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NRU talks to Whitby’s new mayor - Making destination downtowns

Dec. 10, 2014
By Leah Wong

Mayor Don Mitchell wants to make both Whitby’s downtowns destinations for residents and visitors. He told NRU the established downtowns in Whitby and Brooklin have great potential for improvement and revitalization.

“They’re genuine and authentic. They’re real downtowns,” said Mitchell. “We have an opportunity, if we take hold of it, to become a destination for seniors and singles, young professionals and tourists. That will generate a lot of activity and prosperity into our town.”

Mitchell has served on Whitby council-first as a local councillor and later a regional councillor-for 20 years and in the previous term served as deputy mayor. Though he officially took office on December 1, he had been serving as acting mayor since October 15 when former mayor Pat Perkins resigned to stand for election in the Oshawa-Whitby federal by-election.

Throughout his campaign Mitchell said he heard residents from all across town talk about how important the downtowns are to Whitby. He said the town can control the quality of its design and make the downtowns exciting and interesting places to be.

“I want to build a town where we can get more balance, more completeness and more prosperity, [to create] a more dynamic and interesting place to live and visit,” said Mitchell. Continuing to improve Whitby’s downtowns could develop a more creative environment that attracts more people to choose the town as their home.

“There is a strong trend towards people wanting to be in an exciting and interesting area,” said Mitchell. “It seems pretty clear now, if you follow Richard Florida and others, that picking your place to live is now the top priority of a lot of people.”

Whitby is currently seeing an out-migration of young people, particularly in the 18-24-year-old range. While he said the town is great at being a family-focused community, it’s lacking housing options. It’s something he said his daughter experienced when she was looking to move out. “When you leave home if you’re a young adult, it is quite frankly, a difficult place to find accommodation,” said Mitchell. “You end up migrating to other communities, simply because you can’t find a place to rent that suits your lifestyle at all.”

Mitchell said the proximity of University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Trent University campuses means there are lots of opportunities to attract young people to the town. But the town has to figure out how to make sure there are places to live and work that better appeal to the younger demographic.

“There’s no question that the biggest housing demographic going forward will be single households,” said Mitchell. “If we don’t address that need then those people, including our own children and also the young professionals and job creators, [will] have to move somewhere else to find a place to live.”

Another issue that Mitchell said needs tackling is transportation. He said the country badly needs a National Transit Strategy and the federal government needs to offer more funding support to local transit systems.

“The GTA [needs] a serious and comprehensive mobility system in place,” said Mitchell. “I think municipal leaders need to start being clearer on that and the federal government needs to step up and deal with it.”

Finding a more effective way to move people around Whitby could also improve the town’s street safety, which Mitchell said was a major concern raised by residents during the campaign.

“Street safety [is becoming an issue] as congestion increases and as people come to the realization that we can’t road-widen our way out of congestion,” said Mitchell. “[We need] better people-moving solutions than what we’re doing now.”

Mitchell said drivers cutting through residential communities and speeding on residential streets is a big concern of residents. Street design needs to be looked at to build in traffic calming measures that encourage more responsible driving. Overall he said big level solutions need to be moved forward to better address the increasing congestion.