If a small city can host a big world-beating sporting event, divine what Moncton can do with a hole in the ground, where once stood a shopping complex.
We walk past that vast 11-acre wasteland in snow and in heat, casting our eyes dolefully to its future. We wonder what will become of that empty space. Will it succumb to a series of poorly planned private condominiums, a sequence of public scrublands, a tract of parking spaces?
Or will it rise again as proof of life, a canvas for beginnings and the finer things in our municipal imagination?
Sometimes, it takes a tourist to tell us what we already know about ourselves. Sometimes, it takes Louise Taylor of the U.K.-based Guardian to plump our pillows and kiss our cheek and call us “charming” on the morning after we helped host the FIFA world women’s football extravaganza.
“Vancouver was more beautiful, Montreal more chic, Ottawa more interesting and Edmonton – well Edmonton had more tall buildings – but Moncton in New Brunswick was the most charming venue of Canada 2015,” the British journalist recently opined. “Virtually everyone, everywhere, was friendly but in Moncton people are super friendly. If drivers see you hesitating on the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) and think you might want to cross the road, they stop for you. It also had by far the best newspaper of any read at breakfast in the five cities I visited – so hats off to the Times & Transcript.”
Hats off, indeed.
Still, some day soon, I imagine crossing the road, from that cinder-block of an edifice that employs me from a distance, to greet a great entertainment complex – replete with sports arenas, mobile stages for local, national and international theatre companies, and hot and cold cafes providing, to smiling patrons, everything from real espresso to local Panini.
I envision spending my time in Moncton’s rejuvenated downtown meeting friends, drinking coffee, debating the issues of the day, the week and the year, and then, when the time is right, pulling away with a happy roar.
“See you next time,” I might say. “I have tickets.”
“So, to what?” my friends might ask.
“To bloody everything,” I would respond.
Bring on the hockey, the Phantom of the Opera, the Atlantic Ballet Theatre, and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir.
I would, in this universe, own passes to see Sid Crosby downtown, followed by Bruce Springsteen around the corner, and the last vestiges of the Grateful Dead, eating somebody else’s lunch on Robinson Court.
Picture, again, what Moncton can do with a hole in the ground. (Back-filling other people’s mistakes is, after all, one of the things this community does best; think CN, think Sears, think Hudson’s Bay, think Target).
Now think what’s in store.
Elected officials voted wisely earlier this week. According to a report from Kayla Byrne in the Moncton Times & Transcript, “After nearly three hours of debate, Moncton council agreed to apply to the Municipal Capital Borrowing Board for $95.4 million.”
What, exactly, constitutes the “Municipal Capital Borrowing Board” is a subject of conjecture; but that this council, with exceptions, feels confident about the future of that vast, empty acreage – which begs daily for redevelopment – is the kind of good news that should make residents and visitors, alike, imagine.
Imagine the next, great resurgence of entrepreneurial verve in the downtown core. Imagine the buzz and business. Imagine the play and the playfulness.
Now, imagine you being there, as the Guardian’s Louise Taylor was, just the other day.
What does this tourist know about us that we have already forgotten?