Visions of downtown
Architects prepare views of what could be

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 03/00) - You get used to it after a while, but even veteran Yellowknifers would agree, the city isn't going to be winning any international awards for its urban design anytime soon.

The problem is, we got it all downtown, from shacks to gleaming office towers and everything in between.

As architect Artur Zajdler said, the new part of town developed very quickly and represents a little bit of everything.

"Things didn't happen this way in other parts of the world, where cities developed over centuries and millennia."

Zajdler participated in a Saturday brainstorming session by designers -- architects, a landscape architect and an engineer -- on ways to improve the downtown core. It was the second time the NWT Architectural Society organized such an event.

Last year's brainstorming session focused on Old Town, specifically the waterfront. This year the focus was the downtown -- roughly the city blocks adjacent to Franklin Avenue from Northern United Place to the top of Old Town hill.

"It's too bad a lot of planning exercises happen behind closed doors," said society president Wayne Guy. "When the community gets involved then the possibilities of what the downtown can become grow."

Teams focused on different elements of urban design, but the goal for each was the same -- make downtown a more attractive place for people. The wildest design came from Tracey MacTavish, Neal Bourassa and Bruce Stebbing, who were charged with coming up with a utopian view.

The team proposed that Franklin Avenue be shut off to automotive traffic -- "So it's Raven Mad Daze all year round," said MacTavish.

During the winter, a skating rink would run the downtown length of the street. In the summer there would be fountains in which kids could play.

"Something Franklin Avenue needs to do is turn out onto the street," said MacTavish, suggesting more sidewalk cafes, such as the one Javaroma runs in the summer, would liven up the street.

Bourassa said roof gardens -- atop places like Harley's Hard Rock Saloon, Our Place and the Capitol Theatre -- are another thing that would make downtown businesses more attractive.

Wayne Guy focused on the movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic through downtown. He came up short of shutting down Franklin to vehicles, proposing it be split with a median, with one side devoted to cars and trucks and the other to cyclists and pedestrians.

The centrepiece of Guy's downtown vision was a central social place at 50 St. and Franklin. In the vein of the piazzas of many European cities, the meeting and greeting area would take up the parking lot on one corner and the lot on which the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce now sits.

"The banks make billions of dollars -- they could afford to move it," joked Guy.

Plans are under way to have the designs posted in City Hall.