Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Just a Small Sign. But...

It's just a sign. This is what it says:


This is where it is: the sparkling newly restored heritage train station in my downtown neighbourhood. 

Seems simple enough. Driveway is for the private use of who I'm not sure and the general public is to stay away from this area. But beneath the simplicity some large questions and concerns emerge.

Brief background: the E&N Train Station has sat derelict, damaged by fire, for years until a number of public initiatives combined to oversee its restoration. The station is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation.  The foundation is made up of municipalities and First Nations along the rail line between Victoria and the Comox Valley and across to Port Alberni. Their ambitious goal is to raise the $100+ million it will take to repair the rail bed and trestles and restore passenger rail service to the Island. The last "dayliner" cars were removed a year ago. 

To understand my concerns about one little sign, it's necessary to have a sense of this particular neighbourhood and its unique characteristics. Unlike other much less densely populated neighbourhoods in Nanaimo, it's not designed around the needs of our automobiles. It's a medium density inner city neighbourhood that is more diverse across demographic categories than its surrounding more suburban 'hoods. It is walkable and I like to point out that with the exception of a Keg restaurant its lively healthy shopping streets don't include a single franchise or a national chain. These are owner operated shops. Merchants and investors many of whom also live in the neighbourhood.

Here's my first inquiry to the owners of the train station, the Island Corridor Foundation:

Subject: Nanaimo station
Date: 1 November, 2012 3:25:02 PM PDT

I've followed with much interest your work on the rail corridor and in particular the resurrection of the Selby St station. (I live directly across the street and it's a terrific contribution to this neighbourhood and city. I was able involve my neighbourhood association in support of the project and worked with the Downtown BIA folks on their involvement as well.) 

This morning I was glad to see parking has been removed from the terrace that extends from Selby to the rear of the site. However a new sign that's been posted really took me back. It seems to send such an unfortunate and I'm sure unintentional message. It identifies the site as private property. While I understand it is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, I consider it an accomplishment of public entities working together. It is in every way but perhaps a narrow legal one public space. That the sign announces "No Public Access" mystifies me and I wonder if you could offer some explanation. I imagine there might be legal issues at the heart of this but there must be a solution superior to the one that tells people to stay away.

Thanks for giving this some attention when you have a minute.

Frank Murphy

…and the response I received:

Hi Frank,

There have been some concerns with the daycare next door so we are trying to make things safer. Once the trail is complete we will look at changing the language on the sign.


Jenn K. George
Office Administrator
Island Corridor Foundation
Office: 250-754-7254
Cell: 250-701-8381

...and a follow-up on Nov 6:

Subject: Re: Nanaimo station
Date: 6 November, 2012 4:28:44 PM PST
To: "Island Corridor Foundation"

Thanks for getting back to me Jenn. I guess to understand your answer I'd have to know the nature of the daycare's concerns and how the sign addresses them and also how the completion of the trail impacts the language on the sign. Anyway if you could supply some more background that would be great but in the meantime good for you for registering the concerns of the daycare. I hope you'll also register this concern from the neighbourhood that the language on the sign sends a negative and disappointing message.


The daycare mentioned is part of the new Immigrant Welcome Centre. Both the Centre and the Station restoration and the Irish Pub-style restaurant it includes, are very welcome and positive additions to my neighbourhood. In adjusting to their new neighbourhood apparently the Immigrant Welcoming Centre has expressed some worries that rise from people crossing this terrace. The use of this space for parking has become, not surprisingly problematic. The response has been this sign and I want to make the case that in sending a cold and off-putting message to the new neighbourhood that the Train Station is of course wanting to fit in to, it sends a very negative message and doesn't provide solutions to the perceived problems. 

I want to suggest a better solution:

The area in question is not for parking cars. I attended City of Nanaimo Design Advisory Panel meetings early in the process and questioned why there was need for access along here at all and learned it was considered essential for emergency and maintenance vehicles. I heard no reference to supplying parking stalls in this space. There's been such delightful attention to heritage detail in this project it seems all the more a shame to default any available square footage to parking cars. I was unable to attend later DAP meetings but I'd be very surprised to learn that the landscaping plan included a parking lot or a "driveway". It's understood that the area is not for public parking. Now consider that it of course is also not for private parking. Has the area been leased for private use? I and I think the City would be surprised and would object. 

Solution to the parking related issues: recognize that this space was never intended to park cars. The sign is not needed at all. What is needed is simply adjustable bollards across the Selby Street entrance. Full access for emergency and maintenance vehicles and ease of access for wheelchairs and bikes. Badly needed open public space is added to the Station's new neighbourhood that sends the message: we're happy to be here.

The other issue concerns the daycare part of the Immigrant Welcome Centre. I would be very concerned and would want to do anything I could to help if I thought that they are in the slightest uncomfortable in my neighbourhood. One of the very best characteristics of a diverse, dynamic inner city neighourhood is our comfortable sidewalk level interaction with each other. We don't as Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat tells her daughter when they talk about walking to school " a family we won't enter the world based on fear." Let's confront the concerns of the IWC and bring any and all resources to bear aleviate any concerns they may have and make sure they know they're very welcome in this Old City neighbourhood.

From the Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines:

Define train station with adjacent buildings to minimum front setback. Install distinctive paving on
Selby Street and provide new landscaping and trees around existing station.

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