It’s rare that I walk down the alleyways of Revelstoke. There really isn’t much to them – always some dumpsters, maybe some parking, that’s about it.
That’s why it caught my ears when at the Columbia Basin Trust Community Initiatives Funding meeting last week, Garry Pendergast talked about a Bygone Era Entertainment Society project to paint a mural on the alley-side of the Nickelodeon Museum on First Street West.
“We were looking for ideas we could do to commemorate it and the idea of a mural came up,” Pendergast told me later. “I think it’s a great way of a local artist showcasing their talent as well as us showing what the building has to offer.”
And, he added, it would help spruce up the alleyway, which otherwise has little going for it unless you’re a garbage collector or using employee parking.
Revelstoke’s alleys are neglected, other than a worn down mural of the SS Revelstoke adorning the wall of Energy Matters on First Street West. In my research, it seemed clear that revitalizing alleyways is seen by planners as a key to improving an area. A Google search for small town alleyway revitalization turned up a number of community enhancement plans that recommended making creative use of alley space. Big cities have also taken to sprucing up alleyways to encourage cultural, commercial and social use.
Not that Revelstoke’s downtown needs tremendous improving, but the alleys are one area that have been ignored.
“I go to other towns, even Nelson for example, and they’re utilizing the alleyways,” said councillor Chris Johnston. “They’re cleaned up, you can walk in them. There are store backs that are storefronts in them. It adds a whole degree of life.”
Johnston, who sits on the city’s enhancement committee, said he’s seen lots of great alleys in his travels – Quebec City, cities in Asia – where the alleys are just as lively as the streets. He sees opportunities that they could be brought up and made better.
“They’re not just places to collect garbage,” he said.
In Quebec City, the Rue du Tresor is an alley that was turned into an open-air art gallery in the 1960s. It quickly turned into a major tourist attraction. In Toronto, many downtown are covered in graffiti – some of it is beautiful, some is ugly, but it makes a walk through them worthwhile. Belden Place, an alley in San Francisco, is one of that city’s most vibrant dining locations.
Of course, those are major cities with millions of people and even more tourists flocking through. Even small towns seem to be getting in on the alleyway bandwagon. Blackfalds, a town of 6,300 people in central Alberta produced a downtown revitalization plan that recommended improving alleyways to make them “more usable, safe and pedestrian friendly. It makes suggestions like encouraging shops to have high quality signage and an additional entrance at the rear of their buildings, makeing sure garbage containers are screened, and maintaining vegetation in alleyways.
A painting of the SS Revelstoke, and some terrible graffiti, adorns the wall of Energy Matters in the alley from First Street West to Victoria Road.
Likewise, the revitalization plan for Duncan, BC, recommends the city “should continue to ensure that the alleyways are protected and enhanced to promote outdoor spaces and more pedestrian linkages.”
What could be done to improve Revelstoke’s alleyways? Pendergast, who is also on the enhancement committee, said it could be a topic the committee picks up.
“I’m not speaking for them, but it could be the type of thing we can look at to see if we can identify buildings and help the owners to actually do something for it,” he said. He suggested the possibility of working with the public art committee to create more murals. “It really is something we can get to grips with and, if we make the process for doing them fairly easy, and make sure the murals or whatever someone else suggests are good enough, it would be a really good way of lifting those alleyways.”
John Guenther, the city’s director of planning, said the alleyway from First to Second Street West next to the Nickelodeon, next to the Regent, and behind the Pharmasave, have all been looked at for improvement. He said they could be used for “double-loading.”
“Street access and alley access that would allow for more pedestrian mobility rather than just cars,” he said.
The one he’s looked at the most is the one between the Regent Inn and the stores fronting Mackenzie. The alleyway could be improved to allow entrance to the rear of Skookum Cycle & Ski and Ginger and Spice Restaraunt, and he said he’s talked to Fred Beruschi, the owner of the Regent, about having the hotel make greater use of the alley.
“It could be a second Mackenzie on the back, though not to that scale,” Guenther said. “Our enhancement committee is the ones to help to drive this and it would be on their agenda.”
Aside from the proposed mural on the Nickelodeon (which is contingent on the Bygone Era Entertainment Society receiving CBT funding), any improvements to alleyway would likely be costly. It is not an issue in city hall right now, but councillor Johnston said its something he’d like to move forward, though action is likely at least five years off.
“I think you’ll see them cleaned up and walkable, which they really aren’t now,” he said.