Jane Jacobs' quintessential main street is located in Vancouver?

“Where is this perfect main street in Vancouver?” you ask. No it is not Robson Street. No, it is not Alberni Street. No, it is not South Granville Street. Nor, is it not Denman Street, Commercial Drive or Lonsdale Ave.

Ironically it is actually called “Main Street” and it is from East 7th Ave to 30th Ave. Yes, 23 blocks of continuous local boutiques, restaurants, cafes, grocery stores and services.

Jane Jacob’s would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

No Gentrification

There are few national chains, mostly “mom and pop” shops, which is exactly what Jacobs thought made for a great Main Street.

There are lots of doors on the street and windows to look at. There are thrift stores and used bookstores, mixed in with funky restaurants and small grocery stores. There is even a garage that still repair cars and a car dealership.

It has all of ingredients of a good Main Street that Jacob’s wrote about in her 1960s book “The Death and Live of Great American Cities.”

It is a nice mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and services - something for everyone! There are just a few new condos and nothing over four stories.

The side streets have a diversity of single family homes that still look like the original homes, with a few new infills and some renovations, but nothing as extensive as Calgary’s inner city communities where there are new infills on every block.

FYI: We didn’t see a lot of “For Lease” signs along Main Street, which is surely a healthy sign. And Kevin Kent of Knifewear tells me that he pays higher rent for his store in Vancouver, than for his stores in Calgary (Inglewood), Ottawa (Glebe) and Edmonton (Whyte Avenue). So the success of the street isn’t lower rents that makes it so attractive to local businesses.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

Postcards From Main Street

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are lots of good food places…

There are lots of good food places…

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

This photo says it all…

This photo says it all…

Last Word

You will notice there are no fancy sidewalks. No designer furniture. Yes there are some banners, but for the most part the street and buildings have been left to age gracefully. There is something authentic about the street. It is not contrived as so many urban streets are today - trying to hard to be pedestrian friendly. One could ask can good Main Streets be planned or do they have to grow organically.

It has the right combination of old, middle-aged and new buildings and diversity of shops catering mostly to locals, with some destination shops thrown in for good measure.

I think Jane Jacobs' would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street. It is hard to believe there are still streets like this in Vancouver, where everything is being gentrified.

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Calgary: 24 Main Streets Coming Soon?

Halifax: The blade sign capital of Canada

Window Licking in Portlandia