This is a continuation of a series focused on getting to know places off (my) beaten path in, Victoria B.C.
Set in the Downtown Harbour Front area this post is focused on planning for mixed use and walk-ability in the Inner Harbour as well as the future of an industrial working harbour.
Considered to be a well rounded approach to balancing social economic and environmental challenges, “Mixed Use” has become a dominant ethic in development and planning literature denoting an ideal of a commingling of live, work, recreation, retail/commercial and occasionally industrial space. To foster socialization, access to businesses and provision of parks and natural areas, mixed use developments in Victoria’s harbour-front have often included walkable public spaces/parks along the waterfront. Despite some goals for a continuous waterfront walkway as set by community members and in public planning documents issued by the City of Victoria, the waterfront walkway on the east side of the inner harbor gets disconnected by industrial areas beginning at Rock Bay and running north of Bay Street bridge.
In light of it’s nature as public space, it is perhaps the nearly complete waterfront pathway that provides the most readily accessible experience of development in Victoria’s harbour. South from Bastion Square, this walkway runs in front of the Empress Hotel and Parliament, through to fisherman’s wharf and even around ogden point to the trails along Dallas road. To the north this walkway is partially severed by the Johnson Street Bridge. The Victoria Harbour Plan stated that a pathway would be established under the bridge by 2010, however the completion of this section will likely happen with the upcoming construction of a new Bridge at Johnson street.
A cousin to the above mentioned mixed use area, the Selkirk Waterfront is a recent mixed use development situated immediately north of the Upper (“Working”) Harbour. For it’s part the Selkirk development has created spacious pedestrian and cycling capacity along the waterfront. The waterfront access restored in Selkirk has the potential to connect the harbour greenway extending all the way from Dallas road to the major regional Galloping Goose and Lochside trails, but the path abruptly ends at an industrial site to the south housing pacific steel recycling. The Selkirk Planning Manual – used as the de-facto official plan in the Victoria Harbour Plan – states: “Continuous public access along Victoria’s is highly desirable [however] connection … is now precluded by either heavy industrial use along the shoreline, steep topography or private occupancy.”
If existent, it is exceedingly difficult to find any substantive published discussion of options for creating a publicly accessible waterfront through the private and public properties to the immediate north and south of Bay Street Bridge. This includes any discussion of the future of the pacific steel recycling site which has been the source of multiple noise complaints from nearby neighbourhoods. One other major stumbling block to connecting through this area with a walkway is the fact that the City’s public works yard is situated in this area. The yard has a massive amount of gravel barged into it and, even if GHG emissions don’t mean much to you, from a pragmatic cost and infrastructure perspective the idea of trucking the same amount of gravel in through Victoria’s roadways is markedly less appealing than the existing “working harbour” method. That said a City of Victoria Planner has been quoted as saying that a walkway could be integrated with some industrial use in the area.
In the absence (for now) of viable options for a waterfront pathway in this area it is useful to note that pre-1900s, prior to the heavy industrial use of the area, there existed a bridge across Rock Bay connecting to the suggestively named Bridge Street. Map 1 shows that bridge street does in fact connect directly to the Selkirk development and if the bridge were re-instated could provide a workable link to the rest of the waterfront pathway.
This suggests that the real key to achieving a connected regional waterfront greenway lies in Rock Bay. Since the Government of Canada and BC Hydro announced in May of 2004 that they, “are working together to clean up Victoria Harbour’s Rock Bay, one of the most contaminated sites in BC,” (Transport Canada, 2004) little work has actually been done on the ground (see Illustration 6). However, David Anderson, Minister of Environment said, “Once the cleanup is complete this will provide a great opportunity to plan and redevelop this site.[which will be sold to private developers or the City]” (Transport Canada, 2004). The City of Victoria is currently drafting a new Official Community Plan (OCP) to replace the antiquated 1995 OCP. Judging by a media release from August 27, 2010 (from The City of Victoria) regarding the upcoming OCP, walkable neighbourhoods will be an important focus of the plan. With the OCP and the growing propensity for mixed use development in urban cores, it is nearly certain that any new development on the remediated rock bay site would be mixed residential and commercial space and thus able to realize the provision of public space for a connecting section of harbour-front greenway.
In November of 2007 a Times Colonist article noted that the City of Victoria was considering re-establishing a bridge across Rock Bay. This article spawned a fairly active discussion recorded online in 2007 where the public’s opinions can be more or less summarized by two excerpts:
“I don’t know why anyone would want to walk to Rock Bay but this is a cool idea nonetheless… they should [also connect to] the Selkirk Trestle & beyond.” (“amor de cosmos”, on VibrantVictoria.com)
“… who ever walks to Rock Bay? I did [from James Bay] just the other night.”
(“Barra”, on VibrantVictoria.com)
Seemingly sympathetic to the views described above, the City of Victoria has recently shown increasing support for a connected Harbour Pathway in it’s 2010 draft of the Downtown Core Area Plan. The City of Victoria’s website states, “The completion of the Harbour Pathway as a key public amenity is supported through urban design guidelines as well as through the new Density Bonus System.” (City of Victoria, 2011) While the portion of the draft plan explicitly dealing with the Rocky Bay Area “[c]ontinues to support the location of marine-dependent industrial uses and activities along the waterfront,” it does propose the re-establishment of the Rock Bay Bridge (See Map 2) as well as mixed residential, high tech industry and commercial development (City of Victoria, 2010-B).
All of this being said, Victoria’s waterfront walkway remains incomplete, and despite the goal of connecting Selkirk via a waterfront path, the latest greenway plans only extend to Rock Bay. None the less there is potential to establish some viable link between the mixed use communities via the proposed Rock Bay Bridge. The first step will be the Rock Bay Remediation and development of a mixed residential and commercial community on the site.