Opinion: Keep Pedestrian Mall

By John Swartz

The City wants some feedback by online survey about the creation of a pedestrian mall downtown on weekends. Here are some quick notes.

Friday night was one of the most enjoyable times I think I’ve spent downtown. It was the beginning of the weekend which in any other year would have been Starry Night.

Mississaga Street was closed and so was the Arts District. Tables on the street at restaurants were full. The Arts District was buzzing with more artists and other people wandering than previous weekends of the experiment to jolt the local economy back to life.

Each weekend since mid July people took advantage of the opportunity to leave home and do something, whether it was eat, check out what artists have created, or spin the wheel and see those who haven’t been seen for months for a bit of catch up – all possible without being crammed into a space not recommended by authorities during the effort to control the pandemic.

In short, the experiment was a success of great importance, greater than may at first be apparent.  It’s not just eating something different other than leftovers dubiously prepared. It’s not just shopping or browsing at the few stores with the wisdom to stay open and take advantage of having people in greater numbers pass by their shops. It’s not checking out the arts scene.

In case no one noticed, there isn’t anything else to do on a weekend, or any other day of the week. We need to get out. We need to be with other people. The City’s objective to help out the restaurants as stated in press releases (the project is called See You On the Patio) filled a number of other needs which they missed including as objectives as originally proposed and are just as important.

It’s the social aspect. Listening to live music. Chatting with Jimmy and John who haven’t been seen in months, or Cory and Sarah, or Al and Chris you haven’t seen in a year or more, or simply with Paul and Carol, Ted and Alice because it’s been a couple weeks.  It’s getting out and doing something like participating in a learn to paint workshop as happened Friday night. The handshakes, hugs, and being close enough to actually hear properly what is being said through masks are inconveniences, but much better than the alternative.

Each weekend more people than previous and different people have spent an evening on a Friday or Saturday doing the things we used to take for granted. Even though the smiles on many were not visible, the eyes tell the tale, people were happy to see and be seen.

I took an informal poll and asked people what they thought of the street closing. One hundred percent positive. I asked if they thought it should continue after the last scheduled Labour Day weekend closing and use up the remaining nice weather in September. Again, 100% in favour. A few said it should happen every year and it’s long overdue.

There are two survey’s to fill out, and you should because Orillia council needs data. It’s not enough for councillors to observe, as many have done, or to get a verbal message. Report writers need to tag some numbers. If you are business owner fill out this one, if you were a patron fill out this one.

Note, on the patron survey I encounter a glitch for the 6th question, it wouldn’t allow selecting completely agree (aside for asking two questions and wanting one answer), and on the second page of the survey there is no choice to select SUNonline/Orillia or our colleagues who are only online, so if you heard about the mall here you can’t tell them so.

James Gray

There is room for comments. Mine is, do it all weekend every weekend from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving – daytime included. If I were a business/restaurant owner it would be a lot better not to tear down each night only to set it all up again the next evening.  More live music would be good too.

We have a propensity here to only do half measures with great ideas. It’s like having a fall fair with all the produce, animals and skill competitions, making it a carnival is better. For the few merchants who fear losing a parking space for customers (hence not doing it all day), it’s like being a kid stand at the edge of the pool and having apprehension about jumping in, once done the fear is forgotten and fun ensues. I think what was done was excellent, it just could have been structured in a more complete way by having the mall all weekend.

Finally, don’t waste September, extend the mall for the month and to Thanksgiving. Everyone I spoke with wanted this.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


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