The Main Street jumble

Just-off-the-high-street commercial space - a chocolaterie on Twenty-First Avenue

Just off the high street: a chocolaterie on 21st Avenue

The urban village, the subject of frequent posts on this site, is a walkable area that combines a diversity of services and housing choices with adequate transit.

Setting the boundaries of any urban village is partly a guessing game. By one convention, the average body will walk up to 1,000 metres to get access to village services. But which services? What’s in, and what’s out? In the City of Vancouver, with the most complex development patterns in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, villages often overlap. This is certainly true of the neighbourhoods up and down Main Street: one of my favourite streets, but the result is difficult to photograph and to describe.

Lower Main Street at 5th Street

Lower Main Street at 5th Street

Co-tourist Bob Smarz and I walked from the railway station at Terminal Avenue (roughly Minus 3rd Avenue) to 41st Avenue and back, passing through at least four planning zones.

1. The industrial flats below 2nd Avenue are being transformed on the west side by the continued (and gigantic) elaboration of the Olympic Village.

Lower Main detail2. The section of Main Street between 2nd and 7th divides an industrial zone (west side) from a burgeoning cluster of mid-rise buildings containing loft apartments, many of them intended for live-work purposes. “Lower Main” — including automotive shops, a low-end motel and one or two valuable heritage structures — is slated for redevelopment according to urban design guidelines that were finalized in October 2013 through “Implementation” documents flowing from the 2010 Mount Pleasant Community Plan.

Kingsway and Main

Kingsway and Main

3. Further up the hill, the more settled zone of commercial activity between 7th and 16th is also counted as part of Mount Pleasant. The defining landmarks are the corner of Kingsway on the south and the old post office, now Heritage Hall, at the northern end. This strip combines cafes and restaurants with a village functions such as a supermarket, pawn shop and a couple of Filipino markets. The triangle between Main and Kingsway is undergoing residential densification, and the six blocks of Broadway east of Kingsway are to be redeveloped under the Mount Pleasant Implementation initiative.

Mount Pleasant as defined in the 2010 community plan

Mount Pleasant as defined in the 2010 community plan

4. Crossing 16th Avenue we leave Mount Pleasant and enter Riley Park/South Cambie. (The Mount Pleasant business association is active north of 16th; I don’t find any evidence of a business association in Riley Park.)  Main Street is one of three north-south arterials in Riley Park/South Cambie; the others are Cambie Street and Fraser Street. A 2005 “vision plan” indicates strong resident support for the expansion of commercial activity on Main Street from 16th to 33rd, and on side-street properties as pictured at the top of this post.


Whether the plan is a factor or not, the Riley Park section of Main Street has plenty of pedestrian life and shopfront interest. Mr. Smarz was moved to ask, “Why can’t we have this in Surrey?” (We ate at The Main, by the way, a funky old spot with good food and great service.) South of about 28th, however, the street becomes very uneven aesthetically. The presence of sub-lovely commercial blocks from the 1960s is not surprising, but the appearance of some of the very new development is also unfortunate.

[I have not rated Main Street for the Fraseropolis Urban Villages project because the  village boundaries are not clear to me. However, Vancouver’s Main Street is very much worth a visit.]  

Amco appliances 2

BC Liquor store

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