Victoria is a City that Looks to the Future

This blog post is short. The real meat is in this video. Please watch it!

Last Thursday evening, City Council held a public hearing for a 20-unit townhouse development at 1712 and 1720 Fairfield Road. Many people who live in the neighbourhood spoke with Council and shared their perspectives on the project. While more people were in favour than against, it was not only the opinions of the people who came out to speak that I considered when making my decision, but also what kind of city we want to be.

I believe that Victoria needs to be a city that looks to the future, readies itself for the future and builds for the future. In order to do this, we need to make sure that there’s housing for all. As you can see from the changing skyline in the downtown, there are lots of rental and condo buildings under construction, but what’s missing is the “missing middle.”

Missing middle housing is everything between single family housing and high-rises. It includes townhouses, row houses, multiplexes, garden suites, co-housing and probably more. Missing middle housing isn’t just an issue in Victoria, it’s a North America wide phenomenon.

As we learned at the public hearing from project proponent Luke Mari of Aryze Developments, less than five per cent of the city’s housing is townhouses. And in the Gonzales neighbourhood where his development was proposed, less than 0.8% of homes are townhouses, even though the neighbourhood accounts for nine per cent of the City’s land base.

Those are the facts. But it’s the stories beyond the facts that we need to listen to to shape the future of our city. We heard that night from people who were making enough money to buy a townhouse but simply couldn’t find one. So they’re renting and taking up a rental unit that someone who can’t afford to buy a home could move into. We heard stories of people leaving the city for the suburbs because their families are growing and they can’t find homes with enough bedrooms. And most moving of all, were the stories of parents whose children are leaving the region altogether and won’t be able to come over for Sunday dinner anymore.

As I said that night, I believe that Victoria is a place where everyone deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community. The way we’ve been building the city – and the way cities across North America have been built for the past 100 years – is not sustainable. I’m so proud of Council for approving these 20 townhouses and signalling that we are a city – and that we are a Council – who looks to the future.

If you’d like to watch the full hearing and listen to the public and councillor comments, please head here and click on item F3.

For those who want to dig in more deeply, here’s a great article on exclusionary zoning and the need for missing middle housing in Seattle.

 

Wharf Street Pedestrian and Cycling Improvements Open Today – Ahead of Schedule and Under Budget

This fellow and others can now legally and safely use the lanes!

A segment of Victoria’s newest protected bike lanes along Wharf Street open for public use today. The phased opening will start from the Johnson Street Bridge to Fort Street and includes the pedestrian scramble crosswalk adjacent to the Victoria Visitor Centre.

The section from Fort to Government will open August 8, followed by Government to Douglas on August 15.

When complete, new features along the Wharf/Humboldt corridor will include:

  • A two-way protected bike lane from Pandora Avenue to Douglas Street and a shared, traffic-calmed road from Douglas to Vancouver Streets
  • Eight improved pedestrian crossings and a new pedestrian scramble crosswalk
  • Two urban plazas with street trees, benches and urban play features
  • A new pedestrian-controlled traffic signal at Yates Street
  • A new traffic signal at the Johnson Street Bridge
  • New transit stops near the entrance to Reeson Park and on Government Street

We encourages everyone to watch for and obey new traffic signals, to use caution when navigating the corridor, and to respect others by always following the rules of the road. This is really important! The new infrastructure will take time for everyone to get used to. It’s been designed to the highest North American safety standards. (Check out NACTO to learn more.) But safety standards are only as good as the people using the infrastructure. Please all road users of all modes take time and take care out there.

To assist the public, safety ambassadors will be stationed along Wharf Street and at the new scramble crosswalk throughout August to help answer questions about the new facilities and provide educational materials to road users.

These investments – funded by the federal gas tax program and provincial grants – are a part of the 32km cycling network that will connect every neighbourhood in Victoria by the end of 2022. Each project focuses on improving road safety and enhancing the experience of all road users. The new bike lanes and pedestrian areas on Wharf Street also contribute to increased vibrancy of the waterfront and connect existing facilities on Pandora Avenue and Fort Street.

For more information visit: victoria.ca/cycling

 

No Social License for Single-Use Plastics in Our Communities

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Photo complements of Karebags, a local company that sells bags wholesale to businesses in Victoria and donates a portion of profits each month to a local charity.

