Downtown Revitalization Strategies in Ontario's Mid-Sized Cities: A Web-Survey and Case Study
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This study and research was conducted to understand the myriad tools utilized as part of downtown revitalization plans, strategies or efforts in Ontario’s mid-sized cities, what impacts municipalities are seeking in their downtown revitalization plans, strategies or efforts, and the implications for planning theory and practice. This study and research involved a mixed methods research strategy – known as triangulation- which included a literature review, a web-survey directed to municipal staff within each of Ontario’s mid-sized cities, and a case study of London Ontario’s downtown revitalization strategy. The findings of this study and research indicate that traditional revitalization tools are still favoured in Ontario’s mid-sized cities. Further, marketing and quality of life tools are highly used by municipalities in downtown revitalization. Municipalities appear to be tailoring their downtown revitalization programs or efforts to stimulate business, and are increasingly taking an entrepreneurial, business-like approach to revitalization city centres. Transportation featured prominently in downtown revitalization efforts within Ontario’s mid-sized cities. Parking in particular, was an element that was planned for as part of downtown revitalization. Finally, stimulating the local downtown housing market was of primary importance to Ontario’s mid-sized cities. The literature consistently notes the extreme importance of housing as a downtown revitalization strategy over time. It appears that Ontario’s mid-sized cities prescribe to the theory that downtowns cannot truly function and become centres with strong retail markets, and activity hubs with synergistic uses within proximity without housing. Further, Ontario’s mid-sized cities appear to be increasingly seeking to stimulate the private sector in constructing housing. “Increase Residential Population” and “Increase General Activity” are the most prevalent objectives of downtown revitalization in Ontario’s mid-sized cities. Given that the top-three objectives of the web-survey were increasing population within the downtown, increasing general activity within the downtown, and increasing employment within the downtown, a combination of objectives which are multi-dimensional, it appears that mid-sized municipalities are seeking multi-dimensional downtowns, with particular attention paid to increasing population levels. The web-survey and case study did not concretely confirm or deny the literature with regard to monitoring and evaluation. However, the web-survey and case study do suggest that plan evaluation is not a particularly robust element of downtown revitalization efforts in Ontario’s mid-sized cities. Recommendations based on the findings of this research are provided for municipalities, planning practitioners and academics. This research contributes to the limited but expanding literature on mid-sized cities, downtown revitalization of mid-sized cities, as well as monitoring and evaluation techniques and concepts for mid-sized cities to consider. Recommendations for further research are also provided.