I expected a desolate moonscape when I traversed the maze that is currently downtown Vernon.
Leaving the car behind to avoid the mayhem that is currently the revitalization of 30th Avenue from 33rd to 35th Streets, I walked to my destination — Yes, actually walked.
And then it hit me. Everyone else was walking too. People were enjoying the sunshine as they used their feet to get to wherever they needed to go.
What a novel idea.
I have to say, I am digging downtown right now, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s to come.
When the city announced it was revitalizing the “unfinished” end of 30th Avenue, I was on board, as a taxpayer and as a supporter of downtown.
I know, it seems odd to enjoy the current dust-filled landscape, the lack of trees, which I hear will be replaced, parking spaces, and the detour routes, but that’s the point. People are finally paying attention to downtown because they are walking its sidewalks, and observing our most central neighbourhood.
The shops are still doing business, and the pedestrian traffic is making downtown look more lively.
Hmmm – we may be on to something here.
I’m not saying we should rip up our streets and trees every year, but we could try to leave our cars at home or a few blocks away and really see our downtown for what it is — the place that defines our city.
And yes, I have to confess, there’s been times that I have taken downtown for granted. Maybe I’ve shopped at one of those big-box stores north of town because it’s more convenient and a little less expensive, or avoided paying a parking meter for a crowded, stress-filled parking lot. (Not much of a trade-off if you ask me.)
But I love downtown and try to give it my patronage as much as I can. And if that means walking a few blocks, then I’ll put on my sturdy shoes and walk on.
After all, if I hadn’t crossed the street by foot the other day, I wouldn’t have noticed that new restaurant that is opening where Okanagan-Oyama Sausage used to be, or bumped into an old acquaintance also enjoying the sunshine.
That is what a downtown should be — a place to meet up with your neighbours, support the merchants who have the guts to start a small business in our town, shop for something unique, sip a latté that is actually good, and eat something that is not generic, deep fried and placed in a bun with a side of fries.
Vernon’s downtown offers all that and more.
Revitalization was agreed upon by the merchants/building owners on that end of town (the ones footing a large chunk of the bill) because they saw what it has done for the rest of 30th Avenue.
The wider sidewalks (with trees!) benches, bike racks, bollards, and all important lighting not only make downtown more attractive, but safer. It allows for more outdoor cafés, pedestrian traffic, street entertainment, and business overall — all things this town has been screaming for since I arrived here 13 years ago.
With the approach of summer, and the hordes of tourists the Okanagan attracts, 30th Avenue could very well become a smaller microcosm of what Robson Street, Government Street, Queen Street West or Whyte Avenue are in Canada’s larger cities — a place that attracts new businesses, diners, shoppers, culture vultures and even those lookie loos who are just curious of what we have to offer.
But the city, downtown business owners, and advocates in the Downtown Vernon Association can’t do it all alone. They need us locals to support our downtown, to park the car, get out and walk. Shop. See what lies down the road ahead.
— Kristin Froneman is the arts and entertainment editor at The Morning Star.