Peterborough’s Solution to Downtown Problems

Peterborough Market Hall

Peterborough introduced a new program sponsored by the Downtown Business Improvement Association. Three security guards called “ambassadors” patrol downtown streets offering everything from directional assistance to deterring vandalism, improper use of sidewalks and encouraging people to clean up after their pets. They’ll also administer first aid and intervene if their are issues with panhandlers and shoppers. The three “ambassadors” were hired from Kawartha Guard Service using money received from the city for security purposes. Two will be patrolling the downtown area daily.

”the idea is to dispel the idea that the downtown area is unsafe and help people feel more comfortable downtown”

Described as a pilot project, the DBIA plans to evaluate it in September and if feedback is positive may do it again next summer and possibly expand it. According to Terry Guiel, spokesperson for the Peterborough DBIA, ”the idea is to dispel the idea that the downtown area is unsafe and help people feel more comfortable downtown”.

According to Guiel, the downtown is dealing with a “perception issue” and there is some reality to that. His group is hearing daily that people are afraid to come downtown – “a lot of people see panhandlers and the marginalized and that gives an atmosphere, a sense of insecurity”.

Like Owen Sound, Peterborough has a large percentage of seniors and it is this age group that seem most concerned.

The program is not without opposition and a petition to scrap it has been mounted by Peterborough musician Nick Ferrio. According to the petition, “The Downtown Ambassador Initiative will push poor people out of public spaces in the interests of downtown businesses, leading to intimidation, harassment and the criminalization of those facing mental illness, poverty and homelessness.”

Listen to the complete interview on CBC Ontario Morning Podcast with Wei Chen.

One Response

I think an Ambassadors program is a great idea. Owen Sound has a similar type of program in the DIA.

Where I think this got off on the wrong foot, is in hiring a security company to be the Ambassadors. Mark Twain is rumored to have said “if all you have is a hammer, than everything looks like a nail.”

What would an Ambassadors program look like if they had hired St John Ambulance First Aid first responders? You know the ones that hand out a special events and are there for medical and other emergencies.

Hiring a non-profit who uses volunteers would create a totally different tone.

When security train folks approach a person who is hanging out on the street, there is suspicion and distrust from the first interaction: they are the hammer.

When community trained folk, first aiders, nurses, paramedics etc, approach people, it’s open and the focus is on the individual needs, not on the needs of the DIA.

Owen Sound’s DIA is full of housing that is attractive to people with limited income. And while poverty and criminal behaviour are not a correlation, there is a perception of a correlation.

People are also uncomfortable when faced with poverty. They feel bad and don’t know what to do when they see someone in ill fitting clothing, potentially bad teeth and who is just sitting on a bench in the downtown. They don’t want to acknowledge that the system fails people.

So they internalize that discomfort into fear.

And thus people are afraid to “go downtown”.

I’m thrilled our DIA is a D IA not a B IA. The ‘downtown’ encompasses residents as well as businesses.

So when we look at the whole picture, our DIA needs to be vibrant and inclusive for everyone, even those that are just sitting and enjoying a coffee.

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