This past August long weekend, I travelled up to Kamloops to visit a friend who was stage managing at a Shakespeare Festival. Travelling up and staying in Kamloops reminded me of some of the realities of what I will call “organic” growth.
The first change that I noticed, of course, was the removal of the toll on the Coquihalla Highway. I have spent the majority of my life living in the Okanagan, so travelling to the Coast and paying the toll was just something you just did. I actually find it odd that the toll was removed considering that the Province government was looking at privatizing the highway back in first half of this decade because it cost so much to maintain. By removing the toll, the government basically sent the message that road should be free even though modern economic thought (including the BC Chamber of Commerce) support the idea of road pricing.
The second shock was to see a Wal-Mart built right at the interchange to Merritt. It reminded me of the US mid-west where Wal-Marts are at every other interchange and the Main Streets are dead. I find it odd because I remember that when the Coquihalla was built, commercial development was not allowed to occur along the highway to ensure that communities along the highway would still have business.
As is typical in most North American cities, Kamloops has a downtown, but most of the business is now located along the freeway.
It was funny reading the Kamloops OCP which in one breath wants to support downtown, mixed-use, and walkability, but in another breath states that they must build auto-centric “regional commercial” at the edge of town. Regional commercial is a euphemism for big-box retailing. To state that regional retail need to be in commercial-only, auto-only areas has more to do with getting a quick buck than quality planning. Regional commercial can excites within the context of a well planning, mixed-use community. Vancouver is the perfect example. The City of Vernon, which in the past 7 years opened the flood gates to big box, now states in their 2008 OCP that they will allow higher density residential around their big box area to encourage sustainable modes of transportation.
Kamloops basically has three major areas: The North Shore, Downtown, and everything on the hill/highway. The North Shore and Downtown are the older parts of Kamloops and looks like their heyday was in the 1970’s. It would appear that most of the new development in Kamloops is along the highway in an area called Aberdeen. Kamloops has plans to revitalize its Downtown and North Shore, but with the amount of new commercial and residential development in Aberdeen, that will be a hard thing to accomplish.
On a positive side, the Kamloops area is on the top ten list of sustainable modes of transportation at 10.6% (Victoria is the top area at 26.3%). It also has the third highest transit use at 3.8% (Metro Vancouver is 16.5% and Victoria is 10.2%). Thompson Rivers University is located in Aberdeen which is a plus for bus service in the area. It has a student population of 10,558 or 12% of the total population of Kamloops. University students are more likely to take transit. Also, there now seems to be an effort to do the whole mixed-use thing in the Aberdeen area. Let’s hope it works out.