A lot has happened since the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled against the City of Victoria’s plastic bag business regulation bylaw. What’s been thrilling in the weeks following the ruling is to be working closely with three amazing woman mayors in B.C. who are also taking strong leadership on single-use plastics.

Mayor Josie Osborne of Tofino and her council adopted a bylaw recently (but before the court ruling) banning both plastic bags and straws. Mayor Karen Elliott in Squamish and her council are working to regulate single-use plastics. And perhaps most boldly of all, Mayor Kathy Moore and her Council in Rossland approved a bylaw almost identical to Victoria’s, even after the Court of Appeal ruled against Victoria’s ban.

We’re going to be keeping the “Plastic Bag Association of Canada” (whoever that may be – Google and you won’t even find them) very busy.

Last week we were all happy to see the Province launch its own consultation on single use plastics. Jointly, Mayors Elliott, Moore, Osborne and I released the following statement:

“As mayors of communities that are taking a leadership role to reduce single use plastics, we are delighted to see the Province launch a consultation period to hear from British Columbians on this important issue. We’re encouraged that the Province will also take a leadership role to reduce needless waste across the Province.

“Our communities have enthusiastically embraced the reduction of single-use plastic items. We have adopted bylaws or are in the process of doing so to prohibit single-use plastic bags. We’ve done this because single-use plastics and other single use items present a huge problem and big expense in solid waste management, which is a local government responsibility. In Victoria, over the last year 17 million plastic bags were diverted from the landfill, a cost savings to landfill operations.

“We are keen to work with the Provincial government to establish a clear role for local governments, our residents and businesses to move towards a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. We are confident that by working with the Province over the next few months, local governments will be able to offer our experience and expertise that will help the government develop and implement strong policies to reduce unnecessary single-use items across British Columbia.”

In the meantime, in Victoria we’re looking at all our options. Last Thursday Council asked our solicitor to report back in early September on the advisability of the City seeking leave to appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. And in a brilliant suggestion from staff, we have asked our Director of Engineering and Public Works to bring forward a public report on the process for, and resource implications of, developing a comprehensive bylaw for the protection of the natural environment that would regulate, prohibit, and impose requirements in relation to single-use plastics and other products.

We are also currently holding workshops with community stakeholders to reduce or eliminate items that quickly become waste after one or few uses; items like cups, food and take away containers, straws and cutlery. These workshops are to help the City develop its Zero Waste Strategy. This strategy will introduce programs that shift our community towards a circular economy and systems where nothing is wasted, where needless materials are avoided and products are always reused or managed sustainably.

We are doing all of these things because wasteful single-use materials impose several direct and indirect costs:

  • Financial impacts to cleanup operations from pollution and obstructions to local waterways, City waterworks and sewers
  • Cost of landfill operations and extended life of landfill to continue to deal with wasteful practices
  • Environmental impacts to local wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources
  • Social impacts, such as household affordability

It’s going to take all levels of government working together some time to create a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. In Victoria we’re not waiting. The majority of Canadians support a ban on single-use plastics, and our residents and businesses are demanding action. We will continue to take it.

 

 

Victoria Region Begins Electrification of Transit Fleet

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Near the end of the last term, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission passed a motion directing staff to prepare a business case for the transition of our bus fleet to electric. We also indicated to the BC Transit Board that we’d like to be a pilot region in the province for electric buses.

So it was thrilling – less than year after our motion passed – to see the first 10 electric buses being announced for our region. And it was an honour to have Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier John Horgan join Erinn Pinkerton, CEO of BC Transit, to make the announcement in Victoria. The 10 electric buses will arrive in 2021. The purchase of these electric buses is an important step in our goal of creating a pathway to electrification.

More than 50% of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation where the car is the preferred mode of transport. That’s why the Transit Commission and transit staff are working hard to make the bus a convenient and fast alternative. We’re working with the province and the federal government to build rapid bus lanes from the westshore to downtown. The lanes in place to date have cut 10 minutes off a trip. When we’ve implemented all the plans we’re currently working on, trips from the westshore to Victoria by bus will be reduced by 30 minutes.

