Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Walkable is 7th Ave and 8th Street?

I'm launching on a tangent with a Steven Wright quote of all things. The comedian famous for the puzzling word- or mind-play of his one liners once commented on the challenges of being a stand up comedian with a comment that was both Wrightian and insightful, saying, "The silence of 8000 people is a lot of silence."

I'd like to take a turn on that and suggest that "The neglect of 8000 people is a lot of neglect."

During my forays to and around the old 8th Street SW Station on 7th Ave in Calgary, the running of the gauntlet was a challenge that invited you to simply keep your head down, and keep your wits about you for anything untoward that might approach or occur. The station was infamous as the site of a manslaughter when a woman pushed a young man into the path of the LRT and in my own experience, it is where I had to make the only 911 call of my life. I had to report the stabbing of someone who stumbled into one of the language school agencies to fluster the Asian staff and student-tourists who were inside.

Now that the station has been torn down, it is time to re-examine that block. It remains an unwelcoming, perhaps even forbidding, dark stretch. The block is still darkened by a large overhang that discourages people from stopping by and makes it a challenge for anyone to maintain a business there. For some reason, someone even dared to open a daycare there despite the reputation of the neighbourhood. With the train station torn down, there is even less to connect this block with the street. The pedestrians that disembarked and left the block as quickly as they could do not even bother to go there now.

The majority of the traffic on this block is likely the rush of apartment residents in and out of the building and the occasional pedestrian heading to the ethnic restaurants on the west end of the block.

Those who still frequent the block, likely divert their eyes and pick up their pace rather than make any effort to involve themselves in it. How would they if they wanted? The residents in the apartment building have little to motivate them to look out for one another and it is an attitude that spills into the streets as they head out each day. This, however, is not the fault of the residents, but the design of the building. The building has never been connected with the street and it has created a void that has fostered the drug crime that occur in its shadows.

Other buildings on the block, namely the McDonald's and Mac's to the east, are apparently targeted for demolition or retrofit to further revitalize the neighbourhood. The ideal target, however, ought to be the looming tower that dominates. Replacement with a smaller more interactive, street-friendly structure would be a much wiser move.