Over a decade ago, I moved to Prince George to pursue an Environmental Planning degree with a major in Northern and Rural Community Planning. During my studies, Prince George’s downtown presented itself as a convenient case study for discussions involving the challenges and opportunities with respect to downtown revitalization efforts. Looking back at the history of the downtown, we see that there was always a vision for a thoughtfully planned downtown core. For example, the winding streets of Patricia Boulevard, the uniqueness of the crescents neighbourhood and the sightlines connecting the Canada Games Square clock tower with the train station are a throwback to the original City Beautiful design. The design also intended to provide small useable public spaces to create a thriving downtown with pockets of greenspace to be enjoyed by all. So, with such a well-intentioned plan on paper, where did that vision go wrong? Despite challenges, the past decade has shown how seemingly small place-making efforts can culminate dramatic positive impacts resulting in a downtown that is quickly becoming a preferred social and professional destination for residents and visitors alike.
After I graduated from UNBC, I started my career as a Community Planner with L&M Engineering at their downtown office. Truthfully, my experiences with downtown, at that time, had not all been positive. So naturally, I wanted to understand why they chose to locate their office in there. In response, the partners explained that this was the most advantageous location providing ideal qualities for their growing business. By locating downtown, the office would be closer to City Hall and to the other professional consultants that they work with on daily basis. Our location also allows for my coworkers and I to conveniently participate in activities within the downtown core. We frequently jog around the downtown or play soccer at Fort George Park on our lunchbreaks, we hold our staff social nights and Christmas parties at various downtown locations in support of other local businesses and we visit the neighbouring restaurants for business lunches with clients. Additionally, I began volunteering for Council appointed committees as well as downtown community groups and service clubs, which continues to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for fundraising and networking that would’ve otherwise been missed had I worked elsewhere.
Witnessing the increase of façade improvements and new buildings throughout the downtown has been exciting and impressive to see. Even more impressive is the high standard for design that has been set including new mixed-use buildings, greater investments in quality building materials, interesting streetscape designs, and a commitment from business owners to create unique storefronts featuring the Wood First and Winter Cities design guidelines. Also noteworthy is how the outdoor Farmer’s Market, street festivals and food truck events have attracted people to the downtown on a semi-regular basis to spend their time in safe, new and engaging ways. We should be proud to live in a city that is so committed to activating our downtown so that we now have a wide diversity of new businesses who strive to keep us entertained in a variety of ways.
On a personal level, my friends and I repeatedly choose to spend our time downtown at the many restaurants, coffee shops, unique stores and comedy shows. More often than not, we will start with appetizers and wine or craft beer at one restaurant, then move on to a different downtown location for dessert or entertainment. When choosing a location for socializing or shopping, the downtown is my first choice. And while the same challenges exist that may act as a deterrent for some people, in my opinion they are far outweighed by the many positive benefits of spending time there and, as a result, by actively participating in the success of downtown. The recent strides toward the revitalization of the downtown are largely due to the hard work of business owners, City Staff and Council, community groups and individual volunteers who made the choice to make a small difference to the space around them. This continued commitment has made an appreciable impact on the overall image of the downtown. Moving forward, I will continue to advocate for the downtown by spreading the word about what a great space it has become and hopefully, more and more people will realize the positive and memorable experiences that are waiting to be shared there.
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