Anyone who has travelled abroad has surely admired the ancient buildings and monuments, the hallmarks of the world’s great cities, and they’ve likely also wondered why our own cities have so few similar sites. The answer’s clear: Gatineau, Ottawa, or Montreal aren’t 500 or 2,000 years old.
Our civic leaders do try to emulate these monuments, try to leave a legacy for future generations. These “legacy projects” seem always to be massive, centralized, and very, very expensive. But they offer advantages to everyone, if we read the promotional literature.
Do they? And, equally important, do these legacy structures actually bring a benefit to the people paying for them (us, the taxpayers) and to the citizens living around them? Are they user-friendly, in other words, friendly to uses by ordinary people, by local teams, local artists, local businesses and community associations?
There is no question that a multi-million dollar building will become some sort of landmark, for better or worse. Some become white elephants, others grow too expensive to maintain or to keep in daily use. Others, like the giant library in Montreal or the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, are well used.
But it seems that often these huge projects are too huge for local benefit. A facility designed for professional sports or for one-off events like the Pan-Am games or the Olympics can grab national headlines (until the next big project is unveiled somewhere else), but who really benefits from them? A training centre for the Senators or national figure skating trials or gymnastics or basketball nationals – these are wonderful for big teams, but what about the families who live a few blocks away? Can they even afford to attend the events there?
Usually the answer is “no” right across the board. These mega-facilities are designed to attract national events and, supposedly for our benefit (since we pay a big chunk of the bill), make it easier to see a NHL game, diving championships or the Juno awards. But do they, really? How many local folks can afford current ticket prices?
The promotional value of these legacy projects is even questionable. Take the biggest sports venue in Ottawa at the moment -- the TD Centre . . . or is the CT Centre . . . or is it still called the Corel Centre? How does something labelled with a national commercial brand promote Ottawa? Does anyone in Montreal know what the TD Centre is – or, more importantly, where it is? The big benefit is to the advertiser. And a TD or Canadian Tire centre could be in any number of cities (and probably is). So how does this help promote our city’s image?
Cities are where people live and work and play. How about a better balance? Shouldn’t the expensive facilities in our cities benefit the people there, first?
(Note: Part 2 next week will look at financing and who benefits from the building of monumental projects. The record is surprising.)