A Time and Place for Donuts

Wherever you live in Oakville, you have a stake in downtown’s success.

In front of a closed store in Downtown Oakville
A Time and Place for Donuts
Kerr Street Cafe
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About the Author

Linda Nazareth

Linda Nazareth

An economist, author and broadcaster, Linda is also the Senior Fellow for Economics and Population Change at think tank The Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Linda lives in Oakville with her husband and daughter. She campaigned in the 2014 Municipal Election for Ward 5.

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No matter what our politics, here is something Canadians seem able to agree on: we love donuts. And that makes perfect sense, especially if we are talking about adding a double-double on the side. What I personally do not love, however, is the threat of a donut-shaped city development model when we are talking about Oakville.

The concept of a ‘donut’ type city is an easy one to understand, referring as it does to a center with a hollowed out, vacant downtown surrounded by thriving suburbs. These days Detroit is probably the poster-child for that kind of model, but in fact donut-type cities are getting harder to find. Boosted by aggressive building and development plans, most North American downtowns look better than they did a decade ago. The same cannot be said for small town development though – and I shudder to think that Oakville could become an example of that trend.

Oakville’s downtown does boast streets full of new construction, and there are always new stores opening. The flip side, however, is that the new stores cannot keep pace with the old ones that are shuttering up. Walking downtown these days is an exercise in something between wistfulness and wonder as old stores disappear and relatively new ones do as well.

Wherever you live in Oakville, you have a stake in downtown’s success. Property values in our town are tied to the entire ‘Oakville way of life’,  we are part of a postcard-pretty, thriving little community (even if it is bigger than it used to be). If we let our downtown lose more ground – and there are whispers of a spate of retail closures to take place in 2015 – then everyone’s holdings will suffer. Aside from the fact that it will be a tragedy, of a sort.

Of course, there will always be businesses that over-estimate potential, coming and going. What we have in Oakville these days is a host of problems ranging from expensive parking through to the aftermath of a long recession (which, by the way, has officially been over for more than five years). There are more changes to come as well, ranging from higher electricity costs through to budget conscious boomers who will want to spend less as they age. A challenging era is ahead.

We are in a different economy than we were a decade ago, and we need different policies and a different mix of retail than we did before. We also need municipal politicians that can understand the bigger picture of the new competitive environment, and shape a business strategy for Oakville that is cognizant of it.

Avoiding a donut shaped city should be top of agenda for our next town council. It is time for everyone to put down their coffee and their baked goods and get to work.

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