In Toronto, organizers are encouraging residents to bring their active imaginations to cultural areas.
“We’re actually rebranding” the downtown core from its “traditional, industrial industrial roots,” said Jennifer Polaski, the president of the Old Brewery Mission.
Touring the Old Brewery Mission, built in 1816 and used as a food bank and shelter, Ms. Polaski explained how the area has been reinvented, and now people are doing more artistic events in the neighborhood to inject life into the area.
Urban planners in Toronto and other cities are working hard to find ways to make these changes happen. Toronto is looking to create four “cultural districts” that will see their own designated lots in the city, designated to either entertainment, sports, heritage, arts or culture.
But the question of who decides what the new area’s cultural area will be has raised questions.
“No one is wanting to talk about arts and culture right now,” Ms. Polaski said.
She herself was excited to bring people to the brewery to “leave the airplane smell behind and meet some friends and listen to a great band or make someone tea.”
“The idea is to increase foot traffic, but people might want to stay longer,” said Susan Miller, the director of smart growth and urban design for Toronto.
But the concept is still just that. No zoning regulations or development has happened yet. And with an estimated budget of $300 million — currently only about one percent of Toronto’s urban infrastructure budget — it is unclear if the city could invest that much into an area.
Chris Elllington, the city councillor for east Toronto, says the districts are still new ideas, and not finished.
“We haven’t dealt with the difficulty of creating zoning regulations and how many can we have?” Mr. Elllington said.
Ottawa has taken a different approach, allowing neighborhoods like the Glebe and the ByWard Market in Ottawa to decide if they want to create more cultural areas.
“Whether you are an industrial, historic or well-organized, creative community, there is a need for more community space,” said Irene Nash, the MPP for Ottawa-Orléans. “The opportunity will exist if there is a need. There has been a lot of grassroots input on what that new space should be.”
“If there is a need, we could probably afford to create a lot more,” Mr. Elllington added.
Ottawa has already created a number of designated areas for different types of cultural institutions, such as Portage and Main and the National Arts Centre.
“We have the National Gallery of Canada. We have the National Theatre, which doesn’t have to be subsidized. There are museums around the city that can actually be free,” Ms. Nash said.
She hopes the district is what the heart of the city needs.
In Toronto, like in many other major cities, culture has become a partisan issue. For them, it’s often, an issue of cultural identity and city pride. For others, such as Ms. Polaski, it’s a question of money.
“I’m a geek. I’m a believer in libraries,” Ms. Polaski said. “I don’t know how I’m going to have a library in the arts district.”