By Jason Menard
To think, just a little while ago there were discussions about a commercial land development freeze. It’s nice to see that Hyde Park’s heating up, but we’re certainly feeling the chill out in the South-Least!
Yes, those of us in the Pond Mills/Glen Cairn and surrounding areas can only shake our collective heads in disbelief as the city’s talking heads lament the saturation of market share in the Southwest and North part of the city, while our neck of the woods gets left out the discussion – again.
Our city planning and commercial development is totally out of whack, choosing to cater to the whims of the more affluent and trendy areas, than servicing regions that are woefully under-served and undervalued.
Southeast London is a wonderfully diverse region filled with people and families that span a myriad of social and cultural spectra. We feature a mix of well-to-do and not-so-well off. There are new families living close by those who have sown family roots in the area over a quarter-century ago.
Yet instead of appreciating our region, new developments – whether they’re cultural or economic – continually head to the same locations. So forgive us if, while you’re debating where to put yet another Wal-Mart or big box store, we come up with a few colourful suggestions as to where to stick it.
The argument can be made that the Southeast end of the city can rightly be called the gateway to London. With easy access to the 401 off of Highbury Ave (the old 126) the area appears to be ripe for exploitation. There’s an existing market clamouring for support, new developments such as Summerside that would relish the idea of local shopping convenience, and even smaller towns such as Dorchester whose residents would appreciate the shorter drive to retail opportunities.
Instead, we’re stuck with an eyesore of a retail space that’s a shopping centre in name only and that’s never given the area an opportunity to prove itself. The east end of Commissioners Road is a hit-and-miss retail environment with no firm anchor to which to tether. If those other regions of the city are too spoiled with riches to welcome a new retail development, then simply ride that gift horse to our neck of the woods – we’ll be glad to find it a home.
In addition to affluent families, the southeast end features a number of families requiring financial assistance. These families would relish the opportunity to have a worthwhile retail opportunity within walking distance. If our vaunted city planners cared to think outside the box a little, they’d see that any commercial development – whether it be a big box store, movie theatre, or even a large-name restaurant – would draw patrons from surrounding regions and stimulate economic growth and development in the area.
In other cities, large-scale retail operations like Costco, IKEA, and Sam’s Club prefer a location next to major highways. Save for the original Costco, all of our big box retailers have been placed in the less-accessible regions of our fair city. And yet an area just minutes from the highway remains neglected.
The concern for our community is that instead of being a place where people stay for generations, it is rapidly becoming just a stepping stone to other areas of the city. Instead of establishing roots, new families are setting up shop for a couple of years, only to move to other better-serviced areas.
The potential is there. New ownership at the Pond Mills Centre and a rezoning of the land on the South East corner of Commissioners and Highbury may mean that development is on its way.
It’s time to start treating the Southeast end of the city more like a gateway to London than its doormat. We need to find an answer to developmental tunnel vision — there’s so much more to London than just Westmount and Masonville.
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