That’s a good start. But it doesn’t go far enough. We need further expanded service. We need more buses. And we need to transition our fleet to zero emissions. That’s why last week’s announcement was so exciting. Trudeau, Horgan and Pinkerton announced more than $79 million in joint funding to purchase 118 new buses for use in Victoria and communities throughout British Columbia. The new buses will help shorten daily commutes, reduce the number of cars on the road and make our region a greener place to live.  And they’ll come with the NextRide technology built in, making it easy for people to know, in real time, when their bus will arrive.

The first 10 electric buses are a good first step. We’ve got a long way to go to full electrification by 2030. But I’m confident that if the federal and provincial governments keep investing significantly in transit, and if we work together with them and as a region that we’ll get there. It’s important for the planet, the economy and our residents that we do.

Here’s what our leaders had to say about this significant investment.

Justin Trudeau
“Many British Columbians depend on public transit to get where they need to go safely and efficiently. As communities in B.C. continue to grow, investments in public transit need to keep pace. By investing in reliable, efficient public transit, we are making a real difference in the lives of British Columbians, while protecting our environment and making our communities stronger.”

François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
“Public transit infrastructure is vital to building strong, sustainable communities where all residents have access to essential services and opportunities, and businesses can thrive. This investment in modern, eco-friendly vehicles serving communities across British Columbia will ensure that public transit services can continue to provide convenient, accessible transportation options that will improve the quality of life for residents today and contribute to a greener future.”

John Horgan
“Our government is committed to making life more affordable for British Columbians, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investments like this will help us do just that. Working together, we can provide transit that people need and we can put public transit on a solid road towards a truly sustainable future.”

Erinn Pinkerton, president and chief executive officer, BC Transit
“These valuable partnerships have enabled BC Transit to actively pursue and implement low carbon technologies as we strive towards a cleaner, greener transit fleet. We are incredibly grateful to the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C. and our local government partners for their contributions and continued collaboration.”

Here are some more pictures from the event, including Erinn Pinkerton providing the Prime Minister with a pair of BC Transit socks.

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Victoria’s First Woman Mayor, Gretchen Mann Brewin, Honoured with Planting of Garry Oak In Mayors Grove

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Two women hard at work! Victoria’s first female mayor, Gretchen Brewin and I planting a Garry Oak tree in Gretchen’s honour. More photos below. Most photos by Derek Ford.

The Mayors Grove was established in what is now called Beacon Hill Park in the Heywood meadow area east of Arbutus Way, during a 1927 convention of western mayors in Victoria. Nine mayors planted trees to begin the grove. In the following years, visiting dignitaries were invited to plant trees, among them Winston Churchill (a hawthorn in 1929), the King of Siam (an oak in 1931) and Lord Baden-Powell (an oak in 1935).

Historian James Nesbitt has noted that in the 1920s and 1930s, it was popular for the mayor of the day to take distinguished visitors to Beacon Hill Park and have them plant a tree in the Grove. The Grove fell into decline during the 1950s. Mayor Richard Wilson had it restored in the 1960s.

In 1963, a refurbished Mayors Grove sign was erected on steel posts northeast of Goodacre Lake. Listed were twenty-five dignitaries, the tree species they had planted – oak, maple, fir, ash, beech, copper beech, linden or hawthorn – and the dates. Identification numbers matched stone markers at the bases of the trees.

In all these decades, there were no women represented in the Mayors Grove. That changed last weekend.

In addition to being the site of the Mayors Grove, Beacon Hill Park, or Meegan as it’s known in Lekwungen is a place of historical, cultural and sacred significance to the Lekwungen People. For thousands of years they have actively stewarded and cared for the beautiful, life-giving environment that flourishes there.

Through my reconciliation journey, I have come to a deeper understanding of the sacredness of this site to the Lekwungen people. I’ve also learned about the profound cultural importance of ceremony as well the importance of listening to, learning from and honouring elders.

It’s fitting that we gathered together in this sacred place in ceremony last Saturday to celebrate a leader and elder in our community. As the first woman mayor in the City’s history, Gretchen showed courage, tenacity and she inspired many. The native Garry Oak tree we planted in honour of Gretchen’s service will thrive for generations, just as as her legacy as a leader has.

Gretchen began her political career as a member of the Scarborough School Board when she was in her twenties. After moving to Victoria from Ontario in 1973, she went back to university and completed a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She was elected to Victoria City Council in 1979.

