It is an exciting time for London. We’re building the plan that will steer our city’s development for the next 20 years: how we embrace and celebrate our diversity, grow our economy, strengthen our neighbourhoods.
The draft version of the London Plan ( available at http://thelondonplan.ca/) includes a focus on placemaking, places like Wortley Village and Richmond Row among others. It talks about the idea of these main street as “cherished historical business areas”, and that they are important in defining our identity as a city. I agree with the idea, but I think they’ve come up short in its application.
One of London’s best kept secret is the wonderful and vibrant community of South London. If you take a walk Down Jalna boulevard, you’ll find healthy and friendly neighbourhoods that are all connected to a beautiful pedestrian highway, the White Oaks Optimist Park. Beside the park is the South London Community centre, the Jalna Library, the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre and the South London pool. It’s one of the best places in the city. But to the London Plan so far, it’s nothing but a retail area. It doesn’t have a main street, but it needs one.
The area directly around White Oaks Mall is designated as a “Transit village”, and that’s definitely needed. What’s also needed is a space that is designed to become a main street, a plan that allows for the creation of a public commercial space for small businesses that creates the same atmosphere that SoHo or downtown or Lambeth have.
The challenge is that there currently isn’t a suitable area for a main street, but that’s a challenge that our city planners can find a creative answer to. Instead of focusing on a straight thoroughfare as a main street, why not take an underutilized commercial area and create a commons? As an example, look at the southern side of the intersection of Ernest and Bradley. The rundown, nondescript commercial plazas on both sides of Ernest that constantly struggle to find and keep tenants could be replaced with a distinctive community building design with a public square in the middle. There are several locations like this in South London that could blossom into a truly spectacular main street, but it won’t happen by accident.
When we recognize the vibrant, mutlicultural nature of the community of South London, it becomes clear that it deserves to have it’s own distinct identity. It needs a place to grow it’s history as the city grows over the next 20 years. And the residents of South London need their city councillor to speak up and champion their great neighbourhood to ensure that the London Plan will work for them, to help their community reach it’s full potential.