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Councillor wants city to enhance city features using 'placemaking' projects

'It essentially makes a community novel and unique,' says councillor Scott Hamilton of creating memorable public spaces
The Park Hill Road bridge and dam in the area where Surf Cambridge is hoping to install a permanent surf wave.

A local councillor wants to enhance Cambridge's uniqueness and novelty by increasing placemaking projects around the city.

The motion was brought to a recent council meeting by Coun. Scott Hamilton, who pitched the idea to his peers and residents. 

"Cambridge is experiencing rapid growth, 65,000 in new people in the next 30 years," he said. "I grew up in a small town and eventually found myself living in London, England. It has incredible placemaking. It essentially makes a community novel and unique and gives ... features that can be accessed by the public. People want to travel to the city to experience these places."

Placemaking, Hamilton said, adds a sense of community and home.

"With Cambridge developing and growing so quickly and substantively, it's time for us to start asking what kind of Cambridge we want to see in two years," he said. "What can we build today that can still be around 20 years? What are we going to build as council so that 20 or 30 years from now residents will come to the city to embrace our mode of life?"

Hamilton wasn't all talk, he also had some ideas around what placemaking projects could be introduced in Cambridge.

"One idea that can be useful to the business community is already popular in many areas in London (England)," he said. "Shipping containers stacked on top of one anothers called box parks so vendors could put their small-scale stores there and sell goods from there. These can be set up on brownfield sites and can be very unique.  

"We have tremendous beauty being on the river," Hamilton continued. "Is there any way to improve river paths in Cambridge? We could work with the First Nations on this. If you're biking on the Speed River and heading south down along the Grand (River) and you get to the Park Hill Bridge and the paths just stop. How come we're not working on developing river paths? Why not look into setting up small-scale patios on those? In Amsterdam or Paris, you find that all the time. It creates an atmosphere of enjoyment and celebration."

Another idea, he said, would be introduction of video screens somewhere in the city.

"I have fond memories of attending the 2019 Raptors game at city hall," Hamilton said. "What about a more permanent movie screen? Setting up pianos or musical instruments around the city that could be played?"

One of his personal favourites, he said, is the idea of putting a surf wave in the Grand River.

Andrea Hoba, director, Surf Cambridge said that would definitely work as a placemaking project. 

And it's been demonstrated at least once, she said.

"We've also been doing the Making Waves Festival before COVID," Hoba said. "In 2019, they had close to 1,000 people participate in both on-water and land events." 

The group, she said, wants to build an adjustable wave to go in below the Park Hill Bridge. 

"You could set the wave so it wouldn't be on all night. It could be shut down at a certain time," Hoba said. "It would be a spot where surfers and kayakers could play in the wave." 

She said currently there isn't a spot in Southwestern Ontario for whitewater kayaking, enthusiasts have to go to Minden or Ottawa.

"Park Hill has a wave for a short duration (usually after a flood or a deluge in the spring or fall) and it's kind of scary for those of us not so skilled," Hoba said, adding, creating an artificial wave would make it a safer spot for all.

And it will be a true tourist attraction, she said.

"Just think about it this way, if you have people doing tricks on the water, what a boon it would be for the community," Hoba said. "People would walk down to the water, watch the kayakers, have a Freezie or ice cream cone and go for dinner later. Kayakers are also notorious for going out afterwards for dinner and drinks." 

Hamilton's motion had full support from other council members.

"Our market is also an example," said Coun. Pam Wolf. "Many of our good ideas in placemaking come from citizens or the private sector. They're not necessarily staff generated. There are so many great groups out there that are willing and able to bring them forward to our city. I look forward to engaging the community, finding out all the different ideas and seeing what we can do throughout the city."

Deputy mayor Mike Mann concurred.

"Maybe as we look at this we can do an inventory of some of the placemaking projects we already have," he said. "Once we get through the pandemic we'll have far more opportunity to enjoy some of the things we haven't gotten to."

Hamilton agreed with his peers and added he wasn't trying put all responsibility on staff.

"This just asks staff to look into the creative ideas of placemaking and to explore them," he said. "Some of these might work, none of them might work, but we should get excited as a city for the amount of potential we have. It's a strategic investment in the welfare of our community. It's also a sense of optimism and enjoyment of our city we can all share."