CHARLOTTETOWN – Nestled behind the Confederation Centre of the Arts is a 200m stretch of early 20th century buildings, the type of mixed use treasures that are being recreated throughout North America in an attempt to echo our European roots through New Urbanism. When I first discovered Victoria Row, as this stretch of Richmond Street is known, it was in its pre-tourism state. This one-way lane was lined with restaurant patios and boutiques, all under the shadow the 1960’s era arts and entertainment centre that dominates the downtown core.
Though still recovering from the post-winter stresses, I could sense the potential of this little side-street, for in it I saw the creation of the Holy Grail of pedestrian culture — a pedestrian mall! The pedestrian mall is a magical place where vehicles are excluded while pedestrians and cyclists reclaim the space between the curbs as their own. Though I did not know it at the time, Victoria Row makes a seasonal transformation from one-way side street to pedestrian haven, complete with an open-mic style bandstand and middle of the road water fountain.
The idea of a pedestrian mall is not new, having been the mainstay of city life until the automobile forced bipeds to retreat behind the protection of the curbed sidewalk. Still, stumbling across a little gem of a street like Victoria Row gave me hope for my newly adopted hometown. I realized then that Charlottetown was something different. From authentic facades to hometown-style streetscaping, this little city had it all. Charlottetown begs to impress.
As someone from “away”, for this is how Islanders refer to those who can’t claim at least one generation pre- Confederation Bridge, I am amazed at the cultural and historical resiliency of PEI’s capital city. Mixing historical preservation with modern convenience is the hallmark of the downtown core. Discovering these subtle, yet important, nuances of urban life gives insight into a city’s citizens and their priorities. Like moss on the north side of a tree, the preservation of history via the urban landscape is a compass pointing out the true vitality of a city. Whether restoration or preservation, rediscovering our cities is essential to understanding where we are going and how we are going to get there. From what I’ve discovered, Charlottetown is heading in the right direction.
photo by Scott Simpson