This week, the Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority accepted proposals for the development of downtown Sydney and Glace Bay. With the loss of our industrial bases of coal mining and steel making, the economy of what was once Industrial Cape Breton has fallen into serious decline. And nowhere is this more evident than in the sagging downtown areas of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Call Centres certainly provide a boost by way of much needed jobs, but generally only make use of one property each. The jobs they provide could be a factor in revitalizing the economy, but our downtown areas need a lot more attention than the introduction of another single industry upon which to hang our hopes for a better place to live. A plan needs to be developed that plots a clear course from the current, critical condition of the region’s downtown cores to an environment of activity and opportunity.
A successful downtown development plan has to consider new and innovative ways to bring the main streets of our communities back to life. We almost had a University in downtown Sydney, but it got relocated to its present site along the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway. Now that would have been a great asset to have downtown, to bolster the downtown economy and add some life and atmosphere to the area, not to mention a critical mass of people. It’s too late to move the University again, but maybe consideration could be given to moving some of the Nova Scotia Community College into downtown digs. Most appropriate would be arts-oriented programs and information technology programs. Downtown is a logical choice to be developed as a center for the arts. There is plenty of evidence in Government’s own reports that a strong arts and culture sector could be the impetus to spark economic renewal. Government needs to see arts and culture funding as the investment that it is rather than as the handout that they use to excuse their lack of funding.
There must be a clear vision for the future in any development proposal and with traditional industries fallen by the wayside, a new focus is needed. That focus should be the arts. Culture and entertainment draws people to Cape Breton Island as much as the scenery. It’s the people, say so many tourists. Developing downtown with a strong focus on arts and culture and entertainment – by establishing the investment programs, putting the infrastructure in place to support the sector’s growth and having faith that if you build it, they will come – is one option that should be fully explored as we are faced with this once in a lifetime opportunity to build a better world in which to live.