Opinion

Letters: Feet on the street needed downtown

Re: Mill Street makeover creates new vibe (Chilliwack Progress, May 2).

I was the executive director of the New Westminster Downtown Business Improvement association ( BIA) for five years. I can offer some insight into the attempts at downtown revitalization and money being spent to make the Chilliwack downtown area more attractive – mainly wide sidewalks and tearing down old buildings is laudable but will not attract new businesses or keep the present businesses profitable.

A key lesson learned at the North American BIA annual conferences is that successful downtown revitalization requires a large new residential component – that is “feet on the street” is the key to vitality, not flower boxes.

The city of Boston had a terrible international reputation for that city’s downtown, the notorious “Combat Zone.” Today the drug dealers, street prostitutes and cheap bars are gone, replaced by residential buildings atop new retail space. Emerson college relocated from the suburbs to the core of the downtown near Boston Common. When the class bell rings on the hour hundreds of students are entering and leaving their school and frequenting nearby shops and coffee bars. Around the corner is a theatre district and between the theatre goers, students and new residents the area is alive. Where the middle class gathers the street people retreat. The Canada Education Park in Sardis could have the same future benefits to our city with a downtown focus for future development..

In Pittsburg the new (newer when the BIA conference was held) PNC Stadium attracts people – but only on game day. Instead of mammoth parking garages attracting suburban patrons to drive in and then away, the city insisted on little parking at the stadium. Sports fans must park downtown and walk through the area – with all the shops open and waiting – coming and going. Thousands of “feet on the street” and patrons for every shop along the way.

New construction is welcomed in the downtown area and urban sprawl discouraged. We can do the same. People living in the downtown area are needed to support existing shops and encourage other businesses to locate there. Pretty flower stands are simply no substitute for paying customers. Customers in shops encourage others to join them – would you go into a restaurant where you are the only customer? – or go to one where there are tables occupied?

We can do better. Residential buildings will take out “dead space” like the old Safeway building/ lot and make a walk between businesses more inviting – and less welcoming to undesirable activity.

Jack A. Bass

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