Walkable town builds community

There are a lot of ways towns build community. None of those things happen inside vehicles.

There are a lot of ways towns build community. None of those things happen inside vehicles.

The application for grant funding Fort St. James has applied for to beautify the town is an opportunity to create not only a more aesthetically attractive town centre, but also to build a better community.

I once read an article on a plane that cited research on how cyclists and pedestrians instinctively had a connection to the people around them, identified with their fellow pedestrians and cyclists. On the other hand, being inside a vehicle psychologically separates people, disconnects them from one another.

As an avid cyclist in both small towns and urban centres, I’ve experienced this first-hand. Cyclists wave at each other, drivers often flash you a less friendly sign as they swerve dangerously around your bike.

Paris provides bicycles for people at various locations around the city. Vancouver has done extensive bike lane development and improved its transit system. London charges drivers to enter the city centre.

Now Fort St. James is no Paris, no London, not even a Vancouver. But Fort St. James is the Fort, and it has a lot to offer.

Perhaps a more appropriate town to compare to the Fort would be some of the quaint and walkable towns of south eastern B.C.

Places like Golden or Rossland, with tiny main street town centres.

These small towns are picturesque gems, open and friendly, they draw in huge numbers of tourists every year who enjoy their slow pace of life and laid-back beauty.

Visitors enjoy wandering through tiny shops and sampling the various tasty eateries or relaxing in the cosy coffee shops. After enjoying the very accessible outdoor recreation that is. Now what do these towns have that Fort St. James doesn’t have?

They have history, but Fort St. James has history that goes back far longer than the railway town history of the Kootenays. They have stunning scenery. Well, Fort St. James is built on one of the most beautiful lakes around, and while small, there are mountains directly behind the town, complete with a ski hill.

While it takes a long time to build up the kind of visitor draw the small towns of the Kootenays have, making a scenic and walkable downtown is a great step forward. People walking through town wander through stores, stop in coffee shops, eat in restaurants, visitors and locals.

Getting people out of their cars, landscaping with native plant species and increasing recycling use and visibility in town will only positively benefit Fort St. James. These kinds of improvements will impress visitors, who might expect a lot less of a small northern town, they also give residents a sense of pride in their community.

These progressive measures are commendable and show forward thinking on the part of the district of Fort St. James.

Good on the Fort for not waiting for other northern communities to lead the way.