What’s a planner to do when a city neighbourhood is close to perfect? Venerable Mount Pleasant, considered Vancouver’s first suburb because of its proximity to the downtown core and early 20th-century popularity as a place to live, has its issues, but also earns pretty high praise from the city’s assistant director of planning.
“In a lot of ways, it has many of the aspects of an ideal neighborhood,” Matt Shillito says. “When planners talk about trying to create successful communities, we look for diversity. Mount Pleasant has that in its DNA.”
Diversity in the 364 hectares means a jam-packed whirlwind of residents of varied ages, ethnic groups and income, as well as restaurants, coffee shops, bars, book shops and antique stores.
Big brands such as Starbucks, Subway, Blockbuster and Dairy Queen are there, but so are a surprising number of independent stores and eateries.
Aaron Kafka planted Kafka’s Coffee and Tea in the midst of it all, opening metres from the bustling Main Street and Broadway intersection that is the unofficial heart of the neighbourhood.
He signed a lease a year ago, unfazed that Tim Hortons would soon be a neighbour, and says he is thriving despite the competition. “That’s one of the central forces of the neighborhood – independent business,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons people like the area.”
Mount Pleasant also includes Vancouver’s art deco-ish city hall, opened in 1936, and looming over tree-lined streets of early 20th-century homes.
That’s at one end of the community. Toward the other end, a block or so north of Kafka’s, is the beloved Mount Pleasant Community Centre, opened in late 2009. The vast complex is a people magnet for its library, daycare centre, gym and meeting rooms.
There are many reasons to stick around, but it’s also an easy place to leave. It is touched by the Expo SkyTrain line, the newer $2-billion Canada Line linking the airport and Richmond to the downtown core and heavy bus service along Broadway and Main Street.
All these qualities have helped to sustain Wayne Yee’s affection for Mount Pleasant. He lives in a condo near Main and Broadway, but came to the area as a renter 15 years ago.
Back then, it had a rough side. “Drugs and prostitution were still a little bit prevalent around the edges,” he says. “ . . . But within a decade, it had cleaned up or cleared out.”
That part of the past is gone, but Mr. Yee likes the way the older homes in the area have been preserved, as well as the way the neighborhood is laid out to easily get around.
“It’s walkable to go out to eat. It’s walkable to go out for a drink after work with friends. If you’re so inclined, it’s even accessible to downtown,” says Mr. Yee, who works as a manager for the City of Richmond.
“I’ve lived there long enough where it’s kind of like the King of Kensington,” he says, referring to the 1970s-era CBC sitcom. “You walk down the street and there’s something really comforting about being able to walk into businesses, and people know you by face and name.”
Not that everything is perfect. There are controversial plans to build a 19-storey condo complex that have riled many, who deem the project way out of scale for the neighbourhood. Seven storeys have been cut off the original plans, but the debate continues.
“We have to accommodate growth,” Mr. Shillito says of the community, “without undermining the basic fundamentals.”
Ian Bailey is a member of The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau – and a resident of Mount Pleasant