Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Indoor market closure a setback in Vancouver?

The Columbian reports on a serious setback to the continuing efforts to turn downtown Vancouver into a truly thriving urban area:
Less than two years after the Vancouver Farmers Market jumped into the restaurant business with visions of a bustling indoor bazaar like Seattleā€™s Pike Place Market, its directors are giving up.

The nonprofit organization is more than $200,000 in debt and losing more almost every day.

The market this week told its vendors that the indoor space will close Sept. 30.
The popular outdoor market will remain, although that one isn't open all year. (Kind of hard to have an outdoor farmer's market here in January.)

I've come to have a mixed opinion of the redevelopment efforts in Vancouver. A lot of positive things have been accomplished over the years. In the early 1990's, the former brewery site sat like an industrial monolith over the whole area, and then the site sat for years as a rather clean pile of rubble.

While I tend to make fun of some political leaders' absolute faith in the free market, in this case the market is a continuing and serious challenge. While millions have been spent on some wonderful improvements, most notably Esther Short Park and the downtown Hilton, downtown Vancouver still, somehow, just doesn't seem to have the kind of traffic that would make things like an indoor farmer's market work.

The long standing criticism I have leveled at Vancouver is that while downtown investment is truly a worthy goal, it leaves the impression on the east side of the city that their needs are being ignored. It's kind of hard to care about the niceties of urban planning when your neighborhood is being afflicted by crime, traffic and school overcrowding.

It's also sadly amusing when the same political elite that extols the nearly magical wisdom of business folks continually turns around and subsidizes them. To overstate things, the free market is best when liberals have an idea, and subsidies are best when they wind up in the pocket of those magically wise business folks. (If you read The Columbian article, it says that the housing authority has been renting the space to the city for well below market rate.)

I'm certainly no expert at urban planning, but I do wonder if the days of big-ticket projects that receive public money are numbered in downtown Vancouver. If the idea is to provide the basic infrastructure and "seed money," people are going to start asking for results, not failures. It doesn't bode well for the mixed-use Riverwest project, which not only received special legislation but public subsidy in the form of the new main branch for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Some people might wonder why new, subsidized retail space is being built when the mystical magical free market doesn't want any more right now.

There's also an intangible that no government can really tackle: Vancouver just isn't that cool. There's potential; there are a handful of good restaurants and shops, but it is not in any way a destination district. There are sporadic attempts to breathe life into the arts and cultural scene, but they certainly don't seem to get the money brick and mortar does. There's more to a city than buildings.

Another huge factor will be what happens to the I-5 bridge. Years of construction could conceivably have an adverse impact, although if handled correctly, I suppose the obstacles of road construction could be used to encourage more folks to visit downtown. Combined with the planned closure and relocation of the much-loathed 7th Street Transit center, things could still look up down there.

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