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McDONALD: Seven things I love about Kelowna (and six I don't)

August 06, 2017 - 10:07 AM

I’m just sick of writing about natural disasters, floods and fires. I don’t want to write another word about water bombers or lake levels.

For a change this week, I thought I would write about Kelowna and what I love about it. Of course, being the balanced journalist I am, I must also include some of the things I hate.

Here they are in no particular order.

LOVE: Knox Mountain Park. It’s hard to overstate the value to Kelowna of this natural gem, just as it’s hard to find a park of this size so close to the urban core of a city.

The trail to the top, Kelowna’s version of the famous Grouse Grind (though not nearly as strenuous) has exploded in popularity.

It’s not hard to see why the Kelowna Fire Department and B.C. Wildfire firefighters jumped so hard last week on the small grass fire near the top. Unfortunately, popularity means people and the mountain park is under pressure from all sides.

HATE: Highway 97. Good old RV Avenue is sick and getting sicker, the definition of a clogged artery. It’s not original to hate the highway that cuts Kelowna in two but most of it focuses on traffic congestion.

Critics who describe it as a giant strip mall are more on point and City Hall has done nothing to change that, extending the endless slash of car dealers, furniture stores and fast-food joints well past its intersection with Highway 33.

All hope was lost in the late 1990s when the city okayed development of the old municipal golf course that once sat there. It could have been a fantastic urban park, an oasis in a commercial desert. Instead it’s now the site of Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

LOVE: When the University of British Columbia came to Kelowna during a forced merger/split with Okanagan University College in 2005, I was reflexively against the government’s action. I was dead wrong and that shotgun marriage set the stage for the city’s reversal of fortune from, at the time, a long slow decline.

The influx of youth and cultural diversity it has injected into Kelowna has made the city noticeably younger and darker-skinned while also igniting the city’s thriving tech sector. As the education sectors go, so goes the city, it seems now. Both schools are bursting at the seams, just as Kelowna seems to have hit a sweet spot. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

HATE: Natural disasters. How can you get away from it? Active fire seasons have been a thing in Kelowna for quite a few years now but the intensity and frequency seems to be increasing.

We’ve been pretty lucky so far this year in the Central Okanagan (although the people who recently lost their homes in Lake Country might disagree). But add in this year’s one-in-200-year flood — some fear it may be the new normal —  and I’ve more than had my fill of calamity.

LOVE: The smell of fresh cut wood from the lumber mill in the city’s North End. Long one of Kelowna’s best kept secrets, the North End has burst on the scene with the soaring popularity of Knox Mountain Park and a burgeoning distillery district.

During Kelowna’s last real estate boom, the North End sat ignored when the Mission and Wilden were all the rage, but mill or not, the North End has arrived.

HATE: YLW. The acronym, not the airport itself. I’ve never understood this drive to rebrand airports by their airport codes. Okay, I will admit this hate-on began about 20 years ago when the media in Vancouver began tagging their airport as YVR. LAX I get but YVR sounds like the short name for a horrible viral disease and is incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t live there. “I’m going to YLW to pick up your parents,” said no one, ever.

LOVE: The robust media scene that gives the Central Okanagan three online local media, a television station, a daily and weekly newspaper, plus a clutch of radio stations. While it’s not so good for the workers (Kelowna has traditionally been a low-paying media market) it’s great for the consumer, Kelowna residents. Competition never hurt anyone and it sure helps if knowing what's going on in your community is important to you.

HATE: Our stubborn resistance in Kelowna to getting out of our cars continues to baffle me. The city has an extra long cycling season, big chunks of it are relatively flat and boasts a large and growing network of cycling trails, paths and lanes.

Yet Kelowna has one of the highest rates of commuter car travel in the province, despite chronic congestion. The Mission Morning Rush. The Bridge Hill Back-Up. These are real things now and the salvation some see in a second lake crossing is 25 years away — if it’s ever built.

LOVE: Love might not be the right word for what I feel when I see the red shirts of the B.C. Wildfire firefighters. Usually seen during fire season, the men and women of the provincially-run service were filling sandbags and building dams during this spring’s big flood. Not quite as sexy work as, say, jumping out of a helicopter to fight a forest fire but just as necessary. How about deep gratitude?

HATE: When I do venture onto RV Avenue, I really hate the freakin’ useless HOV lane. I love the concept, but if police aren’t going to enforce it in any meaningful manner then get rid of it. I try to do the right thing but when five single driver cars roar by me with impunity, it’s hard not to join them.

LOVE: Wineries. Need I say more?

HATE: Tourists. They clog our roads, drive slower than molasses in January and lead to bloated wait times in local restaurants. They act out in our local pubs and bars with behaviour they would never condone at home. They take our parking spots. They buzz around like angry bees all day on our lake, competing it seems as to who can produce the loudest engine noise or biggest wake. Enough said.

LOVE: Tourists. They bring life to our city streets, create that summer buzz we all love. When they drive slowly, mouths agape at our valley’s natural wonders, it makes me look at my own city with fresh eyes. The dollars they bring are critical to the local economy and help us enjoy the lifestyle we all live here for. As for acting out on holiday, hands up who’s never done that before.

Got anything you would like to add to this list or disagree with me on their inclusion, feel free.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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