Gretchen was Mayor of Victoria from 1985 to 1990 when she was the first woman elected to this office. In her time as mayor – and based on her interest in community development – she brought the first heritage planner as well as the first social planner to City Hall. She was also responsible for the building of the Victoria Conference Centre as well as playing a key role in bringing the 1994 Commonwealth Games to Victoria.

After serving as mayor, Gretchen was elected as the MLA for Victoria Beacon-Hill (NDP), serving two terms from 1991-2001. She was the province’s first woman Deputy Speaker and then Speaker. She also served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security, and as the Minister for Children and Families.

Whether as Mayor, Speaker of the House, Minister, leader and advocate for women, children, and seniors, Gretchen’s lifelong ability to bring people together and unite people in positive action was visible last Saturday in the diversity of people who came together to witness the tree planting.

It was an honour to be with the crowd gathered, to celebrate Victoria’s first female mayor and – equally importantly – to celebrate a mayor who started a tradition of the open-hearted, collaborative spirit that we strive to continue today at City Hall. It’s important to celebrate a leader who helped to shape Victoria’s position as a resilient, world-class city and region, where both tradition and innovation are embraced.

A special thanks to my colleagues Councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe for initiating the celebration, and to city staff who once again shone at event planning and execution.

 

City Vows to Find Another Way to Eliminate Single-use Plastic Bags as Appeal Court Rules in Favour of Plastic Bag Industry

You don’t need regulations to do the right thing! Even though the court of appeal ruled in favour of the plastics industry today, these kids are on the right track as they remind us to bring our reusable bags! Let’s continue to heed their advice. 

Date: Thursday, July 11, 2019
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Today, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the BC Supreme Court decision and has struck down the City’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw.

In their reasons for judgment, the Court of Appeal found that the bylaw’s dominant purpose was to protect the natural environment rather than business regulation. Therefore, in accordance with the requirements of the Community Charter, provincial approval for the bylaw was required, and since the City did not obtain such approval, the bylaw is not valid. Writing for the unanimous Court, Madam Justice Newbury stated: “While the City’s intentions in passing the Bylaw were no doubt reasonable, we must give effect to the clear instructions of s. 9(3) [of the Community Charter] requiring the Minister’s approval.”

“We will review the decision and will consider all our options. We believe it is fundamentally within the jurisdiction of cities to regulate unsustainable business practices,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “The Court decision doesn’t undermine the soundness of the bylaw itself, it only deals with the process required for its adoption.”

The bylaw, which has been in effect since July 1, 2018, banned the use of single-use plastic checkout bags and set a minimum price on paper and reusable checkout bags. It was developed with extensive input from local businesses and the community over a two-year period.

“Victorians care deeply about this issue and they told us that single-use plastic bags do not align with their values. Businesses and residents have embraced the transition to reusable bags. It’s been a tremendous success. We will continue our efforts to phase out single-use items,” said Mayor Helps.

Victoria has made sustainable habits and removing single-use checkout bags the new normal. Since the bylaw’s introduction, more than 17 million plastic bags have been eliminated from the community, village centres, parks and beaches – bags that otherwise would end up as litter or choke the landfill for hundreds of years.

“The City is committed to continuing our work to eliminate unnecessary waste. There is no question that the continued use of single-use plastic checkout bags is an unsustainable practice and the historic volume of plastic bag waste and litter negatively impacts our community and the environment,” said Mayor Helps. “I would encourage businesses and shoppers to stay-the-course on reusable checkout bags.”

Hundreds of B.C., Canadian and international jurisdictions are already introducing programs and regulations to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

“We are inspired by other municipalities’ efforts to phase out single-use checkout bags and plastic waste, and we must work together to take this issue forward to provincial and national leaders to develop common, high and shared standards,” said Mayor Helps. “This issue affects us all locally, regionally and globally. This is time for action and leadership. There is no turning back.”

– 30 –

Inclusionary Housing: We’re All in this Together

834 Johnson .jpegThis condo building at 834 Johnson Street, built by Chard Developments, is an example of inclusionary housing as it contains affordable housing units run by Beacon Community Services.

Housing is a key issue in Victoria for both social and economic reasons. Council is working hard to take action on affordable housing including developing an updated Victoria Housing Strategy which was released on Friday.

