Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Hopes for Downtown
Today, a public hearing was held into the proposed downtown arena. People representing different sides of the issue had a chance to address City Council and speak their minds. As for me, I am not sure I have much to add to this, specifically. I am not against large developments in the downtown area per se, but I do have a problem with a funding structure that will finance a private business using taxpayers' dollars. So, I do have some concerns with the City entering into a deal with a billionaire who is out to make a profit. That aside, I also have an issue with thinking that Edmonton absolutely, positively needs a project on the scale of the proposed arena in order to keep downtown alive and vibrant. I have a little observation: downtown Edmonton already is alive and vibrant. Sure, there are pockets that are not developed to their fullest extents, and a few places here and there that can seem a bit sketchy. But overall, there are always places to go, things to do, and events going on in the city's core. If we don't get a new arena, downtown is not going to crumble and implode. There is already a new art gallery, a new museum going up, and lots of revitalization in the area. Festivals and events take place galore. New businesses like coffee shops and cafes create excellent meeting places. Downtown Edmonton does not need to be fixed because it isn't broken. Downtown has a lot of history and a bright future - with or without the arena. Fancy, shiny new things do not necessarily improve society. In fact, I am not sure enough due diligence has been given to the effects a project on the scale of the proposed arena would have on housing and other social issues in the area. From reading this, you can probably guess I am somewhat leery of the whole thing. Not as someone afraid of change or who doesn't want to see downtown boosted to its maximum potential, as those against the project have been accused. Edmonton is about more than hockey and jumping on bandwagons just because someone slick is trying to sell us something and convince us that we need it. My ideal downtown is a place of arts, of festivals, of music, and a place where issues like hunger and housing are dealt with effectively. Whether a new arena can help or hinder these goals remains to be seen - and a lot of it has to do with how it is financed, what it will do to surrounding property values, how badly it will congest certain areas, and how it will affect surrounding social organizations. There is too much that is simply not known and given the history of talks behind closed doors and potential done deals made without public input, I am not confident that City Council will let us know enough to make informed decisions or hold a plebescite. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy downtown for the wonderful entity it already is.