Rockland Avenue or Fight! Victoria's Bizarre Neighbourhood Borders

Beautiful Fairfield!
Living in Victoria, we are all very familiar with the names of our neighbourhoods. Some even evoke a lifestyle, like Fernwood with its earthy living or Fairfield with its chinos and lattes. I would also think most Victorians would know when they are in James Bay or Downtown, but few could tell you where the borders are. Perhaps this is due to the growth of the city since the neighbourhood borders were drawn or that no one is complaining about them. It is my opinion though, that it is time for the City to take a look at the current lines and adjust them based on the changes that have taken place since their creation.

As I said, you will usually know when you are in a neighbourhood, this is because an area, over time, will perhaps attract a similar demographic due to the cost of the neighbourhood or proximity to the core; maybe it is because of the time period when the neighbourhood was built up. We certainly see this in Victoria when you compare the Edwardian housing stock of Fernwood with the war-time houses in next door Oaklands. 

Knowing you are in a neighbourhood by seeing it and feeling it, is important for those that live there and those that visit because for many of us, our neighbourhoods are part of our identity. The sense of place is more important than just an area drawn on a map. For those that live in North Park or James Bay, it is important to both feel that, but also to tell people that.
Restaurant and Hotel in Victoria's Burnside

So that brings us to the problem of the map. I honestly have no idea when the current neighbourhood map was created, who created it and through what process the City went through. One would hope that at the time it made great sense. Using this same map in 2016, however, is completely ridiculous and it is time for the city to redraw the neighbourhood borders.

Why does this matter? Well, in Victoria, we have made neighbourhoods tremendously powerful for our relatively small city. Each neighbourhood has a community organisation that promotes the neighbourhood, but more importantly has a role in the planning and zoning process with city hall. Ostensibly, this makes great sense as you will need people that have that neighbourhood identity in mind when working with the city and developers on projects (I know there are many other objections to the way the neighbourhood associations work, but that is not part of this post). The concern for me here is when you are giving that power to a neighbourhood organisation and the subject area is not part of the context of the neighbourhood. When one neighbourhood has spread into another and its culture and identity has pushed past an artificially created boundary, the current process will not give those whose neighbourhood it is, a voice at the table.

The neighbourhoods and the organisations that represent them, should be pushing for the bolstering of the neighbourhood's image, both in how it is promoted and also in how it is built. Over time this will further entrench each neighbourhood as distinct and unique from one another. This can only be done when you start from a place where the neighbourhood boundaries make sense. It also has to be done with the acknowledgement that the boundaries could change again in the future. 

Here are a few of my largest concerns and solutions:
The real Fairfield

Fairfield/Downtown Border - This is in my opinion the single largest and most concerning neighbourhood conflict in the city. I am sure that if you stood on the corner of Blanshard and Fort Street and asked those going in and out of Starbucks which neighbourhood they were in, 90% would say downtown, the other 10% would say Harris Green. No one would imagine that this corner is actually technically in Fairfield, because it is not part of that contextual neighbourhood, it is not even close. In fact, the whole south side of Fort Street between Blanshard and Quadra is a part of the Fairfield neighbourhood. This means that a neighbourhood organisation focused on houses from the early 20th century and Cook Street Village gets to be part of the planning process for buildings such the Escher on Broughton. As a current aside, most people would not guess that the tent city is also in Fairfield.

In my opinion, the northern border of Fairfield should be moved to Rockland between Quadra and Linden Street. And the western border be moved to Quadra Street between Rockland and Beacon Hill Park.

Burnside-Gorge Rock Bay/ Downtown Border - For those that read my previous post on The NotCh will know downtown's northern border is Chatham/Caledonia Street. From there north to Saanich is part of the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood and City planning and developers have to consult with that neighbourhood association (not the Downtown Resident's Association) for any new projects or zoning changes. To provide a visual for you, how many people go to the White Spot on Douglas Street and Caledonia and are thinking that they are really enjoying a meal out in Burnside Gorge. Same goes for anyone picking up a growler at the Phillips Brewery.

Here the change is simple move the downtown border north to Bay Street.

Harris Green and Downtown - Harris Green is a neighbourhood in transition, the City continues to list it as a separate neighbourhood from Downtown but the Downtown Residents Association is responsible for working with residents when new proposals are brought forward. This area is bound by Fort, Pandora, Cook and Blanshard Streets. And while fifteen years ago it was dominated by large parking lots, car dealerships and some commercial space, in recent years numerous high-rise apartment buildings and some office buildings have been built that have given it a more urban and downtown vibe. It has become a part of downtown. Some have said that it still has a unique character but it is my opinion that it is not unique enough to warrant it being its own designated neighbourhood and downtown already has unique areas like Old Town and Chinatown that are distinct yet very much a part of downtown. 

The border between North Park and
 Fernwood cutting through the middle 
of North Park Village
The City should formally make Harris Green a part of the Downtown Neighbourhood and while they are at it add some of the area to the east of Cook Street that is currently a part of Fernwood. 

There are a few others that I would like to see as well such as moving the North Park/Fernwood border to Chambers. Move the border between Fernwood and Oaklands to Bay Street. Split Burnside and Rock Bay into two separate neighbourhoods and complete the amalgamation of North and South Jubilee because it is crazy they were ever apart! 

Here is a map that I think better represents the neighbourhoods of Victoria. You will see on the map, that I have both edited boundaries and renamed a couple while I was at it. I think that when you have a look you will see that only Vic West was spared, though I do have an idea of two on that neighbourhood as well, but I will save that for another time. I also took Beacon Hill Park out of both James Bay and Fairfield. It is a city resource and no neighbourhood should get a greater say on its future. 

I would love to know if anyone has any other ideas on neighbourhoods in general or changes you would like to see in Victoria in particular. 


  1. aastra by any other name24 June 2016 at 14:26

    Downtown's approximate boundaries are really quite obvious and always have been, and thus the way the official neighbourhood designations encroach into downtown and misrepresent/limit the true extent of downtown has always seemed very revisionist and suspicious to me.

    Many Victorians just don't want to have a large downtown. They grudgingly accept downtown as a necessary but unwanted element of urban living, instead of regarding it as the star of the proverbial show and celebrating it as such.

    All neighbourhood designations should really have fuzzy borders, anyway. Delineating things to the half-inch and running precise lines through the middle of properties isn't sensible. It doesn't reflect reality and how communities actually work.

  2. I of course, agree. I think that planning staff still need some guideline areas but they should follow the form and feel of each neighbourhood and be open to change.


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