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A pitch for downtowns as we head into the holidays

The Drag needs some much-deserved love – and respect



“If we don’t have a parking problem, we have a downtown problem.” The first time I heard this I was in CBRM’s council chambers. I was certain that when I returned home and googled it, I would find the adage filling my screen with the images of the famous planners and architects who coined the predicament. I didn’t.


But it sure has stuck with me. I find myself repeating it often, sometimes to myself when downtown but also when people complain about parking and when people complain about people complaining about parking. I think that both happen frequently in the Third.


It is a simple but telling statement. It is also likely one that urban planners everywhere would like us to spend more time contemplating.


It was CBRM’s Director of Planning Michael Russ who shared this wisdom with councillors during a summer discussion about housing that morphed, as it often does, into a debate about parking.


The message – spoken with just 12 words – deserves repeating as we head into the holiday shopping season. “If we don’t have a parking problem, we have a downtown problem.”


It sure does leave the ball in our court, doesn’t it? There can be no denying it; we decide whether we want a parking problem or a downtown problem.


It’s an easy one for me. I want my downtowns – all of them – to flourish. If they don’t, I won’t be able to have the quality of life that I want here, and honestly that I expect here. I like knowing that there is a place to go to get a high-end cocktail that I might not find anywhere else. I want to meet my friends downtown at the local coffee shops. I want to live in a place where streets must close to traffic at times to host special events for us.


This means that I must make a conscious choice. If I want to enjoy a vibrant downtown, I must sometimes endure a short walk. That I can and will do, not only to support local businesses, but to support the life I want in the Third.


But I think there is an equally valid reason to support our downtowns.


If we want to continue to recruit and retain talent to our municipality, we need to think beyond what we want. We need to begin to consider what that talent we want to attract might want. We must have something to offer them. If we think about what attracts people to communities, it is what their downtowns have to offer. 

A Downtown parking problem?

 I admit, I don’t get it. I don’t think that we have a parking problem. (I giggled aloud as I wrote that sentence sitting here alone.) Since returning home, I have not once believed that we have a parking problem. Anywhere. Anytime. This holds true for Charlotte St. while under construction.

Sure, at times during the last two years I have had to park on ‘side roads’ – and infrequently one block off Charlotte – but I often found parking immediately in front of the businesses that I wanted to patronize. During construction. In the second largest municipality in the province that can’t be considered a parking problem’ it’s a parking dream.

I think a fast and furious change is coming to The Drag.

We can embrace it and acknowledge a parking problem, or we can reject it to continue the thrill that comes with finding the best spot in front of your local shop knowing that decision jeopardizes it’s long-term success – and therefore mine.

Do we want to be a ‘city’? Do we want to grow? Do we want a future with a trajectory different than the currently accepted one? Do we want to attract healthcare providers? I’m no urban planner, but I don’t think that we can expect to achieve any of that without the growing pains that come with it, and my friends, parking problems are a fundamental city pain.


Whether we decide to have a parking problem or a downtown problem we will set the course of our future for many years to come.




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