Sudbury

Cultural strategist aims to make Sudbury's downtown more vibrant

Another 200 page plan for downtown that nobody reads? Not if Jeremy Freiburger has anything to say about it.

'We need a common language for what vibrant means,' cultural strategist says

Another 200 page plan for downtown that nobody reads? Not if Jeremy Freiburger has anything to say about it.

The cultural strategist who leads CoBALT Connects has come to Sudbury, Ont. as part of project aiming to spur economic growth by defining the unique characteristics of the city's neighbourhoods.

The $15,000 project, funded by the Sudbury Business Improvement Association and the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation, has already taken foot in Hamilton, Ont., and hopes to bring some of that city's creative resurgence north to Sudbury.

The key word, says Freiburger, is vibrancy.

A research project will be studying downtown Sudbury to find out what makes it culturally different. The project is called Expressing Vibrancy. Jeremy Frieburger is a cultural strategist. He joined us in studio to talk about the project. 8:29

"We need a common language for what vibrant means," Freiburger says, "and what it means to Sudbury would likely be different from what it means to someone in Hamilton."

To gather the data, Freiburger and his team have taken to the streets.

"In the first phase we took stock of the all downtown streets," says Freiburger, "and counted about 40 different factors to get a baseline of what the neighbourhood is made of."

Freiburger says they considered elements — such as vacant buildings, public art and urban braille — that contribute to the overall look and feel of a neighbourhood.

In the second phase of the project, currently underway, Freiburger's team takes hundreds of citizens through these neighbourhoods and provides standardized questions to measure what they're seeing and how it relates to their overall "feeling."

In the final stage, the team measures subject's brain, heart and skin activity and how it responds to each neighbourhood.

The research then provides data for how people think, feel, and how their body physically reacts in different neighbourhoods.

[Without the numbers] you would have tough time encouraging investment in business-  Jeremy Freiberger, Cultural Strategist with CoBALT Connects

Freiburger says this data can be aligned with tangible factors like public art, vacant buildings or chain-link fences.

Once they have these different data sets, Freiburger says, it makes it much easier for a BIA or a Chamber of Commerce to approach council and make a business case for improvements..  

"[Without the numbers] you would have tough time encouraging investment in business," says Freiburger, "or convincing shops to jazz up their store fronts."

Although the results of the Sudbury research won't be published until the fall, Freiburger says he discovered a "whole mix of things" when he arrived here.

The language in the air is interesting.- Jeremy Freiberger, Cultural Strategist with CoBALT Connects

"The Downtrown BIA is walkable," Freiburger says, "and since I was here last at least six amazing restaurants have opened."

The city still faces some challenges, Freiburger says, as he noticed "anti-pedestrian techniques" such as textured railings and chain-link fences, which may contribute to pedestrians avoiding the area.

Freiburger also says Sudbury's "bilingual-ness" gives the city another unique quality to embrace.

"The language in the air is interesting," he says, "and I want to understand what role this plays in making Sudbury an inviting community."

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