12 January 2009
Love it or loathe it, Granville Street is a Vancouver original.
The downtown district for public intoxication, peep shows and post-pub pushing matches is quite the spectacle on a Friday evening — or a Saturday morning, for that matter.
But while Granville is a magnet for the young, the restless and the seekers of cheap pizza slices — it has yet to be universally embraced.
It’s too gritty, some say.
Which is why folks with a stake in Granville Street are pinning their hopes to a redesign that got underway in December.
The makeover — slated for completion near the end of this year — includes wider sidewalks, designer lighting, and new street furnishings such as bike racks, benches and bus shelters. It will also see the creation of a one-block civic event space between Robson and Georgia streets.
All of this makes for a worthwhile project and will position Granville as a gathering spot for locals and out-of-towners during the 2010 Olympics.
But will taxpayers be getting value for the money spent?
One of the letdowns of this redesign is that it preserves the transportation status quo for Granville Mall.
Buses will once again travel through the pedestrian mall, while general traffic won’t. And that means Granville will still be, as some critics say, “a bowling alley for buses.”
It’s too bad the buses couldn’t be given the boot along with private vehicles.
During ongoing construction for the Canada Line, bus routes that previously traversed downtown Granville Street have done just fine on adjacent streets.
And when a four-block stretch has been shut down to all traffic — including buses — on some weekend evenings, police and bar patrons have gushed over the relaxed atmosphere — with far fewer fights.
Whether the redesign can deliver a similar kind of social order remains in question.
In an online essay about the redesign, former Vancouver MLA and city councillor Art Cowie pondered the issue. Beyond Granville Street’s physical improvements, he asks provocatively, “What is being done to keep the druggies and riff-raff from scaring off the good burghers of the town?”
For better and for worse, the made-over entertainment district will have a fresh new look, but plenty of the same old attitude and antics.
And, we are trusting, more buck-a-slice pizza.