An ambitious Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) plan is in the works to turn the East Hastings corridor – running from Gore Avenue to Clark Drive – into the city’s most “walkable” or pedestrian-friendly street by 2021.
In a June 16 interview with Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse Radio, SBIA board member Tammy Tsang spoke about the initiative, saying, “We want it to feel like a very welcoming place, one that people actually think to travel to and walk around in, and in which they know about local businesses and really contribute to the community in Strathcona.”
The biggest challenge will be to increase accessibility to the corridor. It is a busy six-car-lane throughway that connects downtown to Highway 1. There are no major SkyTrain stations nearby, so area access is primarily via bus or car.
The SBIA’s solution comes in the shape of its transportation advocacy plan that is under discussion and has not yet been released to the public. In the meantime, the association is looking to add to and improve area amenities, including area-wide public Wi-Fi similar to what was recently established in Yaletown (“Yaletown streets get free wireless service” – Business in Vancouver issue 1443; June 27-July 3).
The SBIA has added public benches for shoppers and, nearby, a new public library branch. It’s also working with local artists to infuse the area with murals, meant to encourage people to step out of their cars and explore. An example is the MakerLabs building on East Cordova, which was painted last year.
“Murals have been a huge part of the Strathcona legacy,” said Tsang. “It really just aligns with the type of community building and community thinking that we want.”
She added that while there might be retailers and restaurants wanting to open on East Hastings, the area is under M-1 industrial zoning, which requires businesses to include an on-site manufacturing component. The Strathcona Beer Co. satisfies the requirement by selling its products in its storefront and producing beer in the back of the building.
To further its goals, the SBIA is running a Walk Strathcona Summer Series event from June 24 to July 16. It begins with a street party in collaboration with the Vancouver Mural Festival, which will create nine large murals on Cordova Street. There will also be five pop-up shops by local businesses: vintage sneaker store Stay Fresh, VNCVR Clothing and VR gaming company Xcape, as well as produce delivery service Kiki’s and produce seller August Market.
Brian Tran, co-founder of Kiki’s, and Gogan Shottha, co-founder of August Market, both hope to gain more community exposure for their businesses through these pop-up shops.
“I find that exposure for small business right now is great,” said Tran, adding that Kiki’s strives to provide food that’s affordable for everyone. “We’re a mobile business, so we can cater to basically anywhere in Vancouver.”
Sourcing local produce from farms in Richmond, Surrey and the Okanagan, August Market has a store south of East Hastings on Main Street. For Shottha, the SBIA initiative is important because it allows for more social engagement in the area.
“We feel that to do anything sustainably, you need to focus on human connection,” he said. “I think what everyone wants is connection. So, if the neighbourhood is walkable, that must mean there’s places to walk and people to walk with and communicate with – and that’s amazing.” •