Architecture grad says research needed to develop a safe and enjoyable downtown for all Sudburyers

Chris Baziw is a graduate of Laurentian’s McEwen School of Architecture and now interns at a local business.

He is frustrated that downtown is increasingly fortified against public use.

An example is the construction of a $200,000 fence at a downtown church to deter vandalism at night.

Recently, the Sainte Anne-des-Pins board of directors voted to erect a fence around the church property following several incidents that have occurred over the past few years, including the destruction of one of its statues.

But a fortified courtyard can drive people away from the church indiscriminately, Baziw said.

“When you’re trying to control negative behavior like vandalism or graffiti, things like building a fence around the property not only stops people who might try to use graffiti, but might stop people who might try to use graffiti. people who try to visit the church outside of opening hours,” Baziw said. “Or those who try to pass by and enjoy the space or the scenery.”

“So unintentionally it’s kind of keeping everyone out.”

Workers can be seen starting work on a fence that aims to keep vandals away from the Sainte-Anne-des-Pines church in downtown Sudbury. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

Baziw says it’s sometimes difficult to decide how to control damage, especially when it comes to balancing protection with creating an attractive space.

“Being a private organization, the church obviously has a right to protect its assets,” he said.

“But a fence doesn’t have to be ugly, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be intrusive,” he said.

Chris Baziw’s work has focused on ways to improve downtown Sudbury through intelligent design. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

“When they build the fence, can they ask themselves how this fence can also make our property more beautiful or create new opportunities? Can it be used to display signs about the church or about ongoing programs?”

“So the success of something like a fence like this really depends on the intentions of the people behind it,” he said.

Downtown a ‘roller coaster’ of progress and setbacks

The state of downtown Sudbury is like a “roller coaster,” Baziw said.

The introduction of seasonal terraces at downtown restaurants and cafes, coupled with several outdoor music events, has brought more people and a sense of renewed life to the heart of the city.

But downtown has also had its share of problems, including concerns over a year-long encampment at Memorial Park, which at its peak provided space for around 88 homeless people.

At the time, the occupants of Memorial Park were criticized for visible substance use among some of its members, the amount of litter strewn throughout the park, as well as the perceived sense of compromised safety from businesses and local residents.

The city evicted the occupants of the tent camp last spring and is trying to connect people to housing, but people continue to congregate downtown and clash with other downtown users.

A bench along the Elm Street side of the McEwen campus became a place for people to sleep and was vandalized, but the school pledged to keep it for public use. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

Baziw says the centrally located architecture campus has not been spared.

In one instance, a long bench, designed for respite and reflection, running the length of the building was nearly ripped off.

“We were finding needles on the bench along Elm Street,” Baziw said. “Or people passing out on the bench, people defecating on the bench and vandalizing the bench.”

The Laurentian administration’s solution, Baziw said, was to simply remove the bench altogether. But David Fortin, then director of McEwen, suggested that Laurentian allow its architecture students to find a solution.

This included hiring Baziw to research social issues with the goal of presenting design solutions and a downtown safety plan.

It was early 2021, and just when Baziw was supposed to start, the university declared insolvency and the study was canceled due to lack of funds.

The situation now leaves outreach workers like Kaela Pelland of Reseau Access Network frustrated.

“There’s a lot of talk and money around building walls and fencing and paying for more security, but I find those aren’t necessarily solutions,” Pelland said.

“It just seems like a lot of money is being spent on building barriers, building walls and fences and making things uncomfortable for people,” she said. “And I’m not entirely convinced that this is a solution that is going to help everyone.”

“It’s not going to kind of build bridges and bring everyone together.”

Current director of the McEwen School of Architecture, Tammy Gaber, says there is strong interest in continuing research into a safer and more inclusive downtown when Laurentian emerges from insolvency and the money will be released to pay for the necessary work.

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