Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Uptown in the January Rain

Do you want to sit on a wet bench?
I have wondered about the idea of Uptown being built as an open plaza type of mall.   This is not a climate that allows you to be outside year round.   We have months of cool damp weather.   There is a reason shopping centres that were open in the past closed themselves into a more traditional mall.

The rain means that all the benches are damp, you have to walk through the rain to get to your car, even if you are parking in the underground parking lot.   All those nice little touches that Uptown has come to nothing in the rain.

West side of Uptown Boulevard
 grey buildings in grey weather
I have a big issue with the colours of the buildings.   In sunny weather it does not become something I really notices, but on a rainy January day it is really an issue.   The colours are variations of inoffensive greys and tans.   The worst colours you can think of for overcast drizzle as we get in Victoria most of our winter.   Old Town does not have this feel because the buildings are red brick and this adds a contrasting colour. There needs to be a ban on neutral colours in all construction in this city.  With five months of rainy weather we need bright colours to lift up our spirits.

East side of Uptown Boulevard
Yesterday was Tuesday January 3rd, so not a busy day for shopping, but I was still surprised at how few people there were around at about 4 pm.   It was not deserted but it certainly was not anything close to busy.   The Gorge Plaza with the Fairway, where I was 30 minutes later, looked busier.

The central plaza in front of WalMart still looks like a large cold empty space.   In the rain it looks depressingly cold.  It is an expanse of bricks with nothing much on it and a long distance to walk over in the rain.

The buildings around it are going to make it feel like a hole.   There no sight-lines to anything else from the plaza other than the grey buildings around it and the ones around the plaza are greyer still than the buildings on Uptown Boulevard.   You can also not hang out on the plaza because there are no seats.   It is a large empty and soulless space.

The beauty of the WalMart entrance 
The three other places on the plaza, Candy Cures, Cupcakes and Starbucks, did not look that busy.  The Starbucks was the only one with anyone inside of it but it was not nearly as busy as other ones in the region.   The entrances of Candy Cures and Cupcakes really stand out in this weather because of their bright colours and their lighting.   I have no idea if either one of them is doing well.

Three stores with no more than a handful of customers
The Grand Staircase is also of concern to me, it is hardly grand and not very wide.  Two people can pass each other, but that is is.   It is one of the only truly good spots one could linger at Uptown, but as soon as people, especially teenagers, start using the stairs as seating, the stairs become a complete bottleneck.

The Grand Staircase in the rain

The skeleton of the next phase is very clear to be seen now.   Other than the bad decision on the colour scheme, I find the general look and feel of the central boulevard actually not bad at all and the next phase looks like it will continue this.  Certainly it seems to be better than the plaza, though with a lack of cars in the new phase area, it could be just as dead an area as the current central plaza.

View into the construction

View of the clock tower building as seen from Uptown Boulevard
State of construction on January 3rd 2012
A Merry Uptown Christmas

1 comment:

Mike Laplante said...

A very comprehensive overview Bernard. I've also had some doubts about the open air concept. However, the idea of a vast boxy indoor mall with no fresh air doesn't hold much appeal to me either. We've got enough of those. Not sure what the solution is. If worst comes to worst and the weather is REALLY bad, it's possible to use the underground parking. On bad days I've done this to get between Future Shop and Walmart. However, there's nothing picturesque about strolling through a parking lot. In the future, it might be possible to do something with awnings I suppose.

My concern is the mix of stores. Right now there are a lot of retail clothes stores, mostly aimed at women. Every time I go by them they are usually devoid of shoppers. I wonder how they can possibly pay the rent with so few sales. Only Walmart, Best Buy, Future Shop and Shoppers seem to be drawing big numbers of shoppers.

I concur about the lack of colours but that is something that can be fixed in the future.

With regards to the central plaza, my mind isn't made up yet. I'm put off by the 'canyon' effect of being dwarfed on all sides by these vast walls. Seating, lighting and plants can go a long way to creating a more inviting ambiance and that may come once everything is done. Over the Christmas season the plaza hosted a number of seasonal events. I didn't go to any so can't comment on how they were received.

At this point, I'm ambivalent and am content to wait to see how it all plays out. This project will be Frank Leonard's legacy I expect.