An open letter to the City of Greater Sudbury

Concerning the Downtown vs. Kingsway arena/events centre site selection and the future of our great city.

Dear City Council and Mayor Brian Bigger,

First, I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication to our city and community. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed. I served on the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation in the past, did a considerable amount of work for our main attractions (Science North, The Big Nickel, Dynamic Earth) and was part of the team who redesigned and repositioned the Downtown Sudbury BIA. I love Sudbury and Northern Ontario.

Although I spent most of my life in Sudbury, I moved to Los Angeles 2 years ago for better work opportunities in my industry and to live in a city that was more aligned with my values. However, I still have family, friends, and some small investments in the city. As a former resident of Ward 12, I still care deeply about the future of Sudbury. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the arena/events centre site selection.

We need to design a city around our youth first

Where are the young people going?

As you know, Greater Sudbury has a leaky bucket problem. We are losing people quicker than we are attracting them and not doing a great job at retaining them. Between 2001 and 2015, we’ve seen an almost 21% decrease in our youth population. This problem isn’t going away unless we do something about it.

Many of my friends have chosen to move to Toronto, Vancouver, and abroad to larger urban centers to live in cities where 750 sq ft condos are $1m+ and commutes are 1hr long. But these cities are so attractive and offer so much potential for a better future, that even cost of living and long commutes are only minor detractors. That’s what we’re up against — so it should be easy for us to reposition Sudbury as a city where young people can thrive. Some may disagree, but I believe we should design a city that caters to what the creative-class want. And that’s a city that is:

  • Walkable
  • Beautiful
  • Cultural
  • Artisanal/curated
  • Local
  • Friendly
  • Efficient
  • Innovative
  • Healthy
  • Green
  • Economically viable

I could go on… but the common thread here is that all of this can be achieved by focusing on building a strong city core. My friend Oryst Sawchuk agrees, as do 34 leading architects (not to mention the students at Laurentian Architecture and the consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers). By focusing on downtown and not building outward, we solve for almost all of these. By creating a place that is more walkable, you design for a healthier environment (which makes happier people!) allowing for more face-to-face interactions (stronger sense of community), and more money being spent in our small businesses and not the big box stores, building a stronger local economy.

Cities that design for beauty succeed

Bruce Mau (one of our own) says that as a city, we’re competing with beauty. We have an opportunity to design a beautiful city and contribute to culture and wealth in our downtown. This same opportunity does not exist on the Kingsway.

Even though I appreciate that some longtime Sudburians think we should design around what taxpayers want, we need to design a city around our youth first, then sort out how we’ll better serve our aging population. Otherwise we’ll end up like Elliot Lake and cater to retirees and seniors. That’s not growth—that’s called fading away, and we’ll get swallowed whole by Southern cities like Barrie or Newmarket. The young people of Sudbury feel disenfranchised, and most I speak to are planning their exit strategy. We have a golden opportunity to do something about it now. Growth is the only way forward.

Beware of those who claim to have all the answers

If there’s something I’ve learned during my time in the U.S., it’s that you should be very skeptical of people in power who claim to have all the answers. I’ve met Dario Zulich on a few occasions, and I believe that he has good intentions. However, I do worry that he’s found an opportunity to build a monopoly and capitalize on a city that is both confused and in flux. Buying the Wolves, a basketball team, the water tower, should’ve been a warning sign. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, it’s fantastic for him and his businesses (both real estate and industrial)—but not so much for us. Although I admire Zulich for having a vision, I don’t think it’s the best move for Sudbury long-term.

While Zulich’s people have released a PR campaign, the community has spoken and come together on their own dime to push for a downtown arena and events centre. That says a lot.

Massive parking structure in Santa Monica, CA.

But what about parking?

Parking is easy. It can be solved with parking structures above and below ground if the need is truly there. When there’s money to be made, the market will sort it out. Plus, I don’t think we should be placing such big bets on vehicles in the future. Uber is looking to move into town soon and other small cities are taking the lead by partnering with Uber as an add-on to public transit, we may not be driving around as much in the near future as ride-sharing becomes more prominent. It’s happened already all over the world, and it will happen in the North.

Look to the rust belt and you’ll see that retail has been contracting for years. Malls and shopping centers have been left abandoned due to the rise in online shopping across North America. Sears has filed for creditor protection (and they’ll be closing the New Sudbury Sears Home store). Earlier this year, Warren Buffett confirmed the death of retail as we know it. Amazon just purchased Whole Foods and has mastered same-day or next-day delivery. The world is always changing and this is the future we’re all going to be living very soon whether we like it or not. Designing around big box stores and parking convenience is the wrong approach.

Not to mention—centralizing things incentivizes transit and healthier options like cycling or walking. The recent trend of many young people snatching up homes in the Donovan or West End is obvious (they’re the only homes we can afford), and both of these neighbourhoods are walking distance from downtown and would benefit them greatly. Thanks to some local businesses, those corners of the city are thriving. Kathleen St. was called the hippest corner in the city just last week. Let’s use that momentum and keep the ball rolling.

Barcelona, one of the most densely populated cities.

Say NO to urban sprawl

Sudbury has been blessed with a massive land area, but that doesn’t mean we should continue building outward. Hundreds of amazing cities around the world deal with small square footage and have been highly successful. You don’t need to look far to see examples of this: Montréal and New York City (specifically Manhattan) are on islands, and San Francisco is on a peninsula. All three are densely populated economic and cultural powerhouses. Cities expand and retract. In fact, most of Europe’s cities are shrinking.

We have no immediate plans to grow our population (the data shows it is and will continue to shrink), so designing for this type of growth is not a great idea at the moment.

Place des Arts, Elgin St. Greenway, Laurentian Architecture, Synergy Centre. All downtown. These are very considered moves that will set Sudbury up for success.

Our next move will put us on the map (or not)

It may be difficult to see from within, but as an outsider I can tell that Sudbury is at the cusp of something big. There’s immense potential to redefine and truly become the City of Greater Sudbury, and I hope that the city and council make the best decision for the city’s future. Let’s stick to a vision we can all get behind, not just Zulich and his business partners’.

Please, Mayor Bigger, City Councillors: As members of the community, we entrust you with making these big decisions. That’s why we voted for you in the first place. Don’t let us down.

Proposed downtown arena/events centre.

A strong downtown, arena and event centre in the city core is the best choice for 2017 and beyond. We need to build a city worth sticking around for — not for corporate interests or parking space. A downtown arena means we all win.

Bonus points for anyone who knows what this flag is :-)

Frank is a Product Designer at Headspace. He was previously at Edenspiekermann and co-founded Bureau.

You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.