This past week I worked on two stories about people trying to take parts of the city of Prince George that already exist and make them more usable.
The first story was about the civic plaza. This is, hypothetically, a public square of sorts. It’s outside the civic centre, downtown library, and art gallery. But even though it gets used for special events here and there, most of the time it’s a spot people walk through to get somewhere else. I go there fairly regularly since my office is nearby and it has a bench with a little patch of grass that I like to eat my lunch on– but that’s about it for usable greenspace. Here’s a picture, for reference.
The second story was about the Hudson’s Bay Slough. This is a wetland located near Prince George’s downtown. Turns out it’s a unique ecosystem with lots of potential for nature-lovers. It’s quite something, because you have views like this right in the middle of the city. Unfortunately, it’s located between a busy street, a trailer park, and a part of the city sometimes referenced as the hood, and if you want to walk around it as a loop you have to go through all three, giving you views like this, as well. So it’s also underused.
In both these stories, people are trying to take these places and have them reach their full potential. The city has commissioned a redesign of the plaza called The River (concept here, picture here) in an effort to make it more of a gathering place, and the Prince George Naturalist’s Club is working to turn the slough into a major attraction, complete with boardwalk, nature center, and a hope of improving the neighbourhoods adjacent.
I’ve learned enough about the history of Prince George to feel confident that for a significant portion of its growth it was designed with a freeways and malls mindset: people would drive places from their homes to wherever they had to go. Certainly this wasn’t true of everything, but it’s not hard to see how spread out things are.
Now there seems to be a push to undo some of this spread by reassessing what assets are closer to the core of the city and how to make them better. We’ve had the Duchess Park plan, taking a big ol’ field and putting in a playground, dog park, and BMX trail in a neighbourhood where there really wasn’t much of anything- and I can say that every time I’ve gone by it, all three have been packed. We’ve had a small wave of new businesses opening downtown, many by new businesspeople who seem to have an attitude of “why not?” and being met with what seems to be a fair amount of success. And now we have projects like these ones, taking places where few people go and figuring out how to make them usable. It’s like a giant remake of the city, happening piece by piece. And it’s fascinating to watch.
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