Thunder Bay downtowns need residential development: report

If Thunder Bay wants its downtown to be vibrant and bustling, it will have to invest, a new study says.
The award-winning Gathering Circle, an open-air pavilion at Prince Arthur's Landing is part of the city's success in refreshing the waterfront. But more needs to be done to get people living downtown, a researcher suggests.(Brook McIlroy and Ryan Gorrie.)

If Thunder Bay wants its downtown to be vibrant and bustling, it will have to invest, a new study says.

Written by the Canadian Urban Institute, the report examines efforts to revitalize downtown cores in northern Ontario cities, including Thunder Bay. 

Author Glenn Miller said Thunder Bay's two cores do reasonably well, but there's plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to residential development.

Canadian Urban Institute researcher Glenn Miller says more investment in downtowns will pay off for cities like Thunder Bay. (Supplied)

"There's still a perception of … lack of safety,” he said.

“So, when you're able to create the conditions that will attract people to live there, that provides more activity, which is going to have a beneficial impact on the sense of public safety."

Miller said it’s encouraging to see downtown projects like Thunder Bay's waterfront development, but more investment is needed.

"I think Thunder Bay should be proud of its accomplishments,” he said.

“One of the measures we look at is — is there a vision for the downtown? And I think in this case, because there are two downtowns, it's slightly more complex. But I think the answer is a positive one."

He says Thunder Bay's two downtowns are performing "reasonably well." One of the strengths is that the city has a clear vision for each downtown.

Development breeds development

Thunder Bay's two downtown cores (north core pictured here) need more development to encourage people to live in the areas, a Canadian Urban Institute researcher says. (Google)

Miller said it’s also encouraging to see plans for the event centre, and the new hotel at the waterfront.

He noted it would be good to get more people living in the downtowns.

Investing in development breeds development, Miller added. The more downtown areas are built up, the more vibrant they will be.  

"So if you have more employment downtown, that's going to create a market for cafes and restaurants,” he said.

“And the more residential development that you can get, you're going to attract grocery stores. And then you create a situation where people actually want to be there."

So far, the institute has published 17 case studies from cities across Canada. 

In the recent study of northern cities, they wanted to see in particular how urban cores can help with revitalization, and retaining young people. Funding for the study of northern cities was provided by Ontario’s Trillium Foundation.

They assessed downtowns based on the principles of "visibility, visionary, prosperity, livability, and strategy."


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