Saving Downtowns: How do we #RestoreTheCore?

Joining CUI host Mary Rowe for our next session in our ongoing series: How can we revitalize downtowns and #RestoreTheCore?  – are Susie Grynol, President of the Hotel Association of Canada; Carl Weisbrod, Senior Advisor at HR&A Advisors in New York City; Kate Fenske, CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ; Stephen Willis, General Manager of Planning, Infrastructure & Economic Development at the City of Ottawa; Andrea Jung, Planner of Homeless Services and Arts, Culture and Community Services at the City of Vancouver; and  Thom Mahler, Manager of Urban Strategy at The City of Calgary.

5 Key
Takeaways

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Focusing on the hardest hit sectors

According to Susie Grynol, some industries have a better chance of recovering from the pandemic than others, and it is critical to develop sector-specific solutions for those hardest-hit. The hotel sector, for example, is at serious risk of permanently losing a sizeable proportion of the industry. She proposes, among several solutions, the proportional restructuring the federal wage subsidy program, and policies that support businesses with their fixed costs.

2. Working together to populate vacant downtown spaces

According to Thom Mahler, it is vital for Calgary’s downtown ecosystem to take approaches that integrate across sectors—bringing together economic development, tourism, real estate partners, large employers, and others to talk about the future for downtowns. Kate Fenske shares similar views, emphasizing the importance of innovation around shared spaces and supporting businesses to go online. She cites the example of a recent business opening in Winnipeg—an online butcher shop renting space from a local restaurant.

3. Watching for the future of work-from-home

Ottawa is in a fortunate position, facing the fastest recovery of any city in Canada because of the proportion of its workforce comprising public sector employees. However, Steve Willis argues that there is a big unknown—if these large employers decide a proportion of their workforce will continue to work from home post-pandemic, it will have a massive ripple effect on the future of the city’s downtowns.

4. Responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness

The pandemic has greatly impacted those experiencing homeless in our downtown cores, with the closure of many city facilities, non-profits, and physical distancing in shelters leading people to have nowhere to go. According to Andrea Jung, now more than ever, ensuring everyone has safe and secure place to live is critical.

5. Rethinking the future of our downtowns

According to Carl Weisbrod, technology has changed the way we think and move through our urban cores. In the future, everything—office use, brick-and-mortar retail, how we move, and more—will be transformed. Collectively, we must reimagine what our downtowns physically look like, and how they integrate pedestrians, commerce, and commercial use.