A big thank you to the Oakville Symphony Youth String Quartet.
The youth part of the string quartet is a fitting symbol of why we are gathered here tonight. If we can create and make a dream come true for our downtown’s future, we can enjoy it now and future generations will thank us later.
I want to thank town staff who have worked so hard under the direction of Commissioners Jane Clohecy and Colleen Bell to organize tonight’s event.
Members of Council, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, a once in a life time opportunity to do urgent and important work is upon us.
We are at an important and exciting time in Oakville’s history. We have big decisions ahead of us: decisions that will shape our future to become Canada’s most livable town. In my career in film and television and creating and launching YTV, it became clear to me that success in business, in sports, in life, goes to those who work as hard as they can with all their creativity and imagination.
This kind of effort only comes from fully engaged people. Fortunately, Oakville is home to abundantly engaged, creative and imaginative people. Your presence here tonight confirms that.
The great urban planner Jane Jacobs once said: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they are created by everybody.”
She would be pleased with our gathering here tonight. She would agree with our sense of Oakville as an incredibly livable place. She would like the way we say Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and feels like a village. The crown jewel of our town is our downtown. We have an opportunity to make it shine brighter for everyone.
We have the opportunity to reimagine how it works as a cultural hub. We have the opportunity to reimagine how it works as a commercial and residential area. We can even reassess how we travel and park within it. The reason we need to do these things now is we must rebuild Lakeshore Road in the village. The foundations of the road are passing their end of life.
After we do the road work, it will be another 50 years before we will have the chance to re-imagine our downtown again. From many discussions with residents throughout our town, it’s clear that everyone welcomes this opportunity. The only worry is if we could afford it. Now, the amount of funding we need will depend on the vision we create.
Your Council and your staff have proven very able at doing more than you thought possible with smaller than you might expect increases. We will fund the vision we create without undue use of taxes. Your town council and I have operated that way together ever since I became your Mayor in late 2006. We’ve made a big difference. You could think of our tax record as “7-5-3”.
From 2002 to 2006, the total property tax levy increased an average of 7% a year. In my first term as mayor, it was 5%. This term, it’s less than 3% a year. This year’s tax increase was only 1.6%. Next year’s will be 1.3% - or less. People like the way we didn't have to cut our valued police, town and region services to achieve our 7%-5%-3% direction.
In the same time period, we’ve added facilities we went without for too long. We added 800,000 square feet of new community facilities to the 2006 total of 1.1 million. We will carry the cost of our donation in 2015 to the cost of our new Hospital with new non-tax revenues. We’ve shown that you can trust us to do big things while minimizing tax increases.
We fully intend to keep this track record going with our downtown.
We’ll explore all types of funding. Philanthropic. Federal and provincial funding. Public-private partnerships. The other question is how much time do we have to create our vision. We need to be shovel ready for infrastructure grants for the 2017 celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation.
As it stands, downtown Oakville is a more vibrant cultural, commercial and residential area than it’s ever been. Can it stay successful? Can it be more successful? These are the questions we have the opportunity to answer. We must ensure it continues to be a place that inspires us, connects us, protects our past, and provides for our future.
We are setting the stage for intensive community engagement on one of the most creative, inclusive and compelling projects in Oakville’s history. Creating our new Downtown Plan has two major parts. We’ll do them together. The Downtown Cultural Hub Study is one. The Transportation and Streetscape Study is the other. They’ll feed into each other.
Now you may think the word “study” is a less than impressive word. But in town planning, the word “study” means more than you may think. It’s the assembly of the evidence that is the foundation on which we base our laws and our spending. So this is the time to use your creativity and imagination. What is possible for our downtown as a set of streets for business and as a set of spaces for culture?
We’re here to aim high. Let’s keep in mind the words of the urban designer Daniel Burnham: “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir anyone's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”