Fredericton's Capital Exhibit centre's future is uncertain, but one urban researcher believes it could serve a greater purpose for the city.
"It has a lot of historic relevance … we can look at that and say, 'OK, maybe it's important to our community in a different way now.' It's about giving back to the community," said urban researcher Gracen Johnson.
The centre is used for events such as the Fredericton Expo, Rib Fest and the Video Game Expo. But large parts of the year it is left unused.
"When we look at the Ex centre now, it's not necessarily uplifting the value of everything around it, it's kind of an eyesore because of the parking lot. It's also something being under-utilized all year round," said Johnson.
It is widely recognized as the large parking lot the Smythe Street Tim Hortons is located in.
"Right now there's excellent events taking place at the Ex Centre for most of the year … but that parking lot basically serves as a human experiment — what are the limits of people waiting in a drive through for Tim Hortons?"
Johnson said the giant space is in a desirable part of the city and could be used to serve it better.
"There are other uses that we can adapt with over the years. An interesting example is exploring the idea of urban farming there."
"In Vancouver, where land values are much, much higher, they can still manage to have urban gardening … with raised beds that can be fork-lifted to a different area when you need to," she said.
Johnson also said the idea of using the parking lot as an extension of the cultural centre's new cultural market on the weekends is another way to provide a benefit to the city.
"Create pop-up stands, basically what you have at the farmer's market … as long as we are thinking about how we can make this space a good neighbour for everyone around it then I think it will be going in a positive direction."
Residential use not advised
She also advises against the use of the land for residential purposes. But, if the city decides to go in that direction, design should be the number one priority.
"Urban design does change the experience of living. We are sacrificing a public space then we need to say no to stuff that is not good."
"I think design needs to be a foremost priority. We could end up with something that is not a whole lot better than an empty parking lot," she said.
Johnson would also like to see a more open and accessible method of discussing the future of large, community spaces in order to serve those who use it most.
"I don't think there's ever going to be an easy way forward. We can also assess how our values have changed as a community. We could find that people care about the exhibition place more now than they ever did before."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Gracen Johnson is an urban planner. Johnson is a researcher of urban planning, with a Masters of Philosophy in planning, growth, and regeneration from the University of Cambridge.Mar 29, 2016 3:54 PM AT