County collects feedback from residents about Simcoe's core
Norfolk County Councillor Peter Black (centre) talks with people participating in an Imagination Walk on Saturday as the county sought ideas from citizens on how to improve Simcoe's downtown. Brian Thompson/Brantford Expositor/Postmedia Network
About two-dozen residents from various backgrounds gave Norfolk County officials their impressions of the present and hoped-for future of Simcoe’s downtown in an Imagination Walk on the weekend.
First, they gathered in a room at the Norfolk County Library Simcoe branch and listened to presentations from Shannon VanDalen, the county’s principal planner, and library CEO Heather King about the main points of the downtown’s history and present circumstances, and how there is a desire to improve it.
After they spoke, each participant in the walk gave a commentary on likes and concerns about the core, then they all headed out for a stroll and wrote their impressions on a feedback sheet.
VanDalen explained that the county is looking at establishing a downtown Simcoe secondary plan that will allow officials to guide improvements.
“How do we celebrate our community? Simcoe has a lot of history and a lot of the architecture is still there and is worth preserving, but some the commercial area is not there anymore,” she said.
“We’d like to hear how easy is it to get around and what opportunities are there to build beautifully. Meanwhile, new building should reflect the heritage that is already there.”
In their commentaries, several pointed out that they found the core intimidating, unfriendly looking, even “scary.”
Wayne and Sandra Pearce said they moved to Simcoe to find again the small-town atmosphere they felt they had lost in Paris, Ontario, due to a wave of development gripping the area in which they lived.
“We lived in Paris for 18 years and it’s not the Paris we’re used to,” said Wayne.
He and Sandra said they would like Simcoe to maintain its charm as it goes through a renewal.
Judy Misner said she was born in Simcoe and has lived here for 71 years. She talked about the hospital block and how people in that era co-operated to build the survey it’s in.
“We need to work on more cosiness.”
She also said improvements in the core can be achieved through simple things, such as when she called to get a mattress removed that sat out front of the town hall for weeks.
“We need to work on recycling boxes and things that bring general cosiness and cleanliness,” she said.
“And we need more benches for people to sit on downtown.”
Diane Luke said as planners consider renewing the core, their efforts should focus on making it a destination place.
Joan Good said she would prefer to have the architecture acquire a more unified look, she would like to see more outdoor seating, and use park-like areas to greater advantage.
“And bring the swans back,” she said.
Sandra Turnecliff said she finds the core daunting.
“I don’t like going downtown. And I won’t let these two go there,” she added, motioning to her son, Connor, and daughter, Claire.
“I feel there are a lot of things that need to be done to make the place better, such as having a destination theme,” said Connor.
“The downtown needs a lot of work. It’s kind of scary,” said Claire.
“I’m going to be blunt. This town has lost its identity,” said Daniel Pearce, who retired more than a year ago after a long career as a journalist with the Simcoe Reformer.
Along with the loss of identity, he said the trails and park system are not properly connected and a planned pedestrian bridge was not built, he said.
“We need to create more of a walking environment.”
Saturday’s walk was the second of two planned excursions. A first one was held last Wednesday, when 38 people turned out.
“It was what we wanted to see happen, all those voices from different walks of life,” said King.
The Imagination Walk originated in Norfolk’s heritage and culture division, planning and the Norfolk County Public Library. The comment sheets will be collected and analyzed and a report on the results will be prepared shortly.