On Monday evening, some friends and I visited McDonald Park on the North Shore to play some Pickleball. I arrived late and I quickly learned that a couple of friends were helping a guy who had been stabbed in the leg minutes earlier. I also learned that the guy that was stabbed was obviously on some drugs and that there was a pile of needles all around the scene. This incident came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that was there and reinforced a number of stereotypes about the North Shore. However, I found it jarring. I have lived in the McDonald Park neighbourhood for most of the last 10 years and I like the neighbourhood and I love the park. McDonald Park is a hidden jewel in the City’s parks system and while it has challenges at times, it’s a beautiful spot with the Pickleball courts, basketball courts, playground/water park, and lots of open space with wonderful old trees.
I’ll admit, I was angry about the stabbing and the drug use in the park. I felt anger that visitors to my neighbourhood had to witness something like this. I felt anger that all the stereotypes and perceptions of the North Shore were highlighted in one incident. But I was mostly angry because over the weekend, my cousin visited with her two young boys and we took them to the park a few times and they LOVED it. I’m angry because the very ground that the boys ran over only days earlier was stained with the blood from this mindless incident.
A question I’ve asked myself lately and I know is circulating in the community is whether it is safe on the North Shore? If we are being honest, the biggest safety issue for most people on the North Shore that are not in the drug scene is motor vehicle traffic. I can’t recall too many situations where I have felt unsafe. Even after a stabbing took place meters away, we continued to play pickleball. My experience is that other than property crime, the safety issues generally stay within that particular group of people, unless you have a house along the river, then there can be bigger issues.
Despite this feeling of relative comfort (some of this may be due to the fact that I am a male so I can by no means talk about safety issues for women on the North Shore), the fact is that the North Shore has always had problems – it’s nothing new. I’ve lived in Kamloops for 16 years now and it’s been the perception that the North Shore is a sketchy place. My understanding is that this perception has been in existence for decades. So all in all, I don’t think it’s getting worse but it may be getting magnified again.
What causes these problems to happen specifically on the North Shore? The North Shore seems to be a vacuum for nefarious activity on the streets and in the areas that surround them. I feel that the North Shore provides an environment that allows undesirable street level activity to flourish. Some of the contributors to this environment include:
Transient population – with lower rents, a large number of affordable housing units, and more rental units in general, it feels like there are a lot of people that move in and out of the North Shore frequently rather than being longer term residents. This creates a situation where people don’t put down roots are less emotionally invested in the neighbourhood and are less engaged in making sure it’s a great place to live. I always think of the closure of John Todd Elementary School as a perfect example of this. One of the biggest struggles for the school besides declining enrollment was the fact that the Parents Advisory Committee was underfunded relative to other schools and that the voices of the parents was not strong enough to advocate on behalf of keeping the school open, which was a huge loss for the neighbourhood as it means that any child living south of Fortune Drive now has to cross a 4-lane arterial to get to the school in their catchment area.
Historically poor urban planning – the North Shore suffers from a legacy of poor planning that goes back before amalgamation between North Kamloops and the City of Kamloops. Tranquille Road is this weird mix of pedestrian-oriented development and vehicle oriented development. If you were to smash Notre Dame Drive and Victoria Street together, Tranquille Road is what would happen. The mix of land uses, vacant properties, the length of the commercial district, the design of some properties to have on-site parking while other buildings are right on the right-of-way, and the function of Tranquille Road as a collector/arterial road does little to promote a positive pedestrian experience. In lieu of this, less desirable street level activity is enabled and is amplified by the lack of any other activity on the street. The poor urban planning and design has led to lots of dead space that is hard to monitor and easy for people involved in nefarious activities to exploit. A perfect example is the area behind the Macs store which is near the intersection of Royal Avenue and Tranquille – this empty space combined with the JUMP building, a car dealership, a vacant building and vacant lot as well as access to the beach has created a perfect space for people to congregate over night. And as much as I love McDonald Park, I’ll admit that it is much too large for the neighbourhood and provides too much space for undesirable activity to take place. Unless there is something like Overlanders Days happening, there is not enough positive activity happening on any given day to fill up the park and push out the undesirable activity.
