Some people would describe the heart of Oshawa as a place to be avoided, but for the team of students behind the reanimating downtown Oshawa project, one word that describes city’s downtown core best is potential.
While Oshawa currently holds the title of the fastest-growing municipality in Canada, after a 2.1 per cent growth in population in 2020, according to Statistics Canada, The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy. Oshawa’s projected revenue for the past year is down almost 80 per cent, according to Mayor Dan Carter.
Downtown Oshawa already had low foot traffic, but the pandemic ground what little there was to a halt, and the city turned to Brilliant Catalyst, an innovation and experiential learning hub at Ontario Tech, to find a way to bring life back to the downtown core once the pandemic is over.
“(Brilliant Catalyst) always engage with industry partners to find out what their needs are, and one of those industry partners is the City of Oshawa,” said Osman Hamid, the director of creativity and entrepreneurship at Brilliant Catalyst.
“And through conversations with them they mentioned that through COVID and the economic impact on the city, they were trying to find ways to reanimate downtown in a way that helps with the economic recovery.”
Dan Walters, practicum and internship coordinator at Ontario Tech, sent out the call and assembled a team of students from multiple programs at the school.
Hamid said, “We were trying to find projects that involved interdisciplinary teams, and more than two faculties…we were looking to have a serious impact with this project.”
This was a collaboration through TeachingCity Oshawa.
The team included Catherine Duncan, third-year Political Science, Christopher Ing, second-year Networking and Information Technology Security, Caitlin Morgan, fourth-year Criminology and Justice Studies, Turab Rizvi, third-year Political Science and Navleen Sandhu, fourth-year Criminology and Justice Studies.
A safer city
“It was quite cool to be able to talk to the stakeholders, especially the business owners and people who were affected first-hand by COVID,” said Morgan. “For us, being students, we just moved online, but for them, they couldn’t do that.”
One familiar feature students may see more in the downtown core is the blue buttons and crisis poles from the north campus at Ontario Tech, an idea brought to the table by Morgan, who studies at the downtown campus, and her fellow team of students who were researching safety and precautions.
When the team met to talk about ideas, they asked, “What’s something that’s on the north campus that’s not on the downtown campus?”
“A lot of people feel comfortable on north campus because there’s security, there’s the blue buttons, emergency ones and safe walk,” said Morgan. “With downtown (campus), it’s all there but it’s just not as in your face.”
Students who studied on the downtown campus identified increased safety measures as one way to not only help the students but lawyers from the courthouse who are working late hours.
“Having those blue emergency buttons isn’t going to harm anybody, they’re just there,” said Morgan. “This could help people come and try to enjoy Oshawa after hours when the dark comes because most people do flee home when that happens, which is sad.”
Growing Oshawa as an esports hub
Esports has been growing in Oshawa over the past five years, with Durham College’s investment in the Esports Arena on campus, and varsity teams. Both Ontario Tech and Durham College also offer club and social events around esports, making a full-fledged gaming event a natural fit for the city.
The idea to utilize Oshawa’s arenas and theatres for an esports event came to Rizvi when he was hanging out with his friends and it started with one statement.
“Imagine if we had an esports event in Oshawa?”
“All my friends were like ‘that’s exactly what you’re working on!’,” said Rizvi with a laugh. “It was kind of a fluke.”
The event would either be held at Regent Theatre or the Tribute Communities Centre and the team hopes that combined with some of the other projects on downtown Oshawa, it will drive foot traffic into hidden gems like Isabella’s Chocolate Café, and KENZO RAMEN.
“I don’t think people give (downtown Oshawa) the credit it deserves,” said Rizvi. “I don’t think they see what it can really be, and they get hung up on that, it’s like a lost hope almost.”
When the teams met up, Rizvi convinced one of the students who had only studied on the north campus to make a trip downtown and experience life in the city.
The two visited Avanti’s Trattoria and the experience opened the other students eyes to the type of quality the exists in the city.
“He was like ‘based off what I’ve heard about the downtown core, I would have never imagined it would be this pleasurable of an experience’,” said Rizvi
Holding an event in Oshawa will have to wait until the pandemic allows for it, but when it does the city will have a list of recommendations and proposals from the students that they’ll be able to choose from that will determine the scope of the reanimation.
And for the students who called downtown home, they hope that when they are implemented, you’ll give the city’s core a chance.
“That barrier that most people have is that they listen to all the noise (about downtown), which is wrong,” said Rizvi. “People have to realize there is so much that the downtown core has to offer.