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Nanaimo south end’s renewal attracts attention

NANAIMO – Community hopes to win annual Great Places contest.

Nanaimo’s south end is an urban mixed bag of old and new, decline and renewal, deterioration and gentrification, cultural diversity and a vibrant community rich in personality that is getting notice in this year’s Great Places in Canada contest, hosted by the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Nanaimo’s south end is among 32 Canadian locations in the running for the annual contest.

The city’s Commercial Street won the contest’s Great Streets category in 2011.

Chris Sholberg, city culture and heritage planner, was among staff at the city who recommended the South End Community Association submit a nomination.

“It was kind of a redemption story, how they were able to turn the south end around a few years ago from sort of a crisis situation with the open-air drug market and issues going on all through the neighbourhood to actually reclaiming it as a neighbourhood,” Sholberg said.

The south end is the cradle of Nanaimo’s industrial past where miners’ cabins dating from the mid-1800s still line Haliburton and Nicol streets. For residents, it’s a place with historic, cultural and emotional investment.

Douglas Hardie, South End Community Assoiation chairman, credits the citizens and RCMP with cleaning up the drug and sex trade that overran the district during the lowest point of its decline several years ago.

Hardie has lived on Gillespie Street since he came to Nanaimo in 1990.

“I think we’ve got a pretty realistic appreciation for our strengths and what we’re up against,” Hardie said.

The south end is undergoing a gentrification with investment from new residents and businesses.

Sydney Robertson and her husband moved to Nanaimo from Vancouver in 2007, bought a 125-year-old heritage home on the Esplanade and moved it to the corner of Irwin and Milton streets. She and her husband wanted a neighbourhood like the one they left in Vancouver.

“This neighbourhood has real roots,” she said. “It’s not just about the heritage houses. It’s the miners’ cottages and the people who grew up here and never moved or moved and have come back. People have stories about growing up in the south end. It’s a real neighbourhood. People know each other.”

Six nominations will take home the honours, either as people’s choice winners based on overall numbers of votes, or as the grand prize winners based on planning excellence and as determined by Canadian planners.

Each grand prize-winning place will receive a steel plaque acknowledging the contest win.

To help decide the winners, please visit www.greatplacesincanada.ca. Voting is open until Sept. 25.

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