KYLE SLAVIN: Learning from our past mistakes

First impressions are everything.

In high school I attempted to befriend a new classmate who, as it turned out, very quickly gained a reputation for aggressively seeking out everybody’s approval. That’s Uptown.

“Wait,” the classmate tells me. “Don’t judge me yet! There’s more to me than what you can see.” But first impressions are everything.

I’ve heard that same excuse countless times from Uptown’s developers (“This is just phase one of three … It’s still a construction site … Wait until the whole project is complete.”) when pressed about the enormous amount of negative feedback the behemoth has received thus far.

But the damage is done, and it’s quite possible irreparable for Uptown. It’s hard to change your mind about that classmate three years later when they finally come around to say, “OK, now you can judge me.”

Behind the fortress-like walls that house Walmart, Best Buy and Future Shop, workers are fervently building the second retail component of the project, which will open sometime next year. Scuttling about, too, are confused shoppers unsure of how to get from one level to the next and where they parked their cars.

I can’t see how a steep learning curve to grasp manoeuvring from A to B at Uptown can help its future.

It’s a little late to simplify things though, now that the second phase of the $350-million project is underway.

At a recent Saanich council meeting, councillors described Uptown as “uninviting,” “imposing,” and “monolithic.” That’s a pretty convenient way of putting it, now that this municipal government – the same one that approved it in 2007 – is hearing a lot of negativity.

In the execution of this so-called “urban lifestyle centre,” the lifestyle aspect of it was apparently taken out of the equation and traded for inconvenience.

Granted, developers aren’t entirely to blame. One of the potentially busiest accesses to the property is a one-way road (Blanshard Street), siphoning most of the traffic through one muddled entrance off Saanich Road.

But on site, sporadic openings have meant unoccupied storefronts and a confusing, seemingly very incomplete congruity between all the buildings and their accesses. Not very pedestrian friendly.

It’s unfortunate because the idea behind a hub like Uptown – a dense community where people can live, work and shop – is commendable. It’s also one I expect to see more frequently in the coming decade.

Before politicians set in stone the rapid transit project that’ll connect downtown to the West Shore, its entirety needs to be justified. It can’t be strictly an investment for commuter convenience.

Take the Skytrain on the mainland. The busiest stops are the stations closest to shopping centres (Metrotown) and workplaces (Granville and Robson streets).

We need to take a page from that project and recognize that what’s in between the first stop and last stop has to matter.

Uptown has the potential to be a shopping destination – it’s been touted as such since Day 1. A transit hub will likely be built hugging the west side of Uptown – but people’s first impressions must be changed to make it a worthwhile stop.

Elsewhere along the line, more Uptowns, more destinations, will be needed in order to gain heavy enough transit use going both directions – not just during rush hour – to make rapid transit a worthwhile investment. This is where Uptown needs to be a lesson in what not to do. When building a destination point, don’t alienate your consumers by having them spend years getting used to what an inconvenience your site is.

Transit’s role is crucial in how strong of a pedestrian-friendly vibe Uptown gives off, but the nature of the retailers at the centre – one-stop-shopping at Walmart, for example – means cars will never be out of the picture entirely. Reassuring angered, discouraged and frustrated customers that this balance will be achieved is a monumental task Uptown will face.

We all know that first impressions are everything. But sometimes you can luck out with your second chance.

Kyle Slavin is a reporter for the Saanich News

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Mural artist Paul Archer will soon begin work on a piece on the rear of a building at 100 Burnside Road West. (Gorge Tillicum Community Association)
Back of Burnside building in Saanich to feature mural of hope and positivity

Artist Paul Archer says subject will inspire memories, depict children’s future, sunshine, flowers

Victoria Truth Centre and Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (L.I.N.C.) Society are hoping to replicate in Langford the format used on Emma’s Farm in Mission, pictured here. (Patrick Penner/Black Press Media)
Victoria Truth Centre hopes to grow transformative justice in Langford

Purchase proposal would see offenders, survivors and families work on organic vegetable farm

Tyson Muzzillo, regional manager of BC Cannabis Store, welcomes shoppers to their Uptown location, opening on June 16. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Government-run cannabis store opening at Saanich’s Uptown

BC Cannabis Store the first for government in Greater Victoria, 27th in province

The stretch of trail north of Royal Bay Secondary connecting to Painters Trail at Murray’s Pond will be closed temporarily this week for invasive species removal. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood trail behind Royal Bay Secondary temporarily closed for invasive species removal

Cloure in effect from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Friday this week

Proposed design for the Topaz Park bike and skate park elements. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria requesting feedback on Topaz Park redesign

Public input now being taken for proposed skate, bike park ideas

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

CVSAR search the Puntledge River following a report of an abandoned kayak. Photo, CVSAR Facebook page
Comox Valley Search and Rescue spends four hours searching for no one

Overturned kayak a reminder for public to contact officials if they have to abandon a watercraft

Most Read