Earlene MacMullin has learned to stop and smell the flowers — literally — since being elected to Cape Breton Regional Municipality council.
Midway through her first term, the Northside representative for District 2 successfully spearheaded the effort to end a beautification project that saw flowers and banners placed in downtown areas across the municipality.
“When I first came on to council, you’re looking at $200,000 for this blossoming program. As an individual all I saw — and I’m new to it — is we’re broke, we’re struggling but we have $200,000 to spend on flowers. For the love of goodness, there has to be a cheaper way of doing that — people can put their own flowers out, that’s too much money, it’s not justified,” MacMullin told the Cape Breton Post on Wednesday, one day after she led the charge as council voted unanimously to reinstate the Communities in Bloom program.
“One of my biggest regrets in my first term of council was taking that program out, so I’m very happy that at least I got to play a part in putting it back.”
MacMullin said the final price tag should be significantly less than $200,000, thanks in part to a provincial beautification and streetscaping program that provides up to $25,000 per project. In addition to supporting a local nursery that grows and maintains the flowers, the program helps create a sense of pride and community among local residents and business owners.
“I was down and I was speaking to a business owner and they were that upset that these flowers were removed, and I’m standing there and I know I’m responsible for that. They’re voicing their issue with it — that they pay such a high commercial tax and they don’t get much out of it. For years they tried to keep flowers out on their own but watering is an issue, replacing them is an issue, to get other businesses to chip in is an issue, and for the first time they consistently had these big, lush, beautiful baskets that were maintained and everybody took a little more pride in their storefronts and things like that because it really accented it, it made it look nice,” she recalled.
“I didn’t realize how important that was, visually, to local residents and to business owners until it was gone. And then in the grand scheme of it, when you have a budget of $150 million a year, $200,000, or $150,000, or $100,000 — whatever it ends up being — is really a small drop in the bucket to put a smile on someone’s face, or to make their downtown look better. And especially this year, with the pandemic, the tourist season is pretty much non-existent except for local tourism if things continue. People can’t go far so a lot more people are walking, we’re trying to encourage them to shop at our small businesses, which a lot of those are located downtown. It just makes the area so much prettier.”
Dist. 5 Coun. Eldon MacDonald is a big believer in the business benefits of beautification.
In 2013, he and Michelle Wilson of the Sydney Downtown Development Association started a flower program that the CBRM eventually adopted as Communities in Bloom. Even after the municipality stopped funding it in 2018, they organized area merchants and it actually grew from about 50 flower baskets to more than 120 the first year it was cancelled.
“To me, it’s very important, the perception that tourists and visitors get when they come into your community about how much pride and care you take in your community,” he said. “It makes people feel better, it creates a sense of place and we need to create place-making spaces — spaces where people want to come and stay and hang around. You want people to relax, enjoy the downtown and hopefully, they’ll go out for a meal, or notice something as they’re sitting on the Adirondack chairs that are usually out — they may not be out this year because of COVID — but we want to create a more relaxed environment that keeps people in the downtown longer. And if you’re in the downtown longer, you’re more apt to spend more money, which makes your business district more successful.”