Not long ago, Vancouver’s landmarks included a downtown brewery, a paper plant along the waterfront, and an unappealing park in the heart of the city. In other words, the city’s invitation to visitors would likely draw a response of “sorry, but I have other plans.”
Oh, how times have changed. As the region undergoes a makeover and gets ready for its close-up, city Councilor Linda Glover says, “We’ve never been a tourism community before. We’re doing everything we can to get our living room ready for the visitors that are coming.”
Those visitors already are arriving. As an article by Columbian reporter Calley Hair detailed, the city’s lodging-tax collections — the rate is 4 percent — have increased from $1.17 million in 2010, in the wake of the Great Recession, to $2.43 million last year. More is on the way, with several hotels being planned or under construction along the Columbia River at the burgeoning The Waterfront Vancouver site and the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 1.
As Kim Bennett, president and CEO of Visit Vancouver USA, said: “We’ve got proposed hotels in the pipeline that would increase, in the next four years, our supply about 30 percent. The supply will increase, and you hope that along with that, you’re creating enough demand.” In other words, the hope is that Vancouver will come to be viewed as a destination rather than a pit stop.
The city’s transformation has been palpable, and it has extended to other parts of Clark County. The ilani casino near La Center has altered north Clark County, downtown Camas is being modernized, and Mill Plain Boulevard in east Vancouver has seen rapid development over the past decade. While all of this is helping to create an inviting destination for the future, it is essential that leaders maintain focus on the ne of residents in addition to visitors.
As author Arian Herbovetz wrote at StrongTowns.org in “The Big Urban Mistake: Building for Tourism vs. Livability”: “Proposals to create high-priced hotels, sports complexes, auditoriums and even casinos clash with calls for parks, affordable housing, walkability, practical transit and neighborhood amenities like small grocery stores. Developers throw lavish plans on the table that will surely (temporarily) usher in the wallets of the wealthy, while residents new and old call for a more livable downtown for everyone to enjoy. This conflict is currently playing out in countless cities across the nation.”
Consider that a note of caution. Local jurisdictions, we believe, have managed to avoid that big urban mistake — so far. But those words must be heeded as the region is transformed.
Tourism and livability are not mutually exclusive, but creating a city that is welcoming to both residents and visitors requires attention to detail. One example can be found in inclusion of a 7-acre park in The Waterfront Vancouver development — an amenity that will benefit locals as well as tourists. It also is essential that the region develop a well-rounded economy with a mix of manufacturing, corporate offices and startups to mingle with the growing tourism industry. Cities with a diverse base are best positioned to thrive during economic downturns.
Meanwhile, the retention of neighborhood identities also is essential to a thriving city. Change must be welcomed without altering the culture that made an area attractive in the first place.