New Westminster has promise, but when will it come?
Re: Tired of the 12th Street rag (NewsLeader, Sept. 14)
I was very happy to read Chris Bryan's column. Happy to see the dialogue kept open about the problem with the vibrancy, or any existence really, of New West commercial districts.
I moved here from Vancouver a year ago now. I grew up in Kitsilano and Point Grey, and because I'm not a billionaire had to look elsewhere when my family decided it was time to get into the housing market. First we considered Burnaby, but, really there are only a couple of livable neighbourhoods in Burnaby. By livable, I mean you can walk from your house to a grocery store, to transit, to anything—you don't have to get in your car. When we first came to New West to look at houses, I fell in love right away. It felt like Kitsilano! Craftsman houses, grid streets and importantly, the high-street model, where there are pedestrian scale commercially zoned streets. Charming streets with the promise of coffee shops, a hardware store, a seafood store, butcher shop, clothing boutique, produce store—oh wait, I'm describing Fourth Avenue in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the key word in relation to New West is "promise."
A quick aside, I studied Urban Geography and Landscape Architecture in university so (I believe) I have an understanding of urban form and function and the historical successes and failures in urban planning. Living in Vancouver I have seen many of the successes. When I look at New West, I see great bones and many elements that are similar to ones in Vancouver. I see a Yaletown, a Coal Harbour, a Kitsilano. There's a historical downtown, a waterfront, a few "high streets," great parks, charming neighbourhoods with well-kept historical houses with lovely gardens, and well served by SkyTrain. Nothing but promise.
So why is New West trapped in the '80s? When we first moved here, my husband and I tried to patronize the local restaurants and bars. We went Downtown. We walked into, and then quickly out of a number of places. They were disgusting! Sorry, but that's how we felt. Homeowners seem to care about their homes; how come many business owners don't seem to care here? I've tried to keep my business transactions in town, but the places are either so run down or they don't exist.
Unfortunately, you can't force businesses to open up, and running a business and especially a restaurant is very risky. More population base helps, so the classic townhouse on top of retail, which is happening on Eighth Avenue near McBride Boulevard, is a move in the right direction.
As is showing pride in place with progressive design as shown in Pier Park (I love it!). However, perhaps the detractions of New West—such as the horrendous traffic routes which encircle the city and disengage the waterfront, and the ridiculous train noise—are too much to overcome.
I am anxiously waiting to read your next column and your proposed "shock treatments".
Thanks again for fighting the fight.