Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Street Of Dreams

Denman Street storefronts for lease or rent - photos by Junie Quiroga
While technically not part of the waterfront itself, Denman Street does provide the crossroad connection between English Bay and Coal Harbour, so what happens on either of these waterfronts affects Denman Street itself and vice versa. Without a vibrant beach scene for example there wouldn't be much of a demand for the deliciously savoury shawarma shops and mouth watering gelato vendors, and if it wasn't for the seawall it's hard to imagine how all the bike rental shops would survive.  It should be a street of dreams for any merchant but in reality it's become a nightmare.

Failed businesses on Denman Street - photo by Junie Quiroga

Vacant lots on Denman Street - photos by Junie Quiroga
High traffic drives incredibly high rental rates, from $5,000 - $10,000 or more every month for a few hundred square feet of space and, with that kind of pressure to make a go of things, only the very strongest have any chance of holding on.  Other than personal grooming places or eating & drinking establishments and coffee shops, very few other businesses can survive.  Even then it seems there's a restaurant every month going broke and having to paper over the windows with another "for lease" sign.  With fewer and fewer takers for these empty store fronts, and a street whose odd collection of ramshackle buildings are slowly falling apart and turning into vacant lots, it's become patently obvious to anyone visiting or living in the area that a refurbishment is long over due.

Marine Drive North Vancouver - photo by Junie Quiroga
Contrast this with the situation in North Vancouver where Marine Drive, which at one time looked as bad as Denman Street, has lately undergone a complete transformation.  Complete blocks have been torn down and rebuilt with 3 - 4 storeys of apartments and condominiums on top of street level shops, providing a far better return for the landowner not to mention adding residents to the local customer base.  Even more impressive is the style of the architecture that has emerged and now provides a consistent look and feel for the area. A similar revolution is happening on Hastings Street in North Burnaby.

Marine Drive North Vancouver - photos by Junie Quiroga
No wonder the rents have to be so high on Denman Street when most of the shops are single storey and only the occasional building has a single layer of apartments on top.  Hard to believe this could have evolved in what was once the most densely populated part of the City.  As for a consistent architectual style that would blend in with our ocean and mountains, there isn't a hope. Clearly Vancouver planning officials need to borrow a page from the play book of their colleagues on the other side of Coal Harbour and start providing the right sorts of inducements and zoning that would lead to a re-design of Denman Street.

Typical commercial building on Denman Street - photo by Junie Quiroga
Once upon a time Denman Street business owners made a living supplying residents with a wide variety of goods & services, and once upon a time it looked and felt like a real neighbourhood, even with all the seasonal tourists.  The architectual style was eclectic and it suited the area, but times have changed and a new approach is needed. Instead of it being a street of failure and despair wouldn't it be nice to turn Denman  into a street of dreams?

Half empty building on Denman - photo by Junie Quiroga


  1. Brilliant article. Well Done. It's all so very true. Denman once look great and now it is looking very very tired. We need to get cracking and spruce things up. Every block has a vacant shop or two with For Rent or its boarded up - a very ugly and non appealing situation. GREAT article. GREAT photos.