Why is Harris Green Suddenly the Coolest Neighbourhood in Victoria?

868 View Street is one of the few creations from the era of the Harris Green Charrette.
When you walk around Harris Green, it is amazing to see the amount of constructions sites. Currently, in or around Harris Green there are seven condo or rental buildings under construction and another three that are soon to start up. Two years from now we won't recognise this neighbourhood and the change will impact how we see our city as a whole. 
The Legato project

The City of Victoria's Downtown Core Area Plan (2011) sees Harris Green as the central residential component of downtown Victoria. Nestled to the east of the central business district, Harris Green will provide modern homes for all of the people working downtown. 

Yet, this idea is not new, this has been the plan for the last 25 years, maybe longer, but it didn't happen until now. There are three central reasons why we are now seeing the creation of this neighbourhood: Economic, cultural and most importantly focused urban planning to support the first two. 
819 Yates project


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Economic

Since the 1990's Victoria has been through a multitude of ups and downs in the economy. There were times when there was extensive growth in population and in new buildings in the downtown core. Yet, with some small exceptions, the huge swathes of vacant land and parking lots in Harris Green were left untouched. It may be argued that the prime pieces of property in the core
The St. Andrew's project with the crane for the
1075 Pandora project rising behind.
needed to be built on before a developer would consider Harris Green, however, it seems more likely that the change needed to be something a little more basic. With interest rates continuing to sit close to zero, building rental buildings has become economically viable for developers and there are quite a few now being built in Harris Green. You wouldn't do this on more prime, close to the water locations no matter what.


Cultural
The Escher project from Fort Street.

There have been two huge cultural changes in Victoria (or at least in parts of Victoria) that have allowed the politicians to move to allow for the type of constructions sites we are seeing in Harris Green and have a willing population that will want to live in them. 

First, despite some vocal minorities, Victorians are becoming comfortable that we live in a city and we need to have homes that are both affordable for people living in the city and that appeal to those that want a more urban feel to where they live. Before the choices were live in a more
The Jukebox Lofts on View Street.
suburban home or apartment, live like the rich in an ocean view condo or live in one of the very few high rise apartments in the downtown core. 


Second, Victoria's population is changing. It is not just for those looking for a place to retire. There is a burgeoning tech industry and this industry in particular, hires young urbanites. They need and want to live close to their offices and the amenities that downtown has to offer. These new tech workers are not buying houses in Fairfield rather they want a one bedroom apartment downtown (or Harris Green for that matter).
 
The George on Fort Street.

Planning

This is the biggest change in some ways. While planners have had their eye on Harris Green to be the residential component of downtown for a quarter century, the plans were wrong. You get a clear sense of the want when reading the 1997 Harris Green Charrette. (Big thank you to Mike Wilson at the City of Victoria for digging up a copy of this for me)

"The future vision of Harris Green is of a unique neighbourhood in Victoria, offering an in-town alternative to lower density, detached and dispersed living. Harris Green will evolve into a dense, conveniently-located neighbourhood where transport is minimized. The intent is to create an environment conducive to street life rather than to allow streets to divide or sever the life of the neighbour hood[sic]

                                      Harris Green Charrette 1997

989 Johnson Street project

The plan lays out a beautiful vision for the neighbourhood. Dense low-rise residential with ground floor commercial; walk out townhouses; pocket parks, but it never came to fruition. A few buildings were built under its provisions: The Mosaic, The 868 View, The Jigsaw, The Urban and couple of other smaller projects on upper Johnson and Yates Street but they did not have a critical mass of density to change the neighbourhood and pull it from being a sea of parking lots for cars.

It wasn't until 2011 with the new Downtown Core Area Plan that we began to see interest. First a little with David Chard building a couple of buildings and then the landmark Atrium building going in. The difference was the city said you could build both higher and denser.

Still looking back at the 1997 plan there are parts that seem
The 814 Johnson with a rumoured soon to disappear
parking lot.  
like they could have been brought forward and put in place. There is a huge emphasis in the Charrette on creating community in the neighbourhood, as well as trying to slow down the traffic that passes through it. (Side note: the Charrette quotes that 80 percent of all traffic in Harris Green neither begins or ends its trip there. I wonder if that has changed?) There is an inclusion of mid-block walkways throughout the neighbourhood (I might be biased) and I think that ensuring easy pedestrian movement through the neighbourhood needs to be enshrined and enhanced. 


We are now seeing an unprecedented change in a very small part of the city. In these 15 city blocks, we are seeing the birth of a real urban population that the city has not seen since its infancy. In ten years people will be heading to Harris Green for a night out or maybe if they are lucky heading home to their apartment. 

Are you ready for the new Harris Green?  
The essence of Harris Green today but
not for long!

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