Stratton fuels the downtown debate

Downtown seems to be a hot spot for political contention lately. Whether it’s a council debate about paying for a consultant or my Twitter feed, everyone seems to have very strong opinions on what should happen in the heart of London.

I know what I want downtown. I want to be able to go out to restaurants, see the occasional band or play, and generally wander around, enjoying free Wi-Fi and pretty scenery wherever I can get it. I also like art galleries in theory, but almost never go in them, and I like to have somewhere that I can buy paper towels and batteries as needed.

I don’t particularly want to go shopping downtown because the idea of shopping as a pastime is an activity only slightly more appealing to me than eviscerating myself with a rusty pitchfork. But as the mother of a tweenager, I’ve recently learned to enjoy people-watching and scamming tea samples while someone else shops* in my general vicinity.

(*Strangely, her “shopping” consists largely of people-watching and scamming tea samples, too. Which leads me to the conclusion that what’s appealing about shopping malls isn’t actually the shopping, but the mall. It’s a temperature-controlled meeting place with no particular pressure to buy anything. I think downtown could actually learn a lot from shopping malls.)

Last week, I tweeted that I don’t understand our presumption that downtown is for shopping. I should have clarified that I also don’t understand why people continue to think that malls are for shopping, as I’ve already parenthetically explained.

My line of thinking got a hardcore smackdown from the hoards of people who do want to shop downtown, and would very much like to buy more stuff without leaving the core.

And I did mostly hear from people who start and end their day in or very near the heart of the city. I own a downtown business and spend at least a portion of almost every day there. Sometimes I spend all darn day downtown, actually. But I don’t have to, or even want to, rely on downtown for the provision of all life’s necessities.

So for me, and for the vast majority of Londoners, the question isn’t “what do you need to access downtown?” so much as it is “what would you make the trip downtown for?” But having my behind handed to me on Twitter last week made me realize that in my belief that downtown is for everyone, I might sometimes ignore the people that live there too often.

Next week, for the first time in the very small subset of recorded history that I bothered to check, a group of citizens will get together to form a London Downtown Community Association. Having heard the selfish way I rant about what I want in downtown, I know that this is long overdue.

Our decision-makers will always have to take a unique approach to managing downtown, but it’s definitely time we acknowledge that it’s not just an entertainment, shopping, or office district. It’s a neighbourhood, too. And its residents, having bravely chosen to put up with all of us, deserve their own voice.

If you want to help and/or watch the forming of the Downtown Community Association, the first meeting is open to everyone — Wednesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. in the Central Library. Look for it on Eventbrite.

Originally published in Our London on April 7, 2016.