What you want in downtown Kitchener. Be specific.
The City of Kitchener is developing a new plan for the downtown core. They are looking for input into what we want to see that will make it a vibrant place where we’ll spend more time. They are looking for detailed ideas because there is a huge difference between I want more stores or I want to see stores that sell games or even I want stores that sell crokinole boards and accessories. Be sure to take this opportunity to tell them. There is a survey that can be completed relatively quickly (especially if you’ve given the specifics some thought) and a link to send thoughts by e-mail. The deadline is Dec. 6. So if you haven’t given your input yet, get cracking!
I’ve completed the survey and what follows is what I’ll submit by e-mail. Agree with me or disagree with me, don’t let me speak for you. Share your specific ideas for the future of downtown Kitchener.
While I found the survey good, there’s more that I’d like to say as a part of this consultation.
A vibrant core
Downtown Kitchener is more than just King Street. On the one hand, I like that the maps on the consultation website show what is commonly considered the downtown core. I’m concerned though that King Street is getting a disproportionate share of attention and resources. A small town can rely on a vibrant main street but a city of Kitchener’s size must have a vibrant core–meaning a network of interesting streets. More attention and resources must be paid to streets like Charles and Duke (especially considering they will be on the LRT route) and cross streets like Queen, Ontario and Water. There should be a sense of wanting to know what is around the corner.
One aspect of King Street needs to be addressed sooner than later. The award-winning streetscape stops at Frederick/Benton but according to the consultation maps, the downtown core goes to Cedar Street. The streetscape should be extended that far to show visually that the east section is a part of the downtown core.
New stores and restaurants
I think the downtown business improvement area is on the right track in looking to make the core a shopping destination by attracting retailers, restaurants and bars that you don’t find elsewhere in Waterloo Region now or are likely to in the future. By this I include, as they do, small local chains that only have a small number of locations. This strategy combined with keeping some of the grittiness and artistic flair that exists downtown will make it a place that people want to go to because of its unique nature.
Here’s where you should let the decision-makers know what types of products, services, retail concepts would attract you that are not found anywhere else or are part of a small local chain.
I know that I’d like to see some quality second hand furniture shops or antique stores. Or even some stores with new furniture or decorating products that are either modern or suit eclectic tastes. It’d be great if the range of restaurants reflected our cultural diversity and included as Cameron Dearlove suggested an Indian restaurant. I’d also love to see a first run movie theatre–perhaps one run by the Princess Cinema folks and would qualify as a small local chain!
One part of the survey that I found a bit awkward was asking if I bought fresh meat, vegetables, cheese daily or weekly (excluding the Market or major supermarkets)). It’s hard to answer yes if they don’t exist. But yes, I think specialty food vendors would be a great addition. Downtown Kitchener could use for example a great cheese vendor like Alex Farm Products that helps make the St. Lawrence Market, the Danforth and Bayview Village shopping destinations.
The number one need is a full service grocery store. I understand that the problem is that not enough people live in the core to justify one. But I’m hoping with the Arrow Lofts underway, the City Centre condos on sale and other projects announced or being planned, that we’ll soon have enough people to justify one.
I’ve also been told that the logistics of a store make locating one in the core difficult. That may have been the case in the past, but I don’t think it’s the factor it used to be. There are many urban grocery stores in Toronto in places where you wouldn’t have found them before like at the base of condos or in the heart of Ryerson University. Major Canadian grocery store chains have figured out how to make these type of stores work such as the Sobey’s Urban Fresh stores or the Metro stores located in downtown Toronto.
Make the Kitchener Market a true public place
Sitting in Cynthia Nitikin’s sessions on what makes a public place great (hosted by the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council), I got to thinking about public places in Kitchener that could use a boost. At the top of my list was the Kitchener Market. In particular, I started to look at it from the perspective of Nitikin’s Project for Public Spaces (PPS) concept of the Power of Ten which describes what makes a public place successful. PPS says, “At the core of the Power of 10 is the idea that any great place itself needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there.” Right now, the market doesn’t have the power of ten and that is why it is less successful than it could be as a public space.
- Making King E. between Scott and Cedar a permanent pedestrian mall
- Eby Street between Charles and Duke could also be made into a pedestrian mall
- Each street could be given the look and feel like outside Kitchener City Hall
- If not permanently limited to pedestrians, they could be closed for that purpose from May 1 – October 31.
- Tear out the shrubs in front of the market building and put in a tiered cafe–with service from inside the market building and serving alcohol. (In the winter, potted evergreens and lighting could spruce up that area)
- Signage that can be seen when travelling along King St. is needed (maybe some arches at each end of the pedestrian zone) for the Market District and some specific to the Market itself.
- Allow the Market’s International Food court vendors and other restaurants along this stretch to set up street food stands like what the Mexican restaurant did at City Hall last summer.
- If successful, allow other downtown restaurants to offer street food in this area (or elsewhere downtown)
- Then allow independent food trucks to be present in this pedestrian zone or wherever else they wanted to go in the city.
- Have live music happening outside the market during lunch hours and after work every day from May – October. And evenings Thursday to Saturdays.
- In the summer, there should be an art exhibit sale on in front of the market on long weekends from May to October and all of July and August similar to what you see in Quebec City and other cities. The Box Art exhibit showed me it was possible.
- The empty storefronts would make an excellent place to store art overnight and could even be used to hold an ongoing indoor version during the cold weather. Another option is that these spaces be rented out to arts groups until a long term tenant can be found.
- I think it’d also be great to have buskers in this area at least Thursday to Saturday evenings and weekends.
- The Marketplace inside the Market is a great facility but suffers from the lack of a roof. That should be a short term priority.
- Make Market Lane and Market Village part of this reinvigorated district.
Some of these suggestions could be accomplished with little if any money by next summer on at least a trial basis. Others will need to be phased in and worked into budgets.
An added bonus is that King & Eby would no longer be a central point for sex workers to hang out.
King & Francis
I was inside the Little Bean one day looking out at a wall of shrubs. The public space on the other side of the shrubs was inaccessible and the cafe itself is hidden by the bushes. Maybe at one time that public space made sense but it has never seemed to work and now it seems to work against what could make it a successful place. I’m all for green spaces and would love to see more but this space should be given a makeover so that the green assists making the space a place where people want to hang out instead of getting in the way.
Is that specific enough?
I’m sure that I could go on if I thought about what I’d like to see downtown and brainstormed some more but I think that’s where I’ll stop. I hope by doing so that I’ve inspired you to give some thought to what you would like to see in Kitchener’s downtown core. Feel free to share some of your ideas here–but more importantly share them with the city’s consultation. And by December 6!