The following article was submitted by the Stratford Market Square committee.
The future of Stratford’s beloved Market Square was on the minds of the nearly 200 citizens who packed a city-sponsored open house several weeks ago. City staff addressed the aging infrastructure, while citizens talked about their vision for the square.
PLANT Architect Inc., the firm that won an international design competition nearly a decade ago, reminded us of their early stage concepts and drawings.
The Stratford Market Square committee reiterated that Stratford needs and deserves a redevelopment project for Market Square that reflects our heritage and speaks to our future. Other communities in North America have vastly improved the life at the core of their cities through projects that have increased pedestrian traffic, attracted new businesses, generated new tax and business revenue, and returned these historic market squares to people-friendly meccas.
The Market Square project currently sits at the top of the city’s priority list, but it is unfunded, except for the time-sensitive WalMart donation of $1.25 million. Our committee doesn’t believe that a lack of funds should stop a planning process that will affect Stratford’s future so dramatically.
This is possibly the most important project Stratford has considered in decades. The time to plan is now.
When the Finance subcommittee brings recommendations to council in the coming weeks, we certainly hope they reflect the following vision and recommendations:
• Market Square should be an aesthetically pleasing, safe, accessible and people-friendly (and bike-friendly) gathering place with room for commerce, the arts, entertainment and families. Cars and buses would be nearby, and plantings and trees would be key features.
• Despite financial constraints, Stratford should aspire to a high quality, even visionary, plan and design for the square, not half-measures like a few barrels of geraniums.
• Whether work starts this year, or five years from now, the city needs to develop an official Market Square redevelopment plan now.
• A community-based advisory committee would ensure public/business input, design integrity and process transparency, and a focus on economic, social and cultural benefits.
• PLANT Architect’s concept can be a starting point so that more citizen input can shape and influence the final design. (NB: PLANT Architect has provided a concept only. This internationally recognized design and architecture consultancy has unique expertise designing large urban spaces like Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto and is willing to develop this concept further with input from citizens and officials. To date, PLANT Architect has contributed tens of thousands of dollars of thinking and design at no cost to Stratford.)
In addition, the city must:
• Confirm that the renewal/redevelopment of Market Square is their top capital project.
• Outline the steps necessary to secure more funding for this project by 2017, when Canada will celebrate its sesquicentennial.
• Even consider selling other assets to move this project forward.
• Develop tangible options for the tricky parking and transit issues associated with this project.
The redevelopment of Stratford’s Market Square speaks volumes about the character of our community and the vision of its citizens. Let’s get it right and let’s start planning now!