My current colmn in Business in Vancouver (unabridged):
B.C. Towns Seek New Vision
After a tour by rail and road through southern B.C., I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of small towns – the stripped and the constrained. And while that may be a tad simplistic, the communities of this province seem to be choosing to develop in one way or the other.
Cranbrook is a town that has been stripped. This Kootenay community of 18,000 is best known for the commercial sprawl that lines the Crowsnest Highway to its east:
I used to think no one would be able to top Kelowna for the sheer extent of malls, big boxes and fast-food joints that line Highway 97 out to the airport:
Not that there weren’t precedents: the Island Highway through Nanaimo and Duncan, Skaha Lake Boulevard and Main Street through Penticton, the Trans-Canada through Kamloops. Often they’re reinforced by the in-your-face advertising that is the public front of many First Native reserves. Westbank, leading into Kelowna (soon to be our newest municipality), captures it all, from big box to billboard:
But I’d give the prize to Cranbrook. For its size, it’s the strippiest.
In this auto-obsessed world, you’d think that sprawl was the only realistic choice for growing communities. But some small towns, typically constrained by geography or land reserves, have chosen a more compact alternative. They’re building on their existing assets, particularly a still-viable downtown main street and close-in neighbourhoods, and they’re trying to avoid being stripped.
The best example is not that far from Cranbook. The Kootenay town of Nelson may have the best intact downtown in the province, better even than Victoria, and is building on that vitality.
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