Council’s recent policy decision on Inclusionary Housing requesting that 20% of units in new condo buildings be affordable rental units is one piece of the puzzle. I didn’t support the policy Council adopted. I won’t go over the reasons; they have been well-documented. However, my job as mayor is to take the policies adopted by Council, become their champion and make them work.

To this end, I contacted the Chair of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) right after the policy was adopted. Their members are the people who build homes in our region. I asked him how we could move forward from here, together. An invitation arrived very soon after that for myself along with Councillors Potts and Loveday to be on a panel hosted by UDI to explain the new policy – including its flexibility and room for creativity and innovation. We have accepted.

Understanding the policy is key to making it work and keeping the home building boom happening. We need to keep that boom going for some of the reasons pointed out in the Times Colonist editorial Tuesday. First is climate change. Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region come from transportation. Building compact communities where people can walk or bike to work is a key climate mitigation strategy. We must continue the housing boom in Victoria to reduce the GHG emissions in the region.

Second, and related, population projections recently released by the CRD show 16,200 more people living in the City of Victoria by 2038 and 11,900 more jobs. To house all these people and to have them working close to where they live, we need the home builders to continue building homes.

So how will the City’s new Inclusionary Housing policy work?

All rental housing is exempted. Right now – and likely for the first time since the 1970s – we have more rental housing being built in the city than condos. In 2018 we had over 400 rental units started, compared to around 200 condos. In addition, there are also over 500 units of affordable housing in the development process, including units that rent for $375 per month. Rental housing is important; it’s expensive to buy a home and people are spending a longer time in the rental market. Council is aware of this and its new Inclusionary Housing policy supports the creation of new purpose-built rental housing.

The other thing the policy does is builds in flexibility. In order to encourage new projects under Council’s policy and to address the need for family-sized units and to meet the City’s climate goals, Council will consider less than 20%  for projects that a.) would be financially non-viable if required to provide 20% affordable rental units, or b.) are primarily comprised of family sized units, or c.) are built and operated to energy efficiency above the City’s current requirements. Council will also consider less than 20% for affordable home ownership units. This may result in more housing built that is needed for families and for the future.

The other measure of flexibility – which I strongly support – is to consider proposals with heights and densities greater than those in the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP). Council would consider this where the project delivers community amenities such as affordable housing, family-sized units, accessible units for people with disabilities, daycare facilities, enhanced greenspace, energy efficiency or other provisions deemed appropriate by council. The reason that inclusionary housing policies work in other places is because councils are willing to be flexible with the OCP limits in exchange for amenities. We’ve signalled with Council’s vote last week that we are willing to do this too.

With this flexibility in place, and with a continued commitment to improving our development processes and cutting red tape as we did last term (look at all the cranes in the air as proof) we don’t need to “go all Langford on new development” as the Times Colonist editorial concludes.

The projections show that demand for housing in Victoria will continue to grow. The units currently under construction are being snapped up. And downtown Victoria is becoming a lively and vibrant neighbourhood. People who want to live close to where they work, enjoy a high quality of life and spend less time commuting will continue to choose Victoria. And they will need homes. It’s up to all of us, the city and the private sector, to work together to make it happen.

This piece was originally published here in the Times Colonist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambrose Place: Love and Decolonizing Housing, Health and Wellness

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I had an incredible experience earlier this week that I’m really excited to share. I was in a situation where I was expecting one thing and something completely different happened. In the space between expectation and experience, there was inspiration, love and great deal of learning.

I was invited by Fran Hunt-Jinnochi, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to tour Ambrose Place in Edmonton. She invited a dozen of us from Vancouver Island to join her to learn about the Indigenous-informed, culturally supportive housing site which includes a managed alcohol program. She wants to start a similar program on Vancouver Island, hopefully in the capital region, and she invited us to learn and to witness.

I was expecting a conventional facility tour and a series of PowerPoint presentations with governance models and funding charts. Instead, we began on Monday evening in circle with a local elder. He shared his songs with us and spoke for three hours about the importance of connection to one’s own spirit. “Human and spirit,” he said over again in many different ways as the sage burned and the day faded to night.

Tuesday, we learned about love and how a decolonizing approach to “harm reduction” works. Carola Cunningham, the CEO and founder of Ambrose Place said about the residents, “We just keep loving them. We’re all related.” Her staff who were there to share their experiences, echoed this. A staff member shared a story of a resident who told her that he was almost 50 years old and no one had ever told him they loved him. So now every day, at the end of their one-on-one meeting she says, “I love you.”

