Nanaimo’s Nicol Street is about to go from highway to high street.
Block Builders Nanaimo, a grassroots group of south-end residents, wants to give the public a peek into the potential of Nicol Street with a one-day event this September.
The roadway, from Esplanade to Petroglyph Park, is a gateway into Nanaimo and a four-lane highway built to move large amounts of traffic efficiently, according to the south-end neighbourhood plan. There’s no on-street parking or pedestrian crossings between Milton Street and Esplanade and storefronts have seen better days.
City planners and residents want to see it become something better – a retail street that’s pedestrian friendly and has high-density housing; an area where people can get produce and perogies and sit down for coffee.
On Sept. 20 Block Builders Nanaimo hopes to nudge along the dream with My Street, an event to transform the highway into a thriving high street of pop-up stores, vendors, food trucks and music.
Sydney Robertson, a block builder, said it’s the work behind the scenes she finds most important. Volunteers will clear out garden beds, paint buildings, fences and concrete walls, and reach out to businesses about filling vacant spaces.
“Even with the little bits of painting we did last weekend, we’re finding that it’s actually making people believe they can make a change. It’s giving people some hope,” said Robertson, who believes the challenges of the area can feel overwhelming. “Sometimes we only think in terms of big, expensive development when there’s a lot we can do right on the street level.”
The five-member group will be looking to get one lane each way closed to allow for parking.
Pam James, a member of Block Builders Nanaimo, said her group wants to make the front door to the city more attractive. The area has a lot of absentee landlords, who buy property with the belief something will happen in 20 years. “Well, we want to make it happen now,” she said.
Chris Sholberg, city culture and heritage planner, said My Street is an interesting idea used in other parts of North America, like Dallas, Texas.
“It’s all about envisioning what a space can be, even just for a day, and hoping that may lead to longer-term ideas of investment and change,” he said.
The event takes place Sept. 20 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Volunteers, vendors and musicians can contact organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.