Why Cambie St. Should have been packed up.

* first up – apologies for no post yesterday. It was a holiday in BC. Sometime later this week I’ll describe in greater detail my ridiculously BC-like day of island hoping, sea kayaking and BBQing. And to complete the leftcoast feel, a Smart Car was involved too.<!–

Second up… The Canada Line, the new subway being constructed between Richmond, the airport and Vancouver. The damage the construction has caused to businesses along the Cambie street corridor has been getting an increasing amount of buzz in the press. The whole situation is a fabulous lesson in urban planning and civic policy-making – one that sadly the press has not articulate.

For those out east who are not familiar with the Canada Line or its construction, it looks something like this:

cambie 2

Sadly, these photos fail to do the situation justice. To put it bluntly, when there is a two story deep hole outside, traffic is at a stand still, the street is unpassable, and there is the endless sound of construction, people tend to stay away. This, needless to say, has made life difficult for the numerous businesses that populate the Cambie St. corridor.

As one can imagine, several businesses (most notably the restaurant Tomato) have moved, several others are complaining. The local MLA – Gregor Robertson – has even introducing a private member’s bill to provide affected businesses with direct financial support.

But is the construction responsible for the death of the Cambie st. businesses? Perhaps. But it is an inevitable death. And this is why the current public policy has so dramatically failed these businesses.

I’ve noted with interest that while businesses complain loudly about the construction and its impact, it is hard to find landowners who complain. One would think that the loss of tenants – and subsequent rental income – this would have generated a fuss. But it hasn’t.

Why? Because the landlords know that once the line is complete most of the Cambie corridor (currently composed of relatively low density commercial buildings) is going to be completely redeveloped. Higher density commercial and, more importantly, condos, are going to be common place along Cambie. Consequently, there is a good chance that if the construction hadn’t kicked these businesses out, their landlords would have in the ensuing rush to redevelop.

Thus the whole notion that Cambie businesses could be kept open was a mirage – a failure to look at the longer term implications of the Subway. Rather than waste time on a failed “Business is Open along the Canada Line” campaign (This is not a communication problem, advertising is not going to bring people to Cambie, only an end to the construction will) local businesses should have been offered money to move location and cover some of their transition costs. While this would have been painful for everyone involved, it would have been less painful then seeing their business dry up and having to move on their own dime.

I’m in favour of the Canada Line. I think it is great for the city. But that doesn’t mean that the Cambie St. businesses should have been left out to dry. The help they received wasn’t the help they needed. sadly, this is probably because giving them the help they needed wasn’t what they wanted to hear, or what politicians wanted to tell them…

* Aug 8th: The Vancouver Sun published this editorial piece on the same day as this post that provides a parallel but different perspective.

One thought on “Why Cambie St. Should have been packed up.

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