What Central Park Needs Right Now
by John Taylor, for the Dunnville Free Press
You never know where you are until you go away. That lesson I learned this past summer travelling through Europe, specifically the two countries formerly known as Czechoslovakia -- now Slovakia and the Czech Republic. As a visitor arriving at new towns in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, I experienced first-hand how important information, any information about local attractions, is to a visitor. The tourist has just flown half way around the world and desperately wants to know what is happening. I wanted to make it worth my while, so I was constantly on the lookout for whatever information might be available.
When I returned to our home, which is situated right across the road from the main path in Central Park, I saw Dunnville's most frequented park with new eyes. I saw what tourists must see when they look at our park. Why not put up a bulletin board or two at the crossing of the paths in Central Park? This would take advantage of the crowds who gather in Central Park several times a year -- Canada Day, Movies in the Park, Remembrance Day, our Mudcat festival, among others -- to give them an idea of what is going on a few blocks away in down-town Dunnville. Tens of thousands of people come through this park, and then go straight home with no idea of what else they can do and see here in Dunnville. At present, this prime location sports only two rather negative signs, one a "No smoking within so many metres of the play structures" sign, and the other a dour warning not to wander through at night. So, the first thing an outsider experiences of Dunnville is what not to do. A notice board would tell them what they can do. This would surely give visitors a more positive idea of what is happening in our fair town.
Our first residence in Slovakia was an apartment complex in Banska Bystrica, a city located in the middle of Slovakia. Here, they took a simple, low tech approach to supplying the need for local news. Three kiosks, each with a roof to keep the rain off its paper posters below, were plastered with notices of festivals, concerts and sports events. Together, they gave a good picture of everything that was coming up in town over the next couple of months. Okay, at first the posters did not help much, since I do not understand Slovakian. Fortunately, one of our hosts kindly translated some of the notices. This was another discovery for me, how little help my knowledge of English was in faraway places.
In the Czech Republic, the mid-sized town of Prostejov (pronounced: "completely differently from anything you might think") took a more sophisticated approach to providing visitors with information. At the center of town there is a large map of the locality, complete with lights to indicate exactly where tourist attractions are located. Hit a button and you have instant directions from "you are here" to the lit up picture of the building on the map. In order to protect against vandalism, the entire display sits behind a barrier of plexiglass. The notice board even attempted to overcome the language barrier. The default was in Czech, but you could hit a button for Polish, German, or whatever, and the entire text would change to your language. Except for English. When I hit the "English" button, nothing happened. It stayed in Czech. By then, however, I was used to that.
In the small village of Fulnek (or was it Uhersky Brod?) I was surprised to find the most high tech bulletin board of all, a completely digital display that seemed to be connected directly to the town's website. It cycled through notices of upcoming events, and if you wanted you could push a button to stop it, and even find out more about the subject.
It seems to me that it would be worth whatever it costs to erect something like one of these approaches to a bulletin board in Central Park. Otherwise, local businesses are standing idly by as millions of dollars in potential sales literally walks out of town with no idea they exist.
Next month, I will run this idea by a town Councillor and let you know what he thinks. I will also report on the start that the Dunnville Chamber of Commerce has already made on collecting together information of events sponsored by local businesses and service organizations that might be included on a digital bulletin board.
This digital bulletin board is available to visitors at Kluane National Park, in the Yukon. It even includes a weather report.