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Bruce Allen: We need better thinking on fixing Vancouver

Some parts of the city seem too far gone to revive
Civic leaders should look at other cities before they try to fix Granville Street, Bruce Allen argues.

It was nice to hear that the city over the past couple of months has agreed to fund the cleaning up of Chinatown and fix the bricks in Gastown. Both have been left to fall into such despair that I’m not sure that the $2.16 million to “uplift” Chinatown, or the $10 million over three years to repair the streets of Gastown, are enough in either case.

But it is a start. 

The problem with Vancouver is that the city allows things to crumble to such a state that the costs to bring things back to respectability is enormous. And by that time, in both Chinatown and Gastown, stores have shut down, people living in those areas have bailed out and whatever’s left has been taken over by rats – four-legged and two-legged. Gastown was once the centre of the city. You can say that the laying of bricks instead of asphalt was a bad idea, but it is not a bad idea if you shut down the streets for a couple of weeks, every couple of years, to make sure that the bricks are firmly in place. Don’t just cover the holes up with cement. It’s both ugly and lazy.

As for Chinatown, this needs a big overhaul. When Ming Wo checked out, Chinatown was done. Stores were shuttered. Living spaces were boarded up. The wall around the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden needs a coat of paint and it seems there is often more people sleeping outside those walls than people looking at the beauty inside. It’s a disgrace.  And one block away is Hastings Street. Hell on wheels. No further description is needed. No need to beat a dead horse.

City Hall over the years has had its pet projects that usually cater to fringe groups who contribute to those on council. Like bike lanes. Bike lanes on the Granville Bridge?  Really?  Eight per cent of the public rides bikes regularly. Do we really need to eradicate a couple of lanes on the Granville bridge for bicycles? Burrard Bridge is enough. You can tell when the city wants something that the citizens are not interested in. Like bike lanes.  When bike lanes were first approved by City Hall - the very next morning, at 7:30 a.m., jackhammers started pounding on the cement at Hornby and Pacific.  That doesn’t happen when it comes to housing the homeless. I guess it’s not as “sexy.”

It was the same story, not too long ago, when City Hall ignored the public opinion and said that the loops at the north end of the Granville Bridge should be wiped out.  The very next morning, streets were blocked off and dump trucks were lined up across the street from David Lam Park to haul away anything not tied down. It’s an age-old method - “Let’s get started before the citizens figure it out !”  We all know it worked for the closing of Point Grey Road!  Can you spell blind-sided? Vancouverites sure were.

We are also hearing that the city may revisit Granville Street in the heart of the city. The Entertainment Zone: an idea that never worked. It wasn’t long before the street that once was alive with neon and foot traffic and hot cars and movie houses became a place where the bridge and tunnel crowd came to party all night long.  Fights and stabbings became de rigeur.

Imagine trying to party in a place where there are so many rules and not enough venues. This is how street incidents start. People come to an Entertainment Zone for entertainment, and in Vancouver, there was very little of it.  The city fathers, civic leaders, should have done some research before coming up with an “Entertainment Zone.” Maybe head to New Orleans and take a look. Or Nashville. Even Toronto - which I hate to admit - has a better night life scene than Vancouver.

One more thing. Recently, the Kitsilano Showboat had a fire and the relic from the 1940s was severely damaged. I don’t know if they are going to demolish it and forget it, or come up with something that could bring some life to the area around Kits Pool.  It has always been a cool place for small concerts, outdoor screenings, dance events, etc.   But they should rename the place. The Red Robinson Stage would work. The old redhead supported so many local artists: Terry Jacks, Les Vogt and the Prowlers, Howie Vickers and the Collectors ( who went on to become Chilliwack ), B.T.O, Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams and the Seeds of Time. Red Robinson was the local Pied Piper for Rock and Roll in B.C. in the 1950s through to the present day. Red Robinson: a legend in his hometown - but known everywhere where there was a DJ spinning records. The stage would be a lasting tribute to a man that made a difference to all Vancouverites.

Are you listening, Mayor Sim?

Bruce Allen is a music manager and a commentator.