Confluence of services – the North Shore has a confluence of services that attracts people to live there. There is some low barrier housing, safe injection site, ASK Wellness, and various societies and other services that attract vulnerable people in our community. This is great – people need these services and frankly, without them locating on the North Shore, we’d have a lot more commercial office vacancies. But they do attract a clientele that leads to some of the street level issues we see.
Accessibility – frankly, the North Shore is an accessible place. It is flat which makes it easy to travel around by foot or one gear bicycles, has access to transit, and has access to the beach area which is a favourite spot due to its seclusion in close proximity to the developed area. It’s easy to get here and stay here unlike some other neighbourhoods in the hillsides.
Lack of investment by property and business owners – there are many property owners in the commercial district that have chosen not to invest in their properties in years. This is matched by a poor mix of businesses that includes way too many thrift shops, pawn shops and cheque cashing services.. This results in a street environment that is drab and uninteresting leading to little positive street activity (i.e. pedestrians walking down sidewalks and going into shops) and is therefore easy to disrespect. The fact that one abandoned building has been recently spray painted to indicate that it’s an eyesore is proof of this. The old Tony Roma’s building has not had an operating business in the last 9 years but there is still a sign advertising pho and ribs (or something like that) and has a number of broken windows. Even the building that is home to the Kamloops Innovation Centre, one of Kamloops’ coolest success stories has exterior siding that has been taken down and not replaced in recent years. You can argue that business and property owners are waiting for the street level situation to improve before making an investment but you need only look at how well businesses such as Red Beard are doing to realize that there can be successful businesses if you are entrepreneurial.
There are many more reasons there is street level activity but these are some of the main ones in my opinion that contribute to this activity occurring more often on the North Shore relative to other areas of the city.
So how can it be fixed? If we want to push the negative activity elsewhere, there are two solutions that are not mutually exclusive but could have different results. We can either push the problems out through enforcement undertaken by bylaws officers and the RCMP or we can push these activities out, or at least reduce their significance, by increasing the level of positive street activity. More enforcement is nice but fines and jails rarely deter people from engaging in the type of negative activity we see on the North Shore – it’s a temporary fix. On the other hand, increasing the amount of positive activity would require business and property owners to invest in their buildings, create interesting businesses, improve the mix of businesses and develop quality residential development in the core area of the North Shore. It would also require people living in the neighbourhood getting out for walks on Tranquille Road and using McDonald Park in much larger numbers than what currently happens in order to take back the space.
The other mix of solutions is to address issues of homelessness and addictions at their root. We need more resources such as social workers, affordable housing/low barrier housing, and drug rehabilitation centres. We need more resources for children-in-care so that they are less likely to become the next street people. We need to explore options for guaranteed income or at the very least higher welfare rates so that people can have greater stability for themselves and their family (I wrote about my own experience with the importance of stability for people in poverty in a previous blog article). We need a much more significant investment on the part of the provincial and federal governments to address these issues. The problem is that those solutions may take a long time to have a substantial impact.
Despite the dourness of this blog, I am hopeful that the tide is reversing and that the street level activity will become less of an issue on the North Shore. The success of businesses such as Red Beard and the Kamloops Innovation Centre may provide proof that the North Shore is a good place for investment. Proposed investment in new, higher density housing could also bring positive activity to the streets over time. I also feel that we are blessed to have a municipal government that is heavily invested in trying to find solutions for key social issues. This is not necessarily a core mandate for a municipality the size of Kamloops and we are lucky to have some talented and innovative people on the job. They are complemented by an even larger group of awesome social service agencies such as Interior Community Services and ASK Wellness to name but two that are doing some really great things in Kamloops to mitigate the issues we face. These issues can be solved but it will require collaboration and a coordinated investment of resources on the part of residents, business and property owners, social service agencies, and all levels of government.