NEIGHBOURHOODS AT ISSUE: Many arteries, but central heart missing

Parks have been an ongoing sore point in Burnside Gorge

Burnside Gorge Community Association chair Tracy James takes on the role of cool honorary auntie to four-year old Beckett Harrison

For the kids and their mountain bikes, the terrible weather was no deterrent.

Burnside Gorge Community Association chair Tracy James remembers several dozen youngsters shaking with excitement at the official opening of the new bike skills course on a Saturday in October.

Eight- to 14-year olds dominate the dirt trails that dip and weave over jumps and ramps – but it’s not hard to find adults who admit they’ve enjoyed the course during off hours.

It’s an awesome new amenity for a neighbourhood in need, but there’s a problem.

The vast majority of residents in Burnside Gorge have no access to the park without travelling along Burnside or Gorge Roads, the neighbourhood’s only two through routes.

Both are major arterials used for trucking, offering a decidedly unfriendly atmosphere for pedestrian or cyclists. It’s a situation the community association wants fixed.

“Twenty plus years ago, everyone agreed there should be a walk and bike way that links us to the Cecelia Park,” said board member TJ Schur. It never happened.

Parks have been an ongoing sore point.

In 2008, the already-park deficient neighbourhood lost greenspace on Ellice Street to the new homeless shelter called Rock Bay Landing.

Easier access to Cecelia Ravine Park, however, is only the tip of the iceburg.

Burnside Gorge is one of the last bastions of affordability for first-time buyers in the city. It struggles, however, with a concentration of transient and subsidized housing, the highest rate of violent crime in the city, and the region’s only prostitution stroll. It’s also a community that embraces subsidized housing, but making it work will require co-operation from the city.

“It sounds a little cheesy, but I’ve been thinking of us as having lots of arteries and no heart,” said James. “That’s a long term priority for the neighbourhood. I think it would make such a difference.”

While the city has made many improvements to the neighbourhood in the last decade, such as a new community centre in 2007, it’s now time to connect the dots.

The community association has set its sights on a transformation of Gorge Road. By downgrading the route to local traffic, west of Jutland Road, they hope to build a village centre extending out from Selkirk Village.

The Selkirk development was a boon to the area, but presents its backside to the street and doesn’t serve as a hub for residents.

The neighbourhood has no school, no grocery store, no pharmacy, explained James. Meeting a neighbour for coffee on the weekend means travelling elsewhere, she added.

What’s needed is commercial zoning along the strip.

Instead, motels are being converted into affordable housing one by one, added Schur.

“So you’re increasing the densification along that corridor, without enhancing services to the folks that actually need local services because they likely don’t have cars.”

The community association is a keeping a close eye on these motel conversions. Most of the bankrupt Traveller’s Inn chain fall within its borders.

“The end outcome isn’t known yet, but there is a lot of energy being invested in trying to ensure it is a good outcome for the neighbourhood as well as for the city,” said James.

The community association supports affordable housing, said Schur. “At the same breath, we don’t want a concentration … of services exclusively in one neighbourhood.”

The inequity often shows itself at police board meetings where neighbourhood representatives are invited to share their concerns.

James hears others talk about deer and cars speeding above the 30 kilometre-per-hour limit.

Every community has such different concerns, she says.

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