The City WalkerÂ is a series of articles about living in cities and approaching Urban Planning, Community Development, and Culture and Heritage from an integrated perspective.Â
Today I’m beginning something that’s been stewing in the back of my mind for months now; The City Walker project. And I’m starting with a place that I’ve been mildly obsessed with for years.
I live in Peterborough, ON, a mid-sized city with a bustling heritage downtown, a penchant for hockey, a lively arts scene, a smallish university and a college. Â Bethune Street runs along the west side of downtown proper, and in terms of the revitalization of the downtown, it’s a bit of a problem child. Â Once the edge-of-town railway corridor for trains bound to nearby Lakefield, it’s extra-wide for most of its length. Though where it runs through the old north end it’s mostly residential, down closer to the commercial district it’s industrial, rough-looking, and derelict in places.
This is a big problem for the city. Â It seems innocuous enough until you really start thinking about it, but with the mighty Otonabee River on one side, downtown Peterborough sort-of has its back against a wall. Â On the other side of the river, there’s East City, jurisdictionally a part of the City of Peterborough but realistically (and historically) a place unto itself. Â With only the Hunter Street bridge as access (especially now, with the train bridge closed to walkers and cyclists), downtown is mostly speaking to the rest of Peterborough. To the north, it’s limited by a block of massive heritage institutional buildings, such as City Hall and the Armories, which are beautiful but put act as a barrier between the shops and cafes of the downtown and the heritage homes of the old north end. Â To the south, there’s a slow trickle of business and some opportunities for development, but once you get to King Street and the Dieter and Darcy’s building, you’ve hit a wall in terms of how far pedestrians feel comfortable walking, with George Street at it’s busiest and a series of large-scale modern buildings that sit too far back from the road or have too few windows to make walking pleasant.
To the west, Bethune stands like a no-man’s-land between downtown and the affluent neighborhoods of The Avenues. Its presence drags down the streets around it, creating a barrier of run-down heritage homes, unfriendly industrial spaces, and a sense of emptiness that discourages people from hanging out or even walking through. Much as I love urban decay and the visible layers of built heritage, I think the city’s health will be best supported by some big changes – and they’re already under way. I often walk or cycle down Bethune, and it’s been fascinating watching these small changes impact the neighbourhood for the better, and encourage the kind of growth that will keep the downtown bustling.
Throughout the course of The City Walker project, however long that is, Â I’ll be talking about Bethune Street, Peterborough, and other cities, and thinking about what makes a streetscape and a city a liveable, healthy place that fosters community.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback – leave a comment below to let me know what you think!