How to take ‘yes’ for an answer in politics

 

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Metro Moncton richly deserves its pride of place as one North America’s most attractive municipalities for businesses. In fact, according to a new KPMG report, pound-for pound, the Hub City may be the most free-enterprising on the continent.

As the 2014 Competitive Alternatives report states, “The cost leaders in the New England/Atlantic Canada region are the Atlantic Canada cities of Moncton,

Charlottetown, and Fredericton, all with costs nine percent or more below the US baseline. Costs are somewhat higher in Halifax, St. John’s and Bangor, while Manchester (New Hampshire) and Burlington (Vermont) have the highest 

business costs among the smaller cities in this region.”

Of course, money isn’t everything. Foresight also counts for a lot in the fortunes of any community. That’s why the long-running ‘will-we-won’t-we-push-me-pull-you’ saga of a rumored, though not actually realized, downtown centre has been such a frustrating anomaly in the city’s urban oeuvre – a rare instance in which Moncton has sacrificed its youthful swagger for a geriatric shuffle.

In fact, an unmistakable fustiness permeates the Request for Proposal (RFP) that City Hall has sent to prospective builders, as if councillors and staff are tripping over their own feet in their effort not to get ahead of themselves lest they (gasp!) actually hit the ground running on this thing.

The real problem has always been, and remains, existential. What do we – and those we elect – actually want a downtown centre to do? Opinions clearly vary and to the extent that they do, the actual character of the urban core hovers just out of view, beyond our grasp. 

Shall we embrace, as the RFP stipulates, the “Moncton Multi-Use Sport and Entertainment Facility” or the “Moncton Downtown Centre” or, simply, “Downtown Centre”? What does “Multi-Use” mean?

We know one thing: It means being flexible enough to accommodate two sports teams, which might not otherwise prosper here 

“The Downtown Centre will be the home of the Moncton Wildcats, and the Moncton Miracles,” the RFP says. “The Moncton Wildcats. . .will be a major tenant at the Downtown Centre. All of the Moncton Wildcats’ hockey and business operations will be located in the Downtown Centre, and the Moncton Wildcats will play approximately

thirty-four (34) home games per season, as well as any playoff games at the Downtown Centre. . .The Moncton Miracles basketball league franchise is a charter member of the 

National Basketball League of Canada (Atlantic Division), and plays twenty (20) 

regular home games per season.”

But, in calling for a mere 7,500-seat capacity (hardly better than city’s 40-year-old coliseum, whose fate as a refurbished trade centre and show location is linked to the downtown centre’s progress), officials are inadvertently raising uncomfortable questions about the broader utility of such a facility, particularly as an entertainment mooring for the downtown.

Still, the RFP insists, “The Moncton Downtown Centre development project is a major local project which has been part the City’s development and planning vision for many years. This Project has a high degree of visibility, as the Downtown Centre will be one of the most important new buildings located in the City, and the Province, for many years to come.”

Really? How so? 

“The Downtown Centre must encourage downtown residential development: 

The City envisions the Downtown Centre as a catalyst for downtown development, giving more people a reason to live downtown,” the RFP continues. “Specifically, the 

City is seeking design proposals that facilitate the City’s objective of resulting 

in more people living downtown, higher density forms of development, and a 

variety of housing options, including a mix of unit types and tenures (i.e. rental 

vs. ownership).”

City officials are not wrong to appreciate the catalytic effects of architecture and design on housing, retail and hospitality development in the downtown. But to properly re-imagine a busy, densely populated, and diverse urban core, we must articulate a fuller cultural agenda, and in greater detail, than we have for its new anchoring edifice.

Bold, aggressive strategies with no guarantee of success are what made Moncton one of the world’s recognized “smart cities” at a competition in New York a few years ago. That this city boasts the international airport it does owes everything to its habit of making a productive nuisance of itself at all levels of government.

Nothing less is called for today, and there’s no reason to start taking ‘no’ for an answer to the questions the future poses. 

 

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