Plan to aid core business districts struggling with social and economic problems backed by council
Homeless person in London, Ont. on May 18, 2021. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV London)
LONDON, ONT. -- Not promising a quick fix, city council updated its Core Area Action Plan to help turnaround Downtown London and the Old East Village.
City councillors pulled no punches acknowledging how the pandemic has exacerbated the social and economic problems in core business districts.
“We have people having to be shuffled off from doorways and cleaning up the defecations, we have not solved our core problem,” said Councillor Steve Hillier during the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting.
“We’re at a turning point,” warned Councillor Maureen Cassidy. “We can keep going down a path that will be harder and harder to come back from, or we can aggressively address all of these issues.”
The issues facing the core area include homelessness, property crimes, litter, fewer office workers, construction detours, and a perception that the area is less safe.
A staff report recommended several adjustments to the Core Area Action Plan that was first endorsed by city council in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
- Project Clean Slate, a $37,500 street cleaning/garbage collection program
- Hiring a team of ‘ambassadors’ to provide customer service, information, and additional eyes on the street.
- ‘Activate’ Dundas Place with music and activities within pandemic rules
- •Reallocate $100,000 to fund small-scale events and activities
- Ehanced communications to highlight positive events in the core
“As a council, we continue to throw things at the problem to solve the problem,” said Councillor Phil Squire.“ I don’t think we have yet identified things that are successful in reversing the trend we are seeing downtown.”
Civic administration had also recommended cancelling the search for a private developer to partner with in the construction of a public parking garage and high rise at 185 Queens Ave.
The municipally-owned property is currently a small surface parking lot.
Three private developers expressed interest to the city via a formal Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process.
The staff report warned that it is impossible to predict how the pandemic will alter the demand for parking downtown.
“We don’t know if people will be returning to the offices downtown in the levels they were working there prior to COVID,” said Councillor Cassidy.
Instead of cancelling the project, however, council backed a motion by Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan to simply defer making a decision until next spring when post-pandemic conditions will be better known.
“To cancel a project because COVID creates an uncertain demand, I think runs at cross purposes of what we’re trying to do,” added Councillor Steve Lehman.
After the meeting, Mayor Ed Holder admitted to CTV News there will likely be no quick fix to the combination of social and economic problems in the core.
“COVID has compounded some of the problems both with our most vulnerable and our businesses, but these are important steps to take to better London.”