Whitehorse needs more inspired development

Whitehorse was always a beautiful city, but it has come a long way in the past decade. Although like all old-timers I'm a bit nostalgic for the "old days" when it felt less urban, I also think recent development projects like the Millenniu

COMMENTARY

by Renate Schmidt

Whitehorse was always a beautiful city, but it has come a long way in the past decade. Although like all old-timers I’m a bit nostalgic for the “old days” when it felt less urban, I also think recent development projects like the Millennium Trail, Shipyards Park and the Canada Games Centre have been excellent additions.

Whitehorse’s slogan is the “The Wilderness City.” We’ve always had a beautiful wilderness, but such projects have gone a long way to upping our merits as a city. And I think we should promote our urban attributes just as we do our natural ones.

City council is responsible for our urban development. They recently announced a plan to tackle vacant lots, which I think is a great idea, but instead of one-off plans, I’d like to see council establish a broader vision for Whitehorse, and a strategy for its achievement.

Let’s start at the global level. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we have many examples of cities not only in Canada but from all over the world upon which to draw. People who live in Whitehorse are well-travelled and I assume have experienced many cities they would consider great.

So what makes a city great?

Encouraging creative architecture and expanding designated public green space are general ideas we should incorporate into our municipal vision for the future. One such green space could be a pedestrian zone in downtown Whitehorse.

In many ways, architecture sets the tone of a city. Buildings should be inspiring, designed by architects that have a vision and create spaces that are not only functional but also pleasing to look at. I challenge our contractors to try follow Gaudi’s lead – a great Spanish architect around 1900 who designed remarkable buildings. Unfortunately, I find that several of our recently-built downtown buildings are no more than cubic blocks.

Next let’s consider our public green spaces. It seems we are doing OK – Whitehorse is quite green and has a lovely waterfront. However, within the inner city core there’s not a lot of green space. We allow condo and office buildings to be built without any set backs and no room for trees. I hope we can change this soon.

But there is one specific idea that would remarkably improve the city: the creation of a pedestrian zone. Such zones are great attributes in any city not only because of their convenience but because of the social, interactive culture they promote. I suspect many other Yukoners have travelled to Europe and enjoyed strolling these areas filled with shoppers, street cafes , markets and street performers.

I have written letters in the past to suggest change; my Porter Creek Secondary School Grade 8 students interviewed people on the streets one year to see if they could envision Main Street becoming a pedestrian zone. Many responded favourably, so I contacted previous mayors to discuss this idea, but there was a general lack of interest.

Perhaps at the time – a decade ago – we weren’t quite ready. But I think an outdoor, urban culture has organically grown in the Whitehorse core already. Just about every downtown cafe boasts a patio, and I always see people enjoying the sun at Rotary and Lepage parks at lunch time.

Unfortunately we still experience Main Street primarily as a glorified parking lane. People will drive three times around the block until they find a parking spot right in front of the bank or bookstore.

I propose that we close Main Street from Fourth Avenue all the way to Front Street, keeping Second Avenue a throughway for traffic. I suggest that we should build a bridge as a walkway across Second Avenue to accommodate pedestrians and also improve the flow of traffic on Second Avenue. Eliminating traffic lights also have another beneficial effect because cars would no longer idle and thus the air quality would improve.

Just imagine: a fountain standing in the middle of Main between Front and Second; patios or open seating from surrounding restaurants and cafes would extend further into the street, almost like a mini-piazza, with kids running around; down the street, boutique stores would open their doors to passers-by, lining racks along the street so you could check out their wares as you went by. Wouldn’t strolling a pedestrian Main Street be a lovely way to spend an afternoon?

In conjunction with this – since we’d lose the glorified parking lane – the city could assign one of the many vacant lots to a parkade. It might be especially useful for business people and workers in the city core, as well as for shoppers who need to keep their vehicles warm during the winter months.

Not only would investing in Whitehorse’s downtown core make the city more enjoyable for its residents; it would improve our draw to tourists. We call ourselves “The Wilderness City” largely as a tourism gimmick, but in reality, the tourism we are selling lies outside city limits.

I’d love to see us introduce tourists to Whitehorse itself: its people, its culture, its recreational facilities, its shops, its restaurants. I’d love to see us surprise some unknowing visitors, showing them that we’re not just base camp for their Teslin canoe trip. We’re a vibrant, modern and liveable city, and they should have a blast exploring for five days.

We could develop Whitehorse into an exceptional city. And I think that a great first step towards this goal would be the creation of a pedestrian zone on Main Street and more emphasis on forcing contractors to come up with more creative building designs. I’d like to see a Whitehorse that lures tourists and future residents with its own attributes, not just those in its surrounding. All we need is some vision and some political will.

Renate Schmidt has been a Whitehorse resident since 1978.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read