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Another staff member recounted her experience working at a hospital before coming to Ambrose Place. “The thing I love about working here is that we love our residents. When I worked at the hospital you weren’t allowed to love your patients. Here we are allowed to love them.” Another staff member told us that when she started working at Ambrose Place she had to get used to residents hugging her.

This tenderness, this Indigenous-centred, love-based approach continues through to end-of-life care. Ambrose Place was not originally set up for palliative care. Early on, one of the residents very close to death had gone to the hospital. He wanted to come home to die but they weren’t prepared. After he passed, Carola was determined that people should be able to die at home. And – just like much else that happens at Ambrose place – Carola made it so. “Now we do palliative care,” she said. “And we love people through to the spirit world.”

“In the regular system, at the hospital,” one of the staff members said, “when there’s a death and you cry, you’re seen as weak. Here we’re told, ‘Cry, let it out, tears are medicine.’ We accept our residents where they’re at. As staff we’re also accepted where we’re at.”

The longer people stay at Ambrose place, the more opportunity they have for sobriety, the closer their trauma comes to the surface. The residents work through their trauma in ceremony, in circle, and with an “Elders Review” – a practice where they walk through their lives chronologically with an elder and decide which parts they are ready to work on. What’s truly moving is that the trauma work doesn’t stop with the residents. Carola has created a social enterprise catering service and she uses the money to reinvest in trauma support for her staff.

Ambrose Place is remarkable. And it’s working. As it turns out, love and a decolonizing approach are saving the Alberta government a lot of money. In the first two years they were open, they saved $7 million in health care costs. Their residents have reduced their hospital days by about 90%. There has been a significant decrease in mental health and addictions emergency room visits. And this takes only health care into consideration. There’s currently a study underway to quantify the savings in policing and the justice system.

Niginan Housing Ventures, which runs Ambrose Place, has big plans for what’s next. Ninety-three percent of kids in care in Alberta are Indigenous. So Niginan is going to create a building for kids and parents together. Instead of removing the kids from their parents, they’ll remove the parents – but only to another part of the building. They’ll have “kookums” (grandmothers) and elders around to care for and love the children as well. By keeping everyone under one roof, they’ll ensure that the kids stay connected to their parents until the parents are ready to move back into a suite with their children.

A disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are Indigenous. A disproportionate number of Indigenous children are in care in this country. Conventional approaches are not working to address these issues and are likely just making them worse. My key takeaway ­– and my reflection to the group in our closing circle – is that the decolonizing practices and loving ways of Ambrose Place have the power to transform the whole health and housing system, if only we are open to new ways of knowing.

 

Cecelia Ravine Playground Grand Opening and How Parks Make Healthy Cities

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All photos provided by Derek Ford of Derek Ford Studios

Last Saturday I was so happy to stand with members of the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood and city staff as we officially opened the expanded park and new playground. It’s an amazing place and it’s been a long-time coming. A park is more than just a park – it’s critically important well-being infrastructure that helps to build a healthy city.

In 2009, the City of Victoria sold the Ellis Street Park in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood to make way for the Rock Bay Shelter. At that point, Council made a commitment to use the funds from the sale to create a new park in the neighbourhood. In 2016, the City purchased the land where the new playground is now sited, with the funds held in reserve. The purchase of the property expanded the Cecelia Ravine Park to just over four hectares.

As soon as we bought the land, city staff began work with neighbourhood residents to design the park. I love that the park you see today was literally designed around the needs of the neighbourhood. One of the most important elements requested by the neighbourhood was an accessible connection from the Galloping Goose trail right up to the park. This allows access to the park from a highly used active transportation route.

In response to requests from neighbourhood residents and the creativity of our staff (while staying within the budget that Council allocated for the project) we now have:

  • A larger, more accessible, playground
  • Community gathering areas and open green space
  • Outdoor fitness equipment
  • Enhanced furnishings, including bike racks, shade structure, pathway lighting, and seating
  • A new public washroom
  • An accessible pathway connecting the park to the Galloping Goose Regional Trail
  • 21 new trees!

