As part of the Strengthening Neighbourhoods Strategy underway in the city, neighbourhoods were invited to apply for funding from the City of London to assist in developing local Walk to Shop initiatives. The Old East Village Community Association, in partnership with the Old East Village Business Improvement Area, is one of three successful applicants. Our grant from the city has been supplemented by two generous cash donations from merchants on the corridor and significant donations-in-kind from the Association and the BIA.
The money is to be used to encourage residents to shop locally and to highlight the options available to us within walking distance. While the focus is thus to help to deliver local folks to local merchants – not to promote local merchants to markets outside of the neighbourhood – it has always been clear to us that the prospects for both residents and merchants are improved when relationships are nurtured between them.
The commercial corridor that runs along Dundas Street has always been a strategic asset of the neighbourhood. The Revitalization Plan currently underway along Dundas Street (currently in its second iteration) has been celebrated nationally for the progress it is making but bringing commercial corridors back to life, especially secondary corridors in the downtowns of larger Canadian and American cities, is complex work that takes years to accomplish. Though Dundas Street East remains in transition, there are many good options available to us – especially in the arts and culture sector, with a number of top notch venues in the performance arts, and in the food sector, with the successful Western Fair Farmer’s Market going a long way towards addressing the status of Old East as a food desert, and a number of very good restaurants and cafes.
The Walk to Shop strategy we are working on has three inter-related parts to it.
First, we will be working with the local business community, including with those residents operating home-based businesses, to develop a local business directory, to be distributed through our community newsletter, the Old East Village News, hand-delivered five times per year to the nearly 2,000 residences in the neighbourhood.
Second, we are going to design a Scavenger Hunt that will take place over the next several months to bring as many local residents into as many local businesses as we can. At the end of the day, the best we can do is to get as many residents as possible into the stores along Dundas Street. After that, it’s up to the merchants themselves to give us a reason to come back.
The largest and most difficult portion of our strategy will involve a local wayfinding system along our neighbourhood streets and along the corridor. Wayfinding, for our purposes, refers to artistic signage that will act as visual cues for residents to the proximity of local shopping options, as measured by walking time. The mapping of neighbourhood walking times from a myriad of points to various categories of shopping options along the corridor will be translated into wayfinding symbols to act not only as markers but as visual cues reinforcing a local shopping ethic in Old East Village. Old East walks, certainly more than most other neighbourhoods in the city. We want to explore the use of symbols in influencing behaviour.
There are benefits to the wayfinding program over and above bringing residents into local businesses, though this is important. The program will establish the neighbourhood as one engaged in reclaiming the corridor for its own use. New businesses are obviously interested in the strength of the local consumer market available to them as they work their way through the business planning process, and a neighbourhood that votes with its feet will make attracting the kinds of new businesses we wish to see that much easier.
We intend to work our way through designing and implementing the strategy in the most collaborative way possible. We hope that local residents and especially local merchants will get involved early.