About 130 people attended Thursday night’s downtown planning session, marking the first step towards creating a plan to reshape the First Avenue area.
An open house started off the night, where members of the public were able to read the storyboards and speak to some of the consultants and planners from HB Lanarac, the company tasked with formulating the plan.
A brief presentation by project manager Joaquin Karakas explained some of the challenges, opportunities and realities of the plan.
“Downtowns are the heart of the community and a source of local pride,” he noted.
There needs to be a mix of uses, including housing, institutional, educational, and parks, all while attracting a combination of seniors and young adults to inhabit the area, said Karakas.
The downtown is the “living room of the community, and a well designed downtown is important to protect the private investment” in the area, he continued.
On the challenges side, Karakas said the perception of crime is a problem for all downtowns.
“If people don’t feel safe, they won’t come,” he said.
Also, the highway running through is a challenge, coupled with a lack of activity outside of regular business hours.
“The downtown needs to be safe throughout the day,” Karakas said. More life can be brought down with more housing and pubs, for example.
The project lead said there are lots of opportunities for the area, but one of the key problems is the underappreciation of the economic importance of downtown, and the overemphasis on beautification.
Karakas’ presentation dovetailed into a talk by Michael von Hausen, a planner and sustainable urban designer, who showed a number of slides designed to inspire the crowd for the workshop portion of the evening.
Von Hausen has done six downtown plans in Canada, and said “most successful downtowns have incredible champions,” singling out Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender as an example of someone who trumpeted his downtown and brought $200-million worth of investment within four years.
“Sometimes people get consumed with limitations,” but the emphasis should be on creating downtown as a destination on an 18-hour basis that will draw in visitors from other communities, and includes three elements: social, environmental and economic.
Successful downtowns generally are pedestrian oriented, said von Hausen, and include wide sidewalks that encourage strolling, as well as free services such public washrooms, information kiosks, parking and wireless Internet zones.
A dynamic, multi-use downtown needs to be fun, and a place for everyone, he said.
Many small business owners feel threatened when big box retailers arrive, but von Hausen said many communities have successfully integrated the larger businesses by surrounding them with owner/operator stores.
A big plus is making your space transformable, similar to how Rogers Arena could transition from a basketball court (when the Grizzlies were in Vancouver) to an ice-hockey rink within hours.
Residents were split into five groups that spent about 90 minutes talking about different aspects of the downtown, and then relayed their thoughts to the larger group.
There will be more opportunities for the public to comment and add input in the next number of months.
The downtown plan, which is currently in the first of three phases, will use the information from the open house to frame discussions around how Mission’s area should look.
In the second phase, the vision, principles and concept plan for the downtown will be created through a series of public and stakeholder workshops, including the downtown design charrette Jan. 16-17. (See below for additional information.)
Based on phases one and two, a comprehensive plan will be developed that will include policies, guidelines and implementation strategies.
Additionally, a mass e-mail list (email@example.com) has been compiled and receivers can suggest people to add, or forward the message, and the receiver can request to be included in future disseminations. This e-mail can also be used to send suggestions and feedback to consultants.
What’s a charrette?
It is an integrated, collaborative and time-limited design workshop where design professionals work together with district staff, council, public, and stakeholder representatives to develop a number of preliminary design options. The condensed workshop is designed to quickly lead to creative outcomes that are well supported by participants.