Animate a whole town

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Dec 27

The story of Tamworth, a small town in Ontario

“Animation” is a term I use to describe ways of adding new revenue streams to an existing property. For example, clients of mine are adding storage sheds, backyard workshops, basement apartments, backyard coach houses, play areas (things like outdoor ping pong tables), private patio areas, outdoor kitchens, microsuites and much more to their residential properties plus services like tech packages (internet, wi-fi, magic jack phones, Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Amazon Prime, large screen TVs…), cleaning, meal plans, tutoring/coaching, augmented tenancies, etc to both their residential and commercial buildings. There are many more animations we use to improve ROI, IRR and cap rates for commercial property…

This is so they can attract better tenants, who stay longer and pay more rent.

The question is: Can you animate a whole neighborhood or, indeed, a town?

The answer is: Unequivocally yes.

The next questions is: So, you can do it, but should you?

The answer to this is also: Unequivocally yes.

You should help your neighbors, your neighborhood and your whole town for purely selfish reasons because–if your neighborhood improves in terms of livability and walkability and it promotes mixed uses as well as embraces the FEHAJ (for every home a job) concept–property values in your town will secularly improve and, in a place where all boats are rising, yours will float upwards too.

Put another way, if the home next door is a crack house and the one next to it is vacant and derelict, it’s unlikely that your property is going to sustain or increase in value no matter what you do…

Hence, you should spread the gospel of animation–don’t hoard information, democratize it, brothers and sisters…

Here’s what Carolyn Butts told me about how she and her business and life partner, Hans Honegger, reinvented Tamworth.

First, this is what I asked them:

Carolyn/Hans, I’ve heard a lot about the work you’ve done to “animate” the town of Tamworth through your company, Bon Eco Design and Suites. When I read an article in Bloomberg Businessweek recently about similar community animation in Spain, Italy and Japan, I thought, “Well, there’re another 2,500 villages in Italy and 3,000 more in Spain for Carolyn and Hans to work their magic on…” 😊 In terms of “community animation,” what do you think are the top lessons you’ve learned via your Tamworth experience? Do you think these lessons could work elsewhere?

Happy Hans Honegger and Carolyn Butts standing in front of a 20,000 sq ft garage they purchased in Tamworth for $25,000 and converted into makerspaces

Here’s what Carolyn wrote back:

Hello Bruce. Thank you for writing.

Small town revitalization is a subject that occupies our thoughts and energy daily. I came to Tamworth 20 years ago and a few years later met Hans Honegger and he moved here in 2005.

Hans has life experience in small towns revitalization.

We just returned from a drive across Canada and noticed this country is awash in empty towns and villages. The reasons are too many to list here.

We have worked together growing a home and Bon Eco Design in Tamworth for the past 13-years and likely for the next 13+. Our situation is unique because we have built our business with minimal investment using our labor and skills.

Lessons are ongoing but some notable ones are:

1) Change should come from within. I chose to live here first and started by painting the outside of my own house.

2) Grow it slow. Locals will be more supportive and accepting.

3) Respect and include locals in the journey.

4) Be creative and resourceful.

5) Do it for a lifestyle, not as an investment, per se, and don’t overcharge… you are better off, in our view, with longer stays at a lower per night charge than shorter stays at higher prices with more vacancies and more change-overs…

Yes, I believe these lessons and more would work everywhere.

Hope this helps,


So, what is their business model? Well, it looks something like this:

-buy up small apartments and buildings in a small town

-theme each apartment/building

-renovate using a lot of sweat equity

-rent to artists/creatives short and long term on home-sharing platforms

-combine suites with makerspaces and coworking spaces

-creatives will come for periods measured in weeks or even months not days to complete their work (in the case of Tamworth, from Toronto and Ottawa and elsewhere including the US)

-rejuvenate your town, one building, one piece at a time

-help local folks improve their buildings too and also develop their own PB4Ls (personal businesses for life); for example, Carolyn Butts in Tamworth teaches Syrian immigrant women in Kingston to make things such as purses, room dividers, murals, mirror frames from… tires!

