Losing the Thompson Park Mall was certainly no great loss, but the question is, how good is what replaced it?

What kind of value does the new mall capture? What motivations influenced the design of the mall? Who does this mall serve, and how well?

I have to say, the mall serves primarily the urban clientele downtown, and does a fairly good job, with many pedestrian crossings to connect to the existing sidewalk. There is also less allocation towards parking, as compared to say a Sahali or Aberdeen stripmall. This is a step in the right direction. The quality of the design is fairly consistent and aesthetically pleasing as well–The oranges, reds and beige’s well reflect the natural palate of the grass lands. The lighting is appropriate, at night the area is not flooded with Halogens, but is rather sensitively lit with human scaled street lights and wall scones. In addition there is also attempts to mass the structure in such a way as to not impose its gigantic scale upon the pedestrian, mostly by thrusting the block between 5th and 6th partially into the parking lot with London Drugs, to obscure the true length of the building. Circulation for cars within the parking lot is inefficient, but interface with the rest of the city is pretty good–that is if your primary concern is getting cars in and out, particularly in. In this regard it is the one-way orientation of Landsdowne Street that is the least efficient; Now many vehicles find it easier to use the parking lot as a counter flow street to Landsdowne, creating congestion within the parking lot. The thrust of this article surrounds the “Public Space” that was created between 4th and 5th avenue in front of what is currently Dollarama. It is pictured below.

So with that said, the thought was there, and many elements of design, urbanity and human scale we’re addressed.

But as I unfortunately tend to, I am going to focus on some of the design elements that the public hearing process, the design review panel and the architects and planners seem to have forgotten, or not capitalized upon.

This development was obviously planning to create a comfortable pedestrian environment. It shows in the “street” which tucks behind Senor Froggies, Bell and a couple of vacant locations, in front of Dollarama. This area has some interesting streetscaping, and plenty of benches provided, but is unfortunately devoid of pedestrians, and actually in many places shops. This contributes to a somewhat dangerous feeling to the space, and it is common to see persons avoid this area to instead walk through the parking lots to pass this area. Why? Why does no one want to walk here?

The most obvious component would be the pillars holding up the sign for Dollarama. These pillars shade the entire street, destroy any type of continuity or human scale to the area. The pillars look as if they should be holding up the Parthenon, only the Parthenon’s pillars are much skinnier…

The area has no entrances for the shops facing the street. There is large blank walls, back doors and generally nothing of interest to bring a pedestrian into the space, making most of the available real estate not viable for businesses. The same is true of the still existing basement level, which is devoid of people and businesses (and also has large private maintenance fees for “public space”).

Furthermore, the “street” is not a conduit, it does not connect anything to anything else. So this place functions neither as a destination, nor as a place of transit. Therefore there is no idle reason to be there. It does not even connect meaningfully to the existing street network, where persons and cars may be idly passing. It is separated by a 4 deep parking apron and landscaping that further prevents integration with the existing city element.

Could this space have been redeveloped differently and achieved a different result, with higher rents, and breed more successful business? I would argue that it could have done this, and even avoided the investment in the ill-utilized public space “street”, and instead used that square footage for parking or revenue generation.

First thing to do:

Put the parking and services in the back! If this building had been built to the sidewalk, and invested the money they invested in their “public” space instead to: widen the existing sidewalk, add benches and perhaps even invest in the transit exchange as a civic space with buildings, services and amenities surrounding it–they would have avoided “tucking businesses out of sight”. All businesses would have been up the edge of the street. Perhaps this is why the average ground floor Victoria Street rent is much more than the mall here, visibility and access. Furthermore, the businesses would have been engaged with a street that served a purpose for pedestrians already, and the businesses would have become visible to persons not already in the market. In fact if that had of been the case, the 400 block of Landsdowne could have been enclosed, and nearly as vibrant as the 300 block of Victoria Street! Furthermore, it would have cost the developer less money, and had fewer on-going maintenance commitments! Higher rents, longer leases, more viable small businesses, more customers, safer street, less private investment and a smaller maintenance budget… I see now why they developed like a sub-urban strip-mall in this urban location…

Second thing to do:

This development terminates the vista for not one; not two; but actually three streets. 4th, 5th and 6th all terminate in this development, and not one terminating vista serves a civic, legible, land marking presence. Each and every visitor to downtown Kamloops cannot fail to visit the Third Avenue pedestrian bridge. In fact on a Google image search of Kamloops, the Yellow Bridge is the most photographed single structure in Kamloops. This is because it terminates a vista down a street. It is therefore obvious, eye-catching and serves as a landmark. The installation of the transit exchange at 6th Ave could have served this function, could have terminated 6th in a fantastic enclosed space full of people waiting for the bus, busking, and just enjoying this island in the grid. All the way from Columbia a visitor to Kamloops could have looked down Sixth, seen the buildings and the people and understood that this was a place of retail and a good place to visit. In its current layout, a visitor looks down 6th and wonders if this is really the turn to the “City Center”, because they have had no indication of this looking north down the avenues thus far… except for the bridge terminating 3rd. This option was available at each and every intersection, however it was not taken advantage of. Moving forward, the developer could invest in some archways over each entrance to the space which would at least partially terminate the vista with something informing and potentially beautiful.

Third thing to do:

No gigantic pillars, no gigantic signs. This is an urban area, traffic speeds are slow, and its is safe and easy even for a motorist to glance at a reasonably sized sign and understand that yes, there in fact, is London Drugs, as it only takes up half the city block anyways. Especially if these spaces we’re built to the pavement, all sorts of complex interfaces could have made the store fronts visible and inviting and context sensitive–for example, sidewalk chalk, clapboards, planters, patios, etc. Unfortunately the mall is not scaled to pedestrians, and is thus avoided by all but those that have a destination within the mall.

So think of the traffic and word of mouth that the businesses here are missing out on. Think of the public space that was created, that all the businesses have to help pay for, which is completely un-occupied and serves no purpose. Some of the businesses, terminating the vistas, could have even been seen easily from as far away as Columbia, and thus demanded much higher rents from the landlord. The higher property values in the development could have meant much larger influxes into the public coffers, with less maintenance expenditure on the part of the businesses.

That is capturing value, for the customers, the businesses, the public realm and for our taxes. Does this building really serve its stakeholders? Does it serve the citizens, the business owners, the developers shareholders, the public interest, public safety, multi-modal transportation, transit visibility, buskers, sidewalk chalk artists, customer or even drivers in the congested parking lots?

The thought was there, but with a little intellect everyone could have won much larger.

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