In your Armchair Mayor article of Aug. 15, you reference a quote by (former) Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, who said that Kamloops has a “…downtown that’s dying.”
While the statement was made over 20 years ago, you go on to say that you feel that Mayor Owen would probably appreciate the improvements that have happened in Kamloops over the last 20 years.
First, I want to start by stating that I adore Kamloops. I moved here when I was six months old, had a great childhood, married, raised my family, created a career, and volunteered back to the community.
For 53 years, I have proudly called Kamloops my home. Through most of my life, Kamloops has had a certain magic to it. Not only is it beautiful, quaint, and serene, but the people are genuinely lovely. I’ve never had a desire to leave Kamloops. I assumed I would grow old and would only leave the city when it was time for my eternal slumber.
The last three years have proven to be a turning point in this city’s growth, and it hasn’t been positive. We are all wrapped up in such politically correct behavior that we turn a blind eye to what is truly happening in our city. My wife is a proud owner of a downtown business. She has built it up in the last four years to be one of the best of its kind in town, but her daily interaction with what happens downtown has her willing to abandon her business to get away from the overwhelmingly negative atmosphere that has developed.
On a daily basis, one will encounter human feces outside of a business, discarded needles, and an abundance of homeless and marginalized people. You will see people openly committing a crime or violating a City bylaw or (even worse) overdosing. People will forcibly beg and harass citizens and tourists for money. The ones that are high on drugs will swear and scream at anyone, including the elderly and the young.
This is only what happens during the day. As the sun goes down, the streets become a genuine danger for citizens. My wife is sexually harassed on an almost daily basis and is tired of being fearful of her safety. If you wonder why the RCMP or City bylaw is not contacted, rest assured that they have been consistently called, but they are too busy or lack the power to do anything substantial. The problems continue, and these people become more brazen in their behavior.
The bottom line, people are scared to go downtown. This is not hearsay but comments related directly to my wife and I. They don’t want to see what is happening and feel powerless to change it. The existing COVID pandemic (quite active when you wrote your story) hasn’t helped. Numerous stores are closing or will close. There has been a marked increase in the homeless population, and such a high level of anxiety that people are avoiding downtown even more.
I don’t even want to comment on the lack of future thinking in the city. Downtown has had only minor changes over the years. A new building here or there, but nothing substantial. If you want a city to stay alive and prosper, it must be allowed to flourish and grow. The mere fact that a town of our stature can’t even get a performing arts center built is a testament to a lack of vision.
So, Mr. Rothenburger, despite the fact that I love Kamloops, I would have to agree with Owen; downtown is dying. We face similar social issues that other towns do. We also are dealing with them in the same way and are experiencing no positive results. We aren’t balancing the needs of the community with the needs of the marginalized. Instead, we have focused solely on the marginalized at the detriment of everyone else. No one can honestly say that the City core has improved in the last three years. If we continue down this path, more business will close, and the cycle will continue.
Certainly, there are no easy answers on how to rectify the situation. The ongoing pandemic, fears of a second wave, and skyrocketing increase in homelessness and drug use mean that the problem will get worse before it gets better. I can safely make that statement as the city’s latest murder happened two doors down from my residence in what was once a very respectable family neighbourhood.
Downtown Kamloops is breathing its last breaths. I appreciate the fact that you have an optimistic outlook, but even with rose coloured glasses, our city core is a mess. I’m an exceptionally positive person, and while I’m going to continue to work to bring the shine back to Kamloops, I also realize that I may decide to leave this city.
If you ever consider writing a follow-up piece, I’d like to suggest that you talk to some of the business owners downtown or some of the residents that call downtown their home. Perhaps you could uncover a trove of information and statistics that would change my mind, and for that, I’d be forever grateful.
Thanks very much for your time and for all that you have done for the City of Kamloops.