If you were going to try and find a place that has all the worst parts of urban living in Victoria, Gorge Road East would likely get to the top of the list. It is noisy with traffic, most of the businesses that are nearby are car oriented, the sidewalks are narrow, the bike lanes are non-existant, loud industrial yards give the air a dusty feel. Despite all those things though, I think that this stretch of road between Douglas and Jutland, has the potential to become an amazing urban village with the right planning brought into place for the area.
If you read my post from a couple of years ago on the Selkirk development, you will know that in my opinion one of the biggest failures of that project was that it turned its back on Gorge Road. Rather than trying on being a part of the surrounding community, it cut itself off from it. That decision sealed the fate of Gorge Road East for the last two decades. If the Selkirk properties along Gorge Road had ground floor commercial along with some traffic calming measures, I would think that we would have seen some of the neighbouring properties developed in a similar fashion.
Unfortunately, with the new neighbourhood plan for Burnside-Gorge just completed last year, we may still be another twenty years from seeing any change along here, which is frustrating because underneath all that grit is a great stretch of street.
The new plan for Burnside-Gorge actually has a lot of good stuff going for it. The biggest challenge with it is that it is trying to create a neighbourhood centre when the neighbourhood as it has been artificially created doesn't exist. If you know my regular beef on neighbourhood boundaries, you will have seen my dream map of moving the borders. Burnside-Gorge gets more of a chop than the other places because in my opinion, it is really three disparate places mashed together and told to be one neighbourhood. The southern portion of Burnside-Gorge should be part of downtown, The portion of the neighbourhood we are talking about here is really what I would call Rock Bay and the area north is Burnside-Gorge.
Unfortunately, rather than trying and redraw the borders to follow the form of a neighbourhood, the city would rather try and force an artificial construct. The new neighbourhood plan sees the creation of a new neighbourhood village along Cecelia Street and Jutland. This is a truly bizarre idea to take a back alley road and turn it into a village. It is not a place that anyone wants to go, which is why it hasn't naturally become a neighbourhood centre and creating a new zoned area there is not going to automatically do it. It is hard to get to by car and even worse on foot or bike as the street is at the crest of a hill from either direction. This will simply never happen, as nice an idea as it may have seemed at a planning session.
For the reasons I said at the beginning, I can totally see why there was not some consideration for making Gorge Road East the neighbourhood centre, but there are actually some reasons that it would be great. First, it is a natural transportation route. There are links to some many areas along here whether it is north to the Tillicum neighbourhood or across the Selkirk Trestle to Vic West, but traffic needs to be slowed down. If this stretch had bike lanes that linked up with the Galloping Goose and large traffic circle at Gorge, Bridge and Garbally, the road could be calmed and that would take away a lot of the negative livability factors. The second thing that would needed would be a public space. Conveniently, there is a nice underused green space between Manchester Road and Gorge. Add some hard surfacing, benches and perhaps some public art and you could have a nice small square. With the traffic now slowed and perhaps some bike lanes to create a buffer people might actually want to sit here.
The idea here would not be to change the use beyond Gorge Road but just along it. If as the plan envisions there is a bit of a urban hub at Douglas and Hillside, an urban village that stretched from there to Selkirk and the water could be an amazing place but it would take just as much visioning as the Cecilia Village needed but this actually has a chance of success. Even better it would give all of those surrounding businesses places for employees to leave close by and it would likely be a little cheaper than downtown too!
Can you see the possibility or is this stretch just too far gone to try and fix?