New York, Detroit, Amsterdam (where whole downtown streets are given over to prostitutes, male and female, standing in floor length windows to display their wares).

Again, we have the T&T view that an $85,000,000 arena to be built (and maintained) with taxpayers' money would revive downtwon. And, again, I would love to see serious studies that show such projects revive a downtown. I have seen no evidence they do any such thing. They do, however, act as a powerful attraction for hookers and panhandlers. Check out Maple Leaf Gardens.

And, inevitably, there is the call for more parking. Right. Malls, precisely because of easy parking, all over the western world have destroyed downtowns. So let's encourage even more cars. Let's make downtown a mall. Very perceptive.

Let's hope there are going to be tourists in the coming years. (We'll just forget about the world's economic state -which is not getting better; and we'll forget about the cost of driving going up quite spectacularly). Very few tourists are going to travel to Moncton to have a beer at a sidewalk bar while looking at a massive arena wall.

You want to see tourists? Go to the American museum, to Broadway and off Broadway in New York, the many museums in Ottawa, the galleries in even the smallest cities of Europe, the theatres. I remember one European city, a small one, which had an alleyway of excellent, simple restaurants. It was well worth the trip; and those restaraunts were opened with a good deal less than 85 million. Of course, Moncton would have to spend a little bit of money to bring in good cooks.

Before we plunge into an 85 million dollar debt to build a white elephant, it might be wise to get some serious advice about what Moncton really needs to draw people to the downtown area. It can't be big stores because the malls are much better than that. It can't be an arena with parking for at least 5,000 cars, an arena which will be closed most of the time. EVen open, the main dining will be hot dogs and fries.

However passionate Monctonians feel about their hockey team, most of the world has never heard of it, and doesn't care. Nor do most people in Moncton. For all the hype in our news media, barely two percent go to a hockey game.

It's time for Moncton to grow up. It's time get a serious handle on what our priorities are. Take a good look at the big kids. They offer something more than hockey, beer and fries.

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