Victoria's Chinatown: The Most Dynamic Place in the City
I never get bored of walking through Chinatown. While it has an amazing history, that is not what keeps me coming back. The amazing selection of food and culture is a draw, but again that is not what keeps me interested. What you see as you walk along the Fisgard Street is constant changing action, obstacles on the sidewalks that slow you down and stores being stocked.
While Government Street in the summer gives you a similar pace of walk, there is not the variety of things to see that Chinatown gives you. Also, the the stream of tourists walking up Government tends to flow in one direction (depending on the cruise ship schedules). In Chinatown, you can't walk a linear path along the sidewalks, there are people darting across the streets and your pace ebbs and flows as shoppers stop to look at the vegetables outside a grocery store.
Chinatown's street feel is in some ways antithetical to the way most Canadian city streets are meant to be, clean, ordered and presenting a clear path of direction. That is also why most downtown Canadian big city streets are boring. There are of course exceptions and generally those exceptions have many of the attributes of the 500 block of Fisgard Street. One just has to think of the vibrancy of Commercial Drive in Vancouver to see both the similarity, but also why people are drawn there, it is ever changing.
I wouldn't suggest that lower Government be changed to purposely create obstacles, though there have been improvements with the addition of some cafe seating along the sidewalks. In some ways Government Street needs to have adequate flow because it is a gateway to the rest of the city for tourists. The City should be looking for other areas where businesses could be given a little more free reign in taking over the sidewalk with their wares; where commercial vehicles can stop along the street to unload (and also slow down traffic at the same time); where the enjoyment of being there is the chaotic busyness and the ever-changing faces and storefronts.
For now we have Chinatown in Victoria, though I do worry that with the changes we have already seen at the eastern end of the block and the ones that are likely to come, that we will see more of the sanitised and ordered street. Hopefully the City can encourage the new business owners to let loose and keep the block just a little dynamic.