There are two kinds of towns in the Okanagan (and most of BC).
It depends on the provincial roads that connect them. Some, as in Osoyoos, have a highway that divides the centre-right through its heart.
Very often the highway, like Crowsnest, is literally Main Street – a ‘stroad’ that has looked essentially the same for more than half a century: broad, muscular, low-slung and unambiguous. Mid-century motordom, which even today, despite attempts to make them more friendly for people not in cars (which is the way most of them got there), are still car dominant.
Main Street in 2009:
From what I could see in southern BC, Main Streets have held on even when not fed by a major highway. Many of them look and feel better than ever. And now, especially in the year of the pandemic, they appear to functioning well enough for people to gather, shop, do business and entertain themselves. Independent entrepreneurs thrive. There are still real hardware stores, small theatres, government services, and not a lot of vacancies. The vitality of a pleasant, safe, diverse urban environment has become even more appealing, unlike in some of the bisected town where truckloads of timber still roar through or the surrounding blocks still remain for most of the day vast acreages of parking.
In the bypass town, there are still lots of vehicles, but the people in them are coming to stay, not pass by.
Alexander Street, Revelstoke
Every town I visited was one or the other: a town where the highway bisected it, or one where it bypassed.
What these towns were able to do depended on the health of their local economy, the will of their leaders, the support of their communities and the skills of their staff – but also whether they were prepared or able to make a serious attempt to tame motordom.
With towns that had bypasses, it was easier to redo downtown with the toolkit of interventions from the 1980s and 90s that engineering firms and urban designers all seemed to use when they had a contract for downtown revitalization: pink sidewalks of rose-coloured interlocking pavers, luminaires in antique black, hanging baskets, pedestrian bulges, dense rows of trees, abundant landscaping, benches, bike racks – all cosmetics, yes, but accompanied by real and regulatory changes in how the spaces could be used and developed. Especially the commitment to sizable population increases.
The results are in; we can make a judgement looking back a half century. Post-motordom urbanism has been successful. Trends have changed and the quality of design and materials has improved (as in the Penticton example below), but the investments made from the 80s to today in good urbanism have paid off.
Now we’ll see how they survive the pandemic. But this summer, with the additional presence of so many people like me from the coast and from Alberta, they look to have made the first economic hurdle. Tourism, in particular, survived, with the prospect of a better year if word on the Okanagan’s appeal gets out.
Just like this.
Main Street in Penticton