East Van organization hopes East Hastings could be Vancouver's most walkable street

The Strathcona Business Improvement Association wants to transform East Hastings Street into what it calls a "pedestrian destination" by 2021 despite the area's challenges with crime and drug use.

Strathcona Business Improvement Association is setting a target date of 2021 for its goal

A woman watches as people march down East Hastings Street during the first National Day of Action to draw attention to the opioid overdose epidemic in February 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

It's an ambitious campaign.

The Strathcona Business Association hopes to make East Hastings into the most walkable street in Vancouver by 2021 by promoting local businesses and beautifying the neighbourhood.

"We're really excited," said Tammy Tsang who is a board member with the association.

The group is promoting the "Walk Strathcona Summer Series" as part of its plan to make the area more walkable.

Events will run from June 23 to July 16 and include pop-up shops to show what future retail businesses on East Hastings could look like, along with murals, walking tours, and a street party.

Tammy Tsang with the Strathcona Business Improvement Association wants to make the changing neighbourhood more lively and accessible by promoting foot traffic. (Meera Bains/CBC)

"We're trying to be as thoughtful as possible as we invite different businesses that are very independent minded ... and we're really talking about building the community together with all different people that shape the community today."

Breweries, coffee shops and other small independent businesses are slowly moving into the area, but empty storefronts and the lack of foot traffic along the corridor is noticeable.

Strathcona is one of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods and dates back to the late 1800s, but decades of association with prostitution and illegal drug use have kept some visitors away.

Tsang says the association is working closely with the Vancouver Police Department on improving community patrols.

Strathcona's challenge

The plan is being met with some skepticism.

Allison Spurrell co-owns Les Amis du Fromage, which operates cheese shops in Kitsilano and Strathcona. She was first attracted to the neighbourhood because it was affordable despite the lack of amenities.

Allison Spurrell co-owns Les Amis du Fromage which operates stores in Kitsilano and Strathcona. (Christer Waara/CBC )

"It's not a very well serviced area. There's not any places to go out to have a drink or have a bite to eat and there is no where to go shopping."

Spurrell has noticed the East Vancouver neighbourhood changing and her business has grown by 25 per cent over the last year.

But she says there are hurdles for businesses trying to move into Strathcona.

"Across from us, there's a building that's being developed and it has the same zoning that we do. There has to be some manufacturing and it's a really cute retail location but a bunch of retailers can't go there because it has to be manufacturing."

She said a bakery could satisfy the zoning requirements, but the rules limit the types of retailers that can set up shop.

Spurrell is hopeful. She says even a new public library in the neighbourhood has made Strathcona feel friendlier.