It’s a beautiful park and playground as you can see in the photographs. But it’s much more than this. In her groundbreaking 2017 report, “Designing Healthy Living,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer writes that, “We do not yet know how to quantify the extent to which the built environment affects healthy living, but we know enough to say with confidence that neighbourhoods that are built with health in mind are important for making healthy choices the easiest choices.” She also points to emerging research that makes a connection between the built environment and mental health and wellness.

Burnside Gorge is one of the most diverse and lowest income neighbourhoods in the city. The new park provides fitness equipment for adults who may not have extra money for a gym membership. There’s the gorgeous playground and lots of space for kids to run and play. It’s connected to a bike path so you can get there safely without the expense of a car. And it’s got an accessible picnic area and play equipment so people using wheelchairs can also have easy access. There’s also lots of green space to gather, dwell, and connect. And when those 21 trees grow up there will be lots of shady spaces to take refuge on hot days.

Parents I spoke with at the opening said they were proud to have the best playground in the city in their neighbourhood. I was moved close to tears during my opening remarks by the overwhelming joy and the deep gratitude of the parents and kids in attendance. I am proud to be mayor of a city that is helping to create health, well-being and inclusivity as we continue to build the city.

More photos from the park opening.

Climate Action, Active Healthy Transportation, and the Heidelberg Challenge

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities in the lead up to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to Heidelberg to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action.

Over 700 people from 90 countries attended the conference. It was heartening to learn that from Kenya to Sweden, from China to California, cities are taking climate action. Cities are ready to be strong partners to provincial and federal governments and can help federal governments meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. But, in order to do so, cities need more resources and more delegated authority from national and provincial governments. This is the key message from the conference that will be forwarded to the UN Climate Action Summit in September.

Another theme from the conference is the need for creative transportation solutions to decrease emissions in cities. Mauro Petrcionne, European Director General for Climate Action, was asked to sum up what he heard at the Mayors breakfast meeting, at which I was a panelist. He said that many people see individual cars as linked to individual rights. “Will we abolish this perception,” he asked. “No, but we can adjust it. In order to do so, we need to rethink the way our cities are organized.”

Petrcionne observed that if people are asked to choose what matters most, the end of the world or the end of the month, they will choose the end of the month ­– their own interests and survival – believing that someone else will take care of the end of the world. The advice he gave us was to avoid putting people in the position of making that choice; create climate solutions that also benefit people’s pocketbooks and their health and well-being.

Heidelberg is one city we can learn from when it comes to matching individual interests and quality of life with addressing the climate crisis. And they’ve done this by focussing on how people move around.

Heidelberg is currently where Victoria needs to be by 2030. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan aims, by 2030, to have 55% of trips made by walking and cycling (we are currently at 39%) and 25% of trips by transit (currently at 12%). This means that by 2030 only 20% of people will get around using a car. Sound impossible? Today in Heidelberg, only 22% of trips are made by car. Fully 38% are made on foot, 26% by bicycle and 14% by public transit.

They’ve achieved this by organizing the city around active and healthy modes of transportation. Almost every main street has as much space dedicated to transit, walking and cycling as it does to private vehicles. Walking and cycling are privileged. There are many pedestrian-only zones. And cyclists are allowed to ride both ways down one-way streets making them de facto bike streets; cars have to go slowly and yield to bikes going in both directions.

Side streets are narrow and have a maximum speed limit of 30km/h. I visited a brand new passive house neighbourhood (where all buildings are zero emissions) and the new streets there are as narrow as the streets in the 800-year-old city centre.

“Why did they make these new streets so narrow,” I asked former mayor of Heidelberg, Beate Weber-Schuerholz, who was kind enough to show me around. She replied, seemingly surprised by my question, “To limit cars so that children can walk safely to school of course.”

In Heidelberg it’s not bikes versus cars versus buses. It’s about the freedom for kids to get to school safely on foot, and for seniors to stay connected to their communities. The city is organized for better health outcomes, more money in people’s pockets and a stronger local economy. Heidelberg is alive, prosperous and thriving and their streets are for sharing.

Can we join them? This is the Heidelberg Challenge. Let’s step up our ambition as a community and work to overtake Heidelberg long before 2030. Will you join me? It doesn’t mean necessarily ditching your car (although car sharing is cheaper and gives more options) – it just means thinking differently about what it’s for and when you use it. And it means continuing to build a city that puts people first.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist here.