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Pocket parks, walkability, safety are highlights of Maple Ridge downtown vision

Homelessness and crime could undermine vision for city says Robson
Councillors say the city’s Community Social Safety Initiative will address safety.

Maple Ridge council was presented with a vision of a town centre that has a canopy of trees, is safe and well lit, with neighbourhoods that are connected and walkable right down to the Fraser River Waterfront.

The recent Town Centre Visioning Report builds on city hall’s 2008 Town Centre Area Plan. The new vision is based on extensive community feedback, and aims to “Create a more vibrant area, and a strong sense of place,” staff told council.

Dialogue Consulting’s Emily Rennalls presented the work to council on Tuesday. She addressed the issue of safety after dark.

“We heard from folks who lived in the town centre that they don’t feel unsafe living there, and of course we heard from visitors who felt differently,” said the consultant, and recommended pedestrian-scale lighting downtown.

Coun. Gordy Robson said safety is clearly an issue.

“Numbers of businesses have left our downtown because they don’t want their wife and kids working in their stores downtown because they are absolutely terrified for them,” he said. “There are many businesses now that are locking their doors.”

Robson said there is an influx of street people from Vancouver, and their move to Maple Ridge was promoted by the provincial government.

“We can do all of these other things, but if we have hundreds of homeless walking around causing disruption nobody is going to survive downtown in a business,” said Robson, and added the city needs to protect merchants from violent shoplifters, and people who “just walk in and take things.”

“There’s nothing more undermining to a community, or to an area, as when there’s violent people who feel that they own it – they can do whatever they want.

“We have not yet found a way to deal with those. It’s happening daily, in a number of our stores.”

Robson said he hopes the report, and new leadership at the Ridge Meadows RCMP, will be the impetus for change.

Coun. Chelsa Meadus said crime and homelessness will be tackled by the city’s Community Social Safety Initiative (CSSI), which is well underway.

“With the resources that we’ve deployed, I think we’re going to see some considerable changes, if we were to revisit this at the same time of year next year,” predicted Meadus.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge redirects $225,000 from RCMP to community safety needs

Outdoor patios could become more popular. Coun. Ahmed Yousef called the support for temporary patios downtown “music to my ears,” and he also supported connections to river and walkability.

“In our business workshop we heard about how, before Covid, a lot of people just saw the town centre as someplace to drive through, and through this temporary patio initiative folks are now lingering and staying,” said Rennalls. “And there’s opportunity, an exciting one, to extend that experience beyond 224th, closer to the waterfront and more.”

The public consultation, which was conducted last fall, identified three major themes:

• Linking downtown attractions – downtown attractions such as Memorial Peace Park, Haney House and Port Haney Wharf could be linked by improved wayfinding, to create a better experience for pedestrians.

• Citizens highlighted a desire for pocket parks and plazas, to provide places for people of all ages to gather. These spaces could also be used to host community events. More stores, cafes, pop-up experiences and entertainment venues were proposed to entice visitors to the town centre to linger and explore.

• Residents supported the expansion of CSSI projects to provide a feeling of security.

“This report lays an exciting foundation for the revitalization of our downtown core,” said Mayor Mike Morden. “Council is eager to continue making the town centre a vibrant and complete community by attracting investment and enhancing livability.”

Since 2005, nearly 4,000 new residents have moved to the town centre. Today, the population is approaching 12,000 people. Over the past five years, more than 67 development projects have been approved in the area, while more than 78 others are expected to be complete within the next two to three years.

READ ALSO: Developments in Maple Ridge town centre forever change landscape

Staff will prepare an implementation plan for the recommendations made in the report, to be reviewed by council in a future meeting.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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