I can clearly remember being excited about the beginnings of the Selkirk Waterfront. I moved to Victoria in 1995, the project had begun just two years before. Only two buildings had been completed at that point and I recall showing up at one of them for an open house about the project. It was so exciting to see what was essentially an industrial wasteland being turned into a real part of the city. Even more exciting to me was the promise of an instant urban neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city and only about two kilometres from the central downtown core. I had visions of a spark that would pull that urban feel from downtown right to Selkirk.
At the open house, the project seemed to show it was doing all the things that you would want to see. A great mix of residential and office space with lots of planned ground level commercial. On top of that the location was amazing. The recently refurbished trestle stretched across the Gorge. The new Galloping Goose Trail ran right along the northern edge of the site and the development company, the Jawl Development Corporation, had brought Frank d'Ambrosio on board as the architect. I had recently returned from my second trip to Europe and seeing plans that incorporated tight low-rise urban architecture seemed like the perfect recipe for vibrancy and city life.
Here we are, twenty-one years since I went to that open house and twenty-three years since the beginnings of Selkirk. Last year, the final building in the original plan was completed and we should be seeing the culmination of the vision all that time ago.
First of all, I don't want to take away from all the good that there is at Selkirk, the great water playground, the amazing architecture and that enveloping feeling you get once you are through the gates. Yet despite all that, when I walk around Selkirk, I feel sad, like someone that thought that they were voting for a politician that would change the world and they end up like all the rest. There was so much promise and when you walk around it feels like empty failure. What went wrong?
|This plaza should be brimming with life.|
Density - The single biggest problem with Selkirk Waterfront is that there are simply not enough people living right in the project. On paper it seemed so rational. Slightly more residential buildings than commercial, between the two types there would be people there both night and day. For me, this was the first real in my face example of just how many people you need to make a place vibrant. Walking through Selkirk on any given evening or weekend the streets are deserted, quiet, almost suburban quiet. You can't just make a place look nice, mix up the style of buildings and call it a day. Cook Street Village has people walking through it all the time and this is because it is surrounded by the densest neighbourhood in the city. Without all those people, there would be no Cook Street Village.
|There is actually a wall between the Gateway Building|
and Gorge Road that clearly says that this is the border.
Insular - So what if there is not enough people living in the development itself, there are tonnes of people living nearby! I am not sure if this is a common issue with planned communities, particularly those that are built inside an existing urban fabric, but the way that the Selkirk project was designed and implemented, it excluded those that live just outside its borders. The feeling is very clear and distinct. A wall was built to say this area is Selkirk and this area isn't. The building at the main entrance to the community is even named the Gateway Building. This difference of place continues to have a dramatic impact on the greater area. An apartment for rent on Gorge Road would likely go for a significant amount less than one in Selkirk and yet they may be only 100 metres from each other. While you want new developments to improve an area, Selkirk turned its back on the neighbourhood. A more thoughtful and cohesive design, especially at the fringes could have allowed for some transition, a malleable edge. Selkirk could have been Cook Street Village for the Gorge, but instead both neighbourhoods look elsewhere for what they need, one for people to make it vibrant and the other for an urban centre to call its own.
Ground floor office - I have said this before, ground floor office is perhaps the worst land
|Imagine if this was a row of storefronts.|
I still have hope for Selkirk, for one thing, the architecture is amazing, each building is unique, interesting and will likely still look good in twenty more years. Also there remains opportunity to still improve the feel. Hopefully, at some point, the government offices will move out of the ground floors of the office buildings, allowing new active commercial spaces. There are also still opportunities for new buildings as well. At some point the legion building across from the Gateway will present a development opportunity. I truly hope that when it is designed it faces out to Gorge Road and becomes the piece that pulls people in. Other vacant areas in the project, such as the parking and storage areas behind the office buildings on Jutland could have more residential space put in. I would hope that if this happens, they are built as a slightly higher density than the rest of the project and have more people calling this space home.
|The space behind this building could be home to a nice|
What are your favourite and not so favourite parts of the Selkirk Waterfront?
Here are a few bonus pictures that show that while the project has its serious problems, the attention to detail in its creation was amazing.