EDITORIAL: It's time for a bold move downtown Chilliwack

Big problems require big solutions.

Downtown Chilliwack has its qualities: many good shops, restaurants and events in the summer.

But we all know the area is not all it could be. Some blocks are worse than others with regard to crime, drug activity and buildings held by out-of-town owners who care not for the well-being of our community.

So how do we fix downtown?

Chilliwack’s downtown is not unique in its troubles, most of which began to befall urban cores all over with the push towards car culture in the 1950s. Living in the core of a downtown or in close proximity became less desirable than having a nice patch of grass and a house a few kilometres away in the burgeoning suburbs. Shopping moved to strip malls and roads became the stagnant lifeblood of cities.

So what of Chilliwack’s ambitious plan to “assemble land” in the downtown core and lay out a package of development-ready properties to a serious investor prepared to help revitalize the core of our city?

It’s time for such a bold idea, which is drawing out some critics. Some point to individual buildings in the core that have heritage value as a reason why the city shouldn’t proceed with purchases and demolitions. But there is no cohesive frontage to be particularly proud of in the downtown core. There are bits of heritage: interesting brick-work here, unique crown mouldings there. Not many of the buildings on the block the city wants to purchase, package and have redeveloped jump out as being of obvious heritage value.

The current mayor and council have an ambitious optimism—which may have been spurred by a consultant they hired—in their belief that some developer will come calling with millions and millions of dollars for a risky redesign of a downtown block.

But what is the alternative? Let the free market fix downtown’s problems while owners sit on empty, dilapidated properties?

The time is now for something bold. City hall’s plans might just be it. Let’s hope so.

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