Check out Carolyn and Hans’ website,

Here are a few reviews of Tamworth/Bon Echo stays, which are worth reading:

I came to Bon Eco Suites to get away from Toronto for a week, desperately needing peace and solitude to work on a travel memoir book.

Feeling the nagging distractions of everyday chores, work and noisy urban life, I craved a quiet town like Tamworth to just focus on writing. The apartment at Bon Eco provided everything I needed, and my mind was finally able to relax and focus, making a huge difference in the creative process. Carolyn and Hans were also wonderful hosts for a lovely dinner, and enjoyed hearing about the progress I was making in my writing project. I’ve never worked so hard for a week — feeling the joys of seeing my writing become more captivating, and also the exhaustion of putting in long hours to allow this growth to flourish. I returned to Toronto with renewed optimism and excitement about my future as a writer. Thank you Carolyn and Hans!

Vicki, Toronto

Take two fertile minds with generous hearts, place them gently in a small mill town in rural Ontario called Tamworth, and they will create a Brigadoon for artists. Carolyn Butts and Hans Honegger are the initiators of a unique and clever scheme:  attract interesting people into their lives by offering a retreat for creating, thinking and dreaming. It works. The setting is perfect:  pure air and rugged vistas where the northern boundaries of the Carolinian forest meet the Canadian Shield, plus the amenities you need and none of the nonsense. At the same time, enjoy a one-bedroom suite with that big table for spreading out your work and a chair as comfortable as it looks. Yes, the experience is as inspiring and as functional as the photos show. You’ll come home with projects done and new ones percolating.

Very highly recommend.

Gail, Toronto

I spent a week at the Bon Eco Suites in March 2014 to work on my book about the transformative power of walking and knew I was in the right place when, minutes after arriving in Tamworth, Carolyn and Hans told me that the village would be holding a spirit walk in a couple of days to bring the community together after a recent tragedy. My stay was meant to be. The apartment was a perfect place to write and relax, the village was stocked with every staple I could possibly need, the surrounding country roads were wonderful for walking and running, the nearby conservation area was excellent for sunny winter snowshoe trek, and Carolyn and Hans may be the world’s greatest hosts — it was a dream writing retreat, a respite from my busy life and responsibilities in the city, and a place to which I will certainly return.

Dan, Ottawa

More about small town animation…

I recently wrote to the mayor of a small town where I gave a keynote speech. It was a follow up.

This is what I think their town could do to boot themselves into another orbit. My email:

Adam (not his real name), happy new year. I hope 2020 is a great year for you and your family and the town of Runnel (a made up name, ed) too.

I was thinking that I might be able to help Runnel in five main areas—

a) working with your planners and economic development folks to set the stage for Runnel 2.0, a place that retains its young people or has enough attractors to convince them to move back,

b) showing young people (and not so young people) how to start, finance and grow their own PB4Ls (personal businesses for life) or improve their existing operations,

c) helping Runnel form a “committee of 67” volunteers to mentor, co-coach, teach and assist entrepreneurs as well as welcoming and integrating immigrants from elsewhere in Canada and other nations into the economy of the area and its society,

d) working with residents to help them understand some of these concepts and how they can apply them to their own lives so they can plan for a successful retirement,

e) go green—how to really reduce Runnel’s carbon footprint.

The idea is to produce a Runnel 2.0 that has it all 😊 including FEHAJ, for every home a job, mixed use community, revitalized industrial parks, grow local/food security, agritainment thriving, towns that are animated, interesting and thriving, truly affordable housing, NEWPIN, new era financial planning so that elders can age in place and provide for themselves in their retirement.

We’ll do a series of online webinars for interested groups/parties and we’ll record them and put them on YouTube for others to learn from.

Kindest personal regards, Bruce


Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD
Real Estate Investment and Business coach
ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker
Ottawa Senators founder


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.