SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
PEC Council recently endorsed Base31’s Neighbourhood Plan. It describes our plans for the redevelopment of the Base over the next 30 years as a constellation of distinct villages surrounding a revitalization district where heritage buildings and mixed-use development will combine to create a dynamic cultural and commercial hub.
The villages will be separated by “green fingers” — spaces for recreation, walking and bike paths, community gardens and the preservation of natural heritage.
As Base31 evolves, we are determined to provide housing solutions to meet the needs of a wide range of income levels, ages, and life stages. We will help to build a stronger four-season economy in the County, which means creating jobs.
Over the past 18 months, as we have engaged the County in conversations about the future of Base31, we have learned people want human-scaled neighbourhoods, a return to communities with deep connections, and a mix of uses that celebrate heritage and embrace the sense of place.
For centuries, we knew how to build towns and cities that were walkable, and full of charm and character. In the 1970’s and 80’s, a group of city-builders recognized a growing amount of blight and ‘placelessness’. They started a movement called “new urbanism” to address it.
New urbanists pointed to the dominance of the car, utilitarian approaches, and a lack of coordination in urban planning and development. Counteracting these forces required a more intentional approach. The idea of “placemaking” comes of this intention.
In 2006, I coined the term “creative placemaking:” engaging arts and culture to catalyze positive change in urban and community development. As then CEO of Artscape, my team and I learned valuable lessons about the power of arts and culture to transform derelict places into thriving ones.
We were not just engaging in placemaking in a creative way. We were developing a body of knowledge about how creative assets can be activated to advance the interests of an entire community.
When we delved deeply into what makes a place successful, we realized it is not just the bricks and mortar, or design and layout. It is intangible things — the story of a place, and the look, feel and experience of it. A significant part of the value of real estate hinges on intangible things.
In 2003, just after having helped to re-open Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, my colleagues and I hosted an international conference which attracted luminaries from cities and towns around the world, including the late great Jane Jacobs, to share their knowledge about the role of arts and culture in building healthy, vibrant and resilient communities.
In the audience at that event was PEC’s then Manager of Economic Development, Dan Taylor. He was inspired by what he heard. He saw an opportunity to explore some of what he had learned back at home. This led to the creation of PEC’s Creative Rural Economy Strategy as well as the Arts and Culinary Trails. It also set the stage for the emergence of PEC as “The County.” That helped make it one of the world’s most successful examples of creative placemaking in a rural context.
A placemaking approach puts storytelling at the centre. Whether that involves telling stories about the military or indigenous histories of the land, there are endless opportunities to interpret the site through the adaptive re-use of historic buildings, landscape transformation, public art, site tours and other forms of programming on our stages and exhibition halls.
Placemaking prioritizes the connectivity of the site; the relationships of parks, squares and public spaces; and the curation and interplay of retail and other commercial uses. This multi-layered work allows us to continue to shape the experience of Base31 over time, so that the diversity and dynamism of the project grows and evolves from year to year.
It is important to say that creative placemaking is not something you do on your own. Given the size of the area we are building, we knew that the process of revitalizing it would need to be iterative and rooted in partnerships. We also knew that The County is loaded with creative talent, so we started by inviting the community to help co-create the future of Base31. Very quickly we have become engaged in more than 150 partnerships, collaborations and community investments and there will be many more to come.
The placemaking imperative that our partnership has embraced is not limited to the 70-acre Base31 Revitalization Area but extends to the larger 750-acre site that will be developed over the coming decades. So far, thousands of County residents have been engaged through workshops, round table discussions, a community Idea Fair and surveys, which have helped shape our Neighbourhood Plan. In the coming years, we look forward to continuing to engage with the community as the specifics of our plans on housing, sustainability, servicing, transportation and other matters are further refined. We believe that by working together, we will transform Base31 into a truly exceptional place that becomes an authentic reflection of the County by virtue of the creative placemaking process used to create it.