August 26, 2020

Urbanist Abroad, Nelson

Compiled from a selection of Gord’s Instagram posts as he travels through the Okanagan.

Almost at the end of a two-week return to the Okanagan and Kootenays, following routes my family took in the 1960s. As I sit down for dinner at an Indian restaurant patio off Baker Street in Nelson’s heritage downtown, I do have one big observation.

Nelson is the last stop on a circle that started in Osoyoos. Appropriately, Nelson was one of the first towns in BC to adopt heritage as an economic development strategy – which when combined with cannabis, a university, outdoor recreation and government made for a healthy trend-setting mix. Young people came, of course, families too, along with a hip reputation and tourism infrastructure. Other towns – like Revelstoke – picked up on that.

Main Street revitalization that I’ve shown in previous posts was funded by the province. Giving money to small towns to make their decaying downtowns more appealing was something every party could agree to. After almost every town took advantage, it was the biggest test of the heritage + urban-design strategies that evolved from the 1970s. It’s now possible to judge whether they worked.

Covid of course makes impossible any judgement of how these gentrified Mainstreets normally perform. But the virus has made possible a fascinating once-time-only test: when there are only local residents, albeit from two provinces, how would we like these places? Could they survive in just us?

Not surprising that just us likes these mainstreets with their kit-of-parts good-taste design. It’s the Whisterlization of our historic colonial cores. We who designed Whistler in the 70s have learned how to do it well. Even if it’s only one flavour.

I’ve wondered whether the Whistler influence throughout BC is also a consequence of the conferences held their every few years by the Union of BC Municipalities. Most mayors and councillors have practically experienced something they could take home with them when deciding how much they could shift away from Motordom.

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