A soul in need 

Conflicting visions on downtown revitalization

It’s not hard to sew human qualities into the fabric of towns or cities. Some are callous and hostile, while others are warm and friendly. Some are young, while others are old. Some are tired; others are vibrant. If we can readily compare a town to a person, then we can just as easily agree that the soul of the place can be found in its downtown.

For Eric Anderson, the soul of Squamish is mired in the pain of neglect — and there’s little on the horizon promising spiritual salvation. Anderson doesn’t live downtown, but he sits on the board of the Squamish Downtown Neighbourhood Association (SDNA), a seat he takes because he believes a downtown belongs not just to those who live and work there, but to those who live and work around it — especially if, as Anderson does, they’d rather be doing both within it.

“It’s clear a lot of people care about downtown that don’t live here,” he says. “There’s a broad consensus that downtown should be community, culture and commerce focused.”

In Anderson’s narrative, the downtown first came under fire about 10 years ago, when major industry employers began shutting their doors, slowly locking up not only district tax revenue, but also the kinds of incomes he says are necessary to healthy communities.

“The downtown has been in decline for 10 years approximately,” he says. “This decline parallels exactly the decline in good family wages in Squamish. Cleveland Avenue? That’s where the symptoms are.”

That downtown needs revitalization is not in dispute. From the planning department to the business improvement area (BIA), and most everywhere in between, people agree that much has to be done to address a variety of issues, whether density, green space or anything else.

And here’s where two camps begin to emerge. Some people are pleased with the vision embodied in the district’s Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (DNP). They see increased residential density as crucial to commercial viability, and going after the former before the latter, as the plan prescribes, is ideal. Get that done, the thinking continues, and suddenly everything is all the more possible, from mixed use buildings to gathering spaces, waterfront walkways to views unobstructed by complementary architecture.

Colleen Myers is one of those people. Owner of The Hive, she’s so steeped in success that she’s gearing up to open a café on the very Cleveland Avenue that Anderson sees as ailing. Called The Zephyr Café, it’s slated for an opening next month.

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