It’s tricky, but KCC is prettying up its ”˜hood.
One of the best views in the city has always been heading north on Knight Street, just before you plunge down the Kensington hill at East 37th Avenue. The mountains loom larger there than anywhere else. There's a gorgeous vista of downtown, the orange cranes in the port, and the tree-lined streets of Kensington–Cedar Cottage. Driving that route this summer, I was startled to see high-rises, nearly as big as the mountains, sticking up like sore thumbs into my view.
As a long-time resident of the area, I knew the towers were under construction at Knight Street and Kingsway Avenue. In fact, I'd chaired the residents' committee supporting the project and gone on to be a city councillor when the project got approved.
But like many other KCC residents, I still find myself surprised when I'm out walking and buildings eight, 12, and 19 storeys tall jut into a view down a side street of single-family homes. "Omigod," we say to one another. "They are so much bigger than what we thought they would be! What have we done?"
Dubbed King Edward Village, the high-rises are being built on the triangle of land where Knight, Kingsway, and King Edward Avenue converge. The project will contain almost 400 condos in both high- and low-rise buildings, plus 114,000 square feet of retail space and a 7,500-square-foot branch of the public library.
What residents hope we've done is set in motion forces that will transform this strip of noodle shops, nail salons, and car dealerships into a lively, attractive neighbourhood shopping area. We hope it will become the heart of KCC.
It's part of a civic-planning exercise that started with CityPlan in 1995. Kensington–Cedar Cottage was one of the first two neighbourhoods to develop a local vision, a way to put CityPlan into action in the neighbourhoods.
It's a stretch to call KCC–roughly bounded by Fraser and Nanaimo streets, Broadway, and East 41st Avenue–a neighbourhood. With a population of about 45,000, it's larger than most cities in the province, including West Vancouver and Penticton. You can't find a more multicultural population. More people speak Chinese at home (38 percent) than speak English (33). People don't share a history. The area doesn't even have a central business district like Kerrisdale or Commercial Drive. It's not much more than sprawling retail strips along Fraser and Victoria with Kingsway slashing through the middle.
Undaunted, a small group of KCC residents met for two years and came up with a plan that council officially adopted in 1998.
Unlike NIMBY types in other parts of the city, we supported zoning for new types of courtyard and row housing that would surround this new neighbourhood centre. And we backed large-scale retail and residential development at Knight and Kingsway–eco-density, if you will, long before the present mayor copyrighted the term.
Walking southeast down Kingsway, at Inverness Street, there's now a median planted with columnar trees and groundcover roses. Wow, something beautiful on Kingsway! The median, along with new pedestrian crossings, new sidewalks, more trees on the boulevards, and a gaggle of poles destined to display public art, are supposed to make motorists slow down and notice that this is a special place.
A block along, at Clark Drive, you can see a snapshot of what the community imagined might happen in the whole area: a pocket park planted with flowers and grasses on the boulevard, patrons sitting in the sun outside a coffee shop, and neighbours pushing strollers stopping to chat before crossing at the new crosswalk.
The idea was that businesses would benefit by sprucing up the neighbourhood. Even though the city spent $2.7 million on the improvements, hardly anybody shops on Kingsway. It's dotted with Vietnamese establishments offering more beauty, health, travel, and accounting services than the local population of 3,000 Vietnamese could possibly support. Indeed, the stores–I counted at least 60 between Fraser and Knight–are usually empty.
One more block, standing at Knight, it's hard to even think about these issues. The noise and the exhaust from the 60,000 vehicles that pass each day is brutal. The worst is the trucks: 2,000 to 3,000 18-wheelers clattering so loud houses shake and residents can't even hear their TVs. It's a shame that anyone should have to live near Knight, but at least the neighbourhood's new zoning encourages the building of houses that face away from the street and into an inner courtyard. The first project is at East 28th Avenue.
The city also plans to prettify Knight but not make any changes that would slow down or reduce the number of trucks. Traffic-calming gestures include a median north of the business district, more trees, and tiny boulevards between the sidewalk and the road.
If anything is going to matter at Knight and Kingsway, it will be the King Edward Village. Developed by Francesco Aquilini, whose ownership of the Vancouver Canucks is being challenged in court, the buildings are high-quality brick and concrete with rich architectural details that whisper West Side elegance.
What I like most about the project is that it doesn't turn its back on the community. Instead, the retail outlets have doors and windows on the street. You can see all the way through the widely arched entrances on Knight, Kingsway, and King Edward that lead into a retail mews, providing a quieter space for outdoor seating for restaurants and coffee shops.
Phase 1, which has been delayed for more than a year, will finally open this month–if city workers are back on the job to issue occupancy permits for the first 212 condos.
Inexplicably, after all this time, Aquilini is still negotiating with both T&T Supermarket and Save-On Foods to get a deal signed with a major anchor. Several large businesses, such as Starbucks and a bank, are waiting to see what happens before they commit to being part of Phase II. That adds up to at least six more months before a grocery store opens, and more than a year before other stores add to the commercial clout of the area.
