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City’s proposed new amenity areas could ‘possibly’ increase places for transients, panhandlers: mayor

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
April 9th, 2017

A draft urban design strategy for the city’s downtown is proposing increased amenity areas on the municipal real estate in and around Baker Street, but the welcoming areas could also harbour havens for transients and panhandlers, says the city’s mayor.

Deb Kozak said the increased amenity areas — proposed in the draft Downtown Urban Design Strategy to be unveiled April 20 in an open house — are part of the overall plan to update and make the city’s downtown more welcoming, but it could also increase the resting points for transients and places for panhandlers to occupy.

“Possibly, however, these are meant to be community spaces where many people can enjoy the downtown,” she said. “Some cities lightly ‘program’ these areas to attract people,” with children’s outdoor furniture or music, she explained.

According to the draft plan, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) will be an “integral part” of urban design for Nelson to reduce crime and improve safety for people in amenity areas — places designed for active or passive recreational uses.

The strategy recommends a number of CEPTED strategies for Nelson, including improving the amount and quality of lighting in the public realm to minimize dark spaces, improving visibility into public amenity areas and creating more transparency through business windows, which allows “eyes on the street.”

One of the more notable aspects of the plan is the suggestion of a town square for the area of Baker and Ward streets, the heart of the city’s business district and one of its main traffic pressure points.

The design strategy recommended reinforcement of the intersection with unique pavement, overhead (catenary) lighting and public art, as well as bulb-outs that would provide more amenity space for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Kozak could not predict if the town square idea could become a reality — or if it was too restrictive for the downtown — she noted town squares were designed to be used to suit the needs of individual communities, and Nelson would tailor its own.

“For example the top end of Hall Street might be seen as a town square where community events can occur,” she said.

When the square isn’t used for gatherings it becomes part of the workaday street, Kozak added.

“I think the people of Nelson will define what a town square might look like and be used for,” she said. “We’re practical that way.”

Just what the next phase of the city’s Downtown Urban Design Strategy planning holds will be revealed in draft form in an open house on Thursday, April 20 (4-7 p.m.) at the Adventure Hotel.

“This is certainly the biggest issue facing downtown planning since the revitalization in the 1980’s,” said Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson in a press release. “Downtown Nelson is a primary commerce area for our community and region.”

What has been developed and envisioned so far in the strategy will be on display at the open house, with city staff and the project consultant from MVH Urban Planning and Design Inc. in attendance to answer questions.

The strategy is considered a framework guide as public realm improvements in downtown Nelson move forward.

In essence, all of the public spaces in the downtown are referred to as the public realm, including the streets, sidewalks, lanes and amenity spaces on Baker, Vernon, and Victoria streets, as well as all of the cross streets between Highway 3A and Cedar Street.

“As the commercial and cultural heart of Nelson, the city is committed to ensuring that the downtown continues to be a vibrant and progressive place in the future,” Thomson said.

The strategy provides what has been described as a “comprehensive vision for the downtown public realm, as well as a series of detailed strategies for how to achieve that vision,” meaning where the money will come from.

The strategy addresses a number of priorities that the city’s municipal council has listed, as well as identifying a need to upgrade the aging above- and below-ground infrastructure at the same time.

Using some input from stakeholders and the public, the strategy was developed through analysis of the downtown, building on the vision of the Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan (SWDMP) and drawing from several city policies and guidance documents.

There are several key recommendations to make pedestrians a priority in the downtown through the plan draft, including:

  • design a scramble at the intersection of Ward and Baker streets;
  • create a clear walking zone for pedestrians on sidewalks;
  • increase pedestrian lighting for visibility and safety;
  • enhance wayfinding signage to help direct people to key businesses and places in the downtown;
  • improve amenity areas with new seating and plantings, and create new bulb-out amenity areas on corners;
  • add new street furniture;
  • integrate new amenities including a public washroom and a new transit station on Victoria Street; and
  • encourage public art, murals and lighting in the laneways to provide additional routes for pedestrians.

The draft is divided into four sections, with the first describing the unique characteristics of the city’s downtown along with an outline of the planning process.

The second section details what is involved in urban design for Nelson, and how it will build on the unique characteristics of the individual streets in the downtown, and “describes the unifying and distinct elements for urban design.”

The third section lays out the strategies for the downtown public realm including strategies for sidewalks, amenity spaces, outdoor patios, awnings and canopies, signage, street furniture, landscaping, public art, washrooms, and electric vehicle and car share parking.

A fourth section deals with implementation with figures on cost, with some consideration to timing and funding sources.

Thomson said a “coordinated and flexible streetscape design provides for a creative, safe and accessible downtown that has frequent festivals and celebrations in the new ‘town square’ at the intersection of Ward and Baker Streets.

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