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Victoria Crescent

Victoria Crescent has some of the oldest buildings in the city and it has a very storied past. Preserving that past while transitioning to a more accommodating future is going to be a challenge. Photo "A: represents the oldest in situ buildings in Nanaimo. They are historically significant, but they are well past their prime. They are inaccessible for those in wheelchairs, they have several structural deficiencies which don’t make them habitable, and the property might have a better use as a pedestrian connection between parking on Cavan Street. This would also extend a pedestrian connection from the Nob Hill neighborhood.

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My recommendation is to remove the facade in such a way as to allow it to be reconstructed in a setting that will preserve it. Then dispose of the rest of the building to construct a new building that includes retail on the ground level, office or clinic on the second level and residential on two upper levels, combined with a series of covered escalators, stairs and elevations which connect the four levels and Cavan with the Crescent.

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Victoria Crescent is the most affected by social issues which disrupt the commercial fabric of this area. This might be an appropriate time to address some social issues related to homeless people on the streets. It’s important to note that any improvements to this area will have very little economic benefit if the issues related to transients and homelessness are not addressed.

I have no expertise related to social issues, but I do believe finding solutions that work in other cities would a first step towards resolving the tensions between those that live on the streets and the merchants and residents who work in the area. I would recommend reading San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities a book by Michael Shellenberger. Michael spent many years working as a volunteer on the streets of San Fransisco trying to deal with people who are homeless, drug addicted and in extreme poverty. He was frustrated with the fact that the efforts of well meaning people didn't actually do much, so he started researching the programs in European cities to find which where the most effective. 

As I understand it, the best solutions address homelessness in a tiered way with five types of housing: jail, shelters, assisted housing, affordable housing, and market housing. Transients who break the law, go to jail and they lose their stuff. Transients who don’t break the law are transported to a shelter along with their stuff (including pets). At the shelter these people can be evaluated to determine if they are capable of living in a situation where they can get treated for illness or addition if they want to. If they don’t want treatment they remain at the shelter unless they break the law. If they break the law they go to jail and they lose their stuff. If they make an effort to receive treatment they can be moved to a house or a home where special help is provided nearby. They would be moved away from places and people that would enable them to continue their harmful lifestyle. If they are not sick or addicted and they have an income they can be moved to affordable housing. Affordable housing would be very much like market value housing except that it is assigned based on need and availability. Those in affordable housing might choose to live in some other location if their income allows it. Then the market would be able to provide accommodation. This system does not allow people to live or loiter on the streets or in public spaces without permission, it does not enable bad behaviour and it does not provide housing to individuals who are not making an effort to lead more productive lives.

The truth is there is little that the city can do to address social issues, it can do a more effective job of lobbying the province, overcoming NIMBYism and effective planning that will allow the city to determine the most effective application of provincial resources. While the study area would not be able to provide shelters, or treatment centers, it could provide some assisted rental accommodation and some market value accommodation provided minimum parking requirements are waved, building to the property line is allowed and, perhaps, air over sidewalks and some streets is allow to be developed. These variances would provide incentives for development in the area. More people living in this area would support business in the downtown, while streets free of transients would encourage visitors to stay longer.

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