It's a complicated game. Only when all the dominoes drop into place next year, or the year after, will we be able to measure whether or not it was worth it.
Best place to fix things
Even when you want to get that cheap appliance that you bought at Wal-Mart fixed, you'll likely be told "It's not worth it; throw it away." Not at Doitall Services. Jaime Sandoval, the owner with a physics degree from Mexico, says he is willing to repair anything. That includes electronics, computers, radios, televisions, medical equipment, and strollers. Whether you want to save the environment or are just attached to that 1970s toaster your grandma gave you, Sandoval likes to repair it rather than toss it. "Some are not worth it, really, but we like to make the customer happy."
Most famous hippie hangover
Now that Vancouver is on the cutting edge of fusion-food trends, it's hard to believe there was a time when there was only one place in town to get spices from India or whole grains to make granola. Back in the late '60s, anyone with adventurous taste buds had to trek over to Clark and Hastings to shop at Famous Foods. The store moved to its present location on Kingsway in 1983. Over the years, it gradually morphed into a place where you can also do your day-to-day grocery shopping, adding fresh produce, dairy products, fresh meats, and organic foods. However, people still make special trips from the West Side and Vancouver Island to load up on the bulk products. Famous Foods carries an extraordinary selection of flours, oils, grains, nuts, pasta, spices, extracts, chocolates, and dried fruit. Hot now are organic flax seeds, high in omega-3 fatty acids and only $2.29 for 455 grams.
Best place to hang out
Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub
3728 Clark Avenue
Renovated seven years ago when purchased by the present neighbourly minded owners, it lives up to its moniker with comfortable leather chairs, a fireplace, fantastic homemade food, and a year-round outdoor patio that floods the underground location with natural light during the daytime. It's the kind of place where people can get together and not have to shout. Two dozen TVs for sports events, two pool tables, darts, Keno, and wireless Internet keep you entertained. Owners Kerry Williams and Kevin Kleparchuk offer rooms for community meetings, support 20 ball teams, and organized a business association. The pub also operates an upscale liquor retail outlet and cozy corner coffee shop at street level.
Best dosas in town
4354 Fraser Street
This long-time fixture on Fraser opened a second location at 1284 Kingsway two years ago. Same low prices (dinners from $7 to $15) and same great taste. These are full-meal deals with rice, roti, chutney, pappadam, and salad. The restaurant serves a range of Sri Lankan, South Indian, and Malaysian dishes. And if you haven't tried a light and crispy dosa, it's an Indian flatbread made from rice and lentil flour and can be up to 60 centimetres long. You can choose from among 31 different fillings, everything from lamb to spicy fish to various vegetables, and delivery is free within 15 kilometres.
Best fresh bargains
5037 Victoria Drive
Don't even try to drive to this store. The 17 parking spaces at the side are always full, and cars line up on Victoria waiting for a spot. Operated by Yang Teng–who has been in the grocery business for 20 years–and her son Kevin Teng, the store has an amazing selection of fresh produce: sweet corn, longan, moqua, pea tips, long eggplant, local green beans, papaya, Taiwan cabbage, and many others with names written only in Chinese. The elder Teng does regular spots on a Chinese radio station about food and cooking, which seems to bring in the customers from all over Vancouver, Burnaby, and even Surrey.
Best place to recall Kingsway's glory days
2400 Court Motel
The 2400 is a living museum from the 1940s and '50s, when the automobile was king. As people embraced the car trip, gas stations, garages, cafés, and overnight accommodations flourished along Kingsway. Built in 1946, the 2400 is the last surviving specimen in Vancouver of a car court with furnished bungalows placed on broad open lawns and paved parking right outside the door. Now owned by the City of Vancouver, it is still in operation and downright cheap for out-of-town guests: $100 for two with a kitchenette, and $130 for four with a full kitchen in high season. But it may not remain so for long. The city wants to develop it, boosting its ranking to No. 5 on Heritage Vancouver's endangered list.
Best place to get your fender bent
London Drugs parking lot
5639 Victoria Drive
Just when you thought mini malls built around a parking lot had gone the way of the dodo, London Drugs was allowed to open a store that committed every sin in the new urbanism book. Instead of pedestrian-friendly stores along Victoria, there's a large lot with exceedingly small parking spaces in a convoluted configuration. The busy store is at the very back, and high-turnover businesses, including a McDonald's, line the north and south sides. Making matters worse is that shoppers have to cross a lane off East 41st Avenue filled with cars trying to circle the parking lot or to get into an adjacent parkade. Volunteers at the nearby community policing office say if there's not one fender bender a day, there's a near miss. Watch out!
Narrowest store in the neighbourhood
Less than 2.5 metres wide, Pearl's has one very narrow aisle down the middle of the store, with ceramics, sandals, knickknacks, clocks, dishes, bras and underpants, and other odds and ends stacked on the floor and on waist-high counters on either side. Hanging on the walls and shelves above are more knickknacks, Chinese-made gifts, towels, and framed Chinese and western landscapes (on sale at the end of August for $79 each or two for $100). Ka Wah Kei, who bought the store three years ago, sits at the end of the aisle in the back.