Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nanaimo's South Downtown
Waterfront Initiative

Subject: S Downtown Waterfront Initiative Survey
Date: 9 October, 2013 1:20:50 PM PDT

Comment submitted earlier to your online survey —

Some preliminary thoughts — Early effort to build a public identity for the initiative — the new website, the boots on the ground fair that invited people to discuss the site while touring it, encouraging citizens to attend the (brutally early) committee meetings — is positive and welcome. I'd like to see this phase followed by one where the committee itself and its consultant move to a proactive role in educating people that to be truly successful in realizing the potential of this extraordinary site, there will need to be some discomfort inducing change in the way we have imagined and designed our city. More on this later but for now: I'm referring to dynamics such as Nanaimo's low population density and accompanying car dependency. A number of external factors impact the potential of the site and it's important (though generally in Nanaimo considered impolite) to air them in the earliest days of this process. For instance I'll draw attention to First Capital's Port Place blank wall and expanse of surface parking which has done probably irreparable harm to the Front Street streetscape and made a key piece of the site's interconnectedness puzzle a huge challenge. Also more later on connectivity. 

I'm still trying to get my mind around some of the complexities here. The combination of primary property ownership and rights of access in covenants and existing leaseholders are confusing me. Fascinating and full of potential but confusing. (See map).

While the City-mandated study area is quite rightly the entire waterfront area between the Snuneymuxw lands and the Gabriola Ferry (some say a at-least-broad-brush-stroke study should have been done as part of the 2008 Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines), it's the City, Port and Provincial Crown lands north of the trestle bridge that hold short and medium term potential for redevelopment. Do I have that about right? And the redevelopment of this portion will require a shared vision with the Island Corridor Foundation and the Port Authority and will impact the existing leaseholders. Seaspan's right of access through the site holds the key to moving to the next step if I'm not mistaken. And in case this was all starting to look pretty simple, there is a memorandum of agreement between the City and the Regional District to locate a "transit hub" here. What exactly is meant by a "transit hub" in a sprawling City with a commercial highway running through its downtown scares the bejesus out of me. I see examples elsewhere of transit interconnections by design creating prosperous successful human scale urban "place". Time for an indication that we have some idea of how to do that here.

My initial focus will be the Esplanade and north waterfront connections. Key I think is identifying the characteristics and purpose of "precinct" here. Central is public space. Waterfront access is a primary opportunity of course but there's the chance to do something so much better than just a sea wall. Connected public squares and plazas connecting both at and to the waterfront and through the site. Connected and integrated. This is in general not something Nanaimo has done well. In terms of primary use, Nanaimo has long needed a downtown satellite campus of Vancouver Island University. As Gordon Price has pointed out one of the our biggest urban planning mistakes has been the remote isolated locations of university campuses.

A public sector education and training cluster here (ideally including the SFN) integrated with a convenient modern transit system (passenger ferry, light rail, inter city bus all included) holds much promise seems to me.

Meanwhile I'm re-reading Ken Greenberg's Walking Home about his experiences over his career working on many sites not unlike this one and close with this thought —

Who will break it to Nanaimoites that for any potential to be realized here there will be virtually no surface parking?

Frank Murphy
Selby St Nanaimo

1 comment:

Frank Murphy said...

From: Frank Murphy
Subject: Periphery
Date: 23 October, 2013 1:03:47 PM PDT
To: ""

A thought on the edges of the site but also more importantly the periphery. I was once given terrific advice when designing a garden area to first take into account its immediate area, to pay attention to external things that were going to be design elements whether I wanted them to be or not. The types of trees, their shade and refracted light for instance were given consideration and were used successfully as design elements.

If Front Street is to be extended into and perhaps through the site it becomes a tone setting element. Is it an extension of its current pedestrian-hostile environment or a truly multi model city street? Point is it can't be that pedestrian friendly street only on these waterfront lands, it requires a redesign along its entire length. It occurs to me it could be a candidate for a ramblas style treatment similar to the one that inspired this California town returning a counterproductive "stroad" ( to a value creating city street. ( Similarly Esplanade and the existing street grid on the west side of the site will play a role in the look and feel of the renewed waterfront lands whether we want them to or not.

Elementary stuff I know but I hope the periphery is given full consideration as the vision evolves. Speaking of the emerging vision, how's a 360 stall parking lot fitting in with it?

Frank Murphy