Like most cities in the world, the last 60 years has seen the expansion of the suburbs and the expense of the centre of the city. And all across the world today, governments are focused on redeveloping the core of their larger cities - not with industry - but with cultural variety, creativity and inspiration.
Compared to many cities, Sudbury has weathered the stresses of post-industrialization better than most, and our “suburbs” are not that far away. In the 35 years since I arrived here, the city has grown a great deal — the range of commercial and institutional activity in the city has expanded tremendously and the people who have come to build these businesses and institutions have fundamentally diversified the demographics of the city — for the better, and forever. This our future.
But our population size has remained almost constant, so the rate at which the children of northern families leave is matched by the rate of arrival of newcomers.
Our institutions do a great job of attracting people here, but we do less well at retaining them, despite good jobs, fine, affordable homes and relatively high disposable incomes.
Despite these tremendously positive changes for the city, there are two glaring omissions: the failure to support the growth and development of the downtown or to support and strengthen the arts.
Apart from LU’s new architecture school, there has been almost no strategic building investment in the downtown core, and we have seen the decline of many business enterprises as a result.
We have a symphony that has been over-subscribed every year for many years and has no concert hall, the scale of theatre we can perform has not expanded, and although we have many things to teach the world, and to learn from the world, we have had no growth in our capacity to host conferences — not just in mining or forestry, but in small-particle physics, cancer research, medical diagnostics, remote medical services, remote educational services, indigenous research and business innovation. Topics of universal interest.
As with every industrial city in the world, this is the time to rebuild our city centre, and we are behind schedule. Cities need three things: more people living downtown, more parking and more economic and cultural activity. The council has recently identified the cultural facilities they think are the most important, and I agree with them — they are long overdue.
But the council is wrong to choose one, because we need all of them. And we need them all in one facility — one building designed to meet all of their special and individual needs, just as they individually meet all the collective needs of our diverse community.
One facility provides them greater financial security; one overhead cost borne by multiple enterprises with maximum flow-through.
And the existing businesses around the facility downtown will benefit from foot traffic to and from local parking and hotels. And, most important of all, it will make it easy for conference attendees to visit our museum — displaying the beauty of fine art, the artistry of local and exotic native artifacts and the ingenuity of our industrial legacies.
And it will make it easy for the hockey fan to visit the amazingly modern library or, in passing, see and hear a trailer for the theatre or the symphony that might just draw their attention.
The suburbs are alive and well with the homes, commercial malls and box stores that meet our individual material needs, but this alone is failing to expand our population. What we lack is a city centre that can draw us together, from inside and outside the city, and meet our community’s need for interest, leisure, entertainment and inspiration. We live, and live well, in a beautiful and awe-inspiring countryside.
We do useful and important and creative things here. We need a city centre that reflects the kind of people we are today, the kind of people we are becoming and one that will help retain the kind of people we want to build the future with us. That bright future starts with a multipurpose event centre downtown.