Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Dundas Street comes to life (hopefully)

Reflecting on downtown's future
London, ON
December 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
#LdnONT isn't unique: As in so many other cities, the downtown core here has been on its heels for so long that the only happy memories are found in gauzy monochrome pictures from decades ago.

Dundas Street runs east-west through the heart of downtown, and has long epitomized the slow, ugly decline of the area. Dundas Place is nothing less than the city's Hail Mary pass to save the very soul of of this neighborhood. It's a major reconstruction program designed to fully replace crumbling, century-old infrastructure below ground, and rebuild a flexible streetscape on top of it.

So-called flex streets have been built elsewhere, and the theory is they allow the road to serve as a conventional thoroughfare most of the time, and a pedestrian-only area for active civic programming at other times.

After two hard years of construction, the city finally declared the street open this week. A few hours after our mayor installed the ceremonial final brick, I found myself on Dundas as I headed home.

I wasn't alone, but the throngs of shoppers who would conceivably save the businesses on this street were nowhere to be seen. A few pedestrians rushed, like me, to be somewhere else. If you looked hard enough into alleys and papered-over storefronts, London's burgeoning homeless population snapped into focus.

This street, already pockmarked with empty stores before construction began, suffered even more as a number of stalwarts simply couldn't survive. The fancy brickwork and stainless steel fixtures didn't come soon enough for them.

Civic renewal is never easy. No one solution appeals to all. And not everyone will survive the transition. But for now, at least, there's a flicker of hope in a place that, for as long as I can remember, hasn't had much reason to cheer.

I can't wait to see who comes back to this storied place, and what they plan to offer up when they do.

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