Why I’m Quitting Facebook


Disclaimer: Tech is the number one industry in Victoria with amazing, innovative and entrepreneurial people working in that space. This post is not a rant against technology; it’s about putting social media in its place. 

I’m quitting Facebook. Before the cry begins about how will the mayor be in touch with her constituents, let me count the ways: email me mayor@victoria.ca, call or text me at 250-661-2708, send me a note on Messenger, follow my blog, call my office 250-361-0200, call CFAX any Friday between 3pm and 4pm where I’m on air taking your questions, attend a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall, or come to a Community Drop In .

It’s this last venue, the Community Drop In, that’s my favourite. I hold it in my office every two weeks. We put the kettle on, get great coffee from 2% Jazz and the community drops in to share ideas, concerns, and solutions. There’s always a diversity of people that show up. And it’s a place where we listen to each other, hear about amazing events and programs being led by citizens, and we solve problems together. Sometimes it’s hard and people come in really angry. And through conversation and connection that anger fades to understanding.

And this points directly to the first reason I’m quitting Facebook. When I became mayor, Facebook was still a civil place. It was a place where I could share ideas and get good feedback, where dialogue happened. I remember getting off Facebook and saying to a friend, “That was a really good conversation.” But all of this has changed.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Lewis interviews former Facebook, Twitter and Google workers. Lewis writes that according to James Williams, an ex-Google strategist, social media manipulation “is not only distorting the way we view politics but, over time, may be changing the way we think, making us less rational and more impulsive.” As Williams says, “We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage.” The site Time Well Spent, founded by Williams and others and focused on how to make tech more humane, puts it this way: “Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.”

Facebook peddles in outrage. According to Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, “Algorithms that maximize attention give an advantage to negative messages. People tend to react more to inputs that land low on the brainstem. Fear and anger produce a lot more engagement and sharing than joy.” 

I have felt this evolution online over the past four years. Facebook has become a toxic, echo chamber where people who have anything positive to say are often in defense mode against negativity and anger. And, as McNamee notes, “The use of algorithms … leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed … the result is that everyone sees a different version of the internet tailored to create the illusion that everyone else agrees with them. Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts.”

I think we need to take this really seriously as a community. And I’m quitting Facebook so I stop contributing in any way to this cycle of psychological violence where fear and anger get more air time than joy, where opinions become hardened in the absence of facts or dialogue and where division rather than much-needed connection is the norm.

What is worse is that the effects and impacts don’t seem to be remaining on the screen. We are experiencing a Facebookization of public discourse in community meetings, in engagement processes. People sometimes show up angry and outraged before they’ve even received any information. The community is unnecessarily divided. Facebook is of course, not entirely to blame. But I wonder what would happen if we did a grand social experiment where people put down their phones, or at least took a Facebook break for a month, and engaged in more face to face conversations.

Except that we can’t put down our phones. And this is the second big reason I’m quitting Facebook. I’m worried about our individual (read my!) and collective ability to focus. And focus is exactly what is needed to fix the big issues that face us in 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

Dscout, a web-based research platform, did a study where they put an app on the phones of a diverse sample of 100,000 people and tracked their every interaction for five days, 24 hours per day. By every interaction, they mean “every tap, type, swipe and click.” They called them “touches”. The authors reported that what they discovered was “simultaneously expected and astonishing – and a little bit sad.” The average user touched their phone 2617 times per day. As noted by Justin Rosenstein, inventor of the Facebook “Like” button, “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

It’s not a question of us a humans being ‘weak’ or something being ‘wrong with us’. Social media is designed to suck us in, to keep us distracted. It’s called the “attention economy”. Social media companies are competing for scarce minutes turned hours of our time. This is contributing to fragmenting our attention spans so that we no longer have the ability to focus individually or collectively on the big issues that desperately need our attention. This isn’t good for the state of our democracy in Victoria where what we need is to be able to talk with each other and listen to each other about the challenges we face as a community.

Finally, though and most worrying, and my third reason for quitting Facebook, is that social media use and cell-phone distraction is actually shriveling our brains.

According to Dr. Paul Mohapel at Royal Roads University, citing a study from Sussex, device-driven multitasking can shrivel the prefrontal cortex specifically the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain used in executive function, cognitive processes, emotional regulation and evaluative processes.  Our brains are shriveling in the place we need them most – to reason, to have empathy and most importantly to have the emotional intelligence to connect with others.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been weaning myself off Facebook slowly, just like when I quit coffee. I first deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Then from my iPad. And finally, I changed my web browser home page. The final step is to close down my Facebook account … It makes me nervous just typing this.

I wonder how quitting Facebook will impact my relationship with my phone? My time? My sense of self worth? I look forward to more face to face conversations, less distractions, and keeping my noodle intact.






New Downtown Location Planned for Victoria Fire Hall and Emergency Operations Centre

Screenshot 2018-03-19 13.45.01

Date: Monday, March 19, 2018
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — A new Victoria public safety building will be built downtown under an agreement reached with local developer Dalmatian Developments Limited Partnership, a Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd. venture.

The state-of-the-art, post-seismic rated facility will be located on Johnson Street as part of a new mixed-use development adjacent to Pacific Mazda.

The 41,700 square-foot facility replaces the current 26,700 square-foot fire headquarters building that has served the citizens of Victoria since 1959. The new facility will house fire and rescue services and Victoria’s first purpose-built Emergency Operations Centre. In addition, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has agreed to lease 3,200-square-feet of space from the City to operate a stand-alone facility for paramedics and four ambulances under a planned 20-year co-service agreement.

The proposed public safety building will be built to meet the upcoming changes to the BC Building Code standards for buildings designed to remain operable post disaster, which means it will be built to a seismic design load that is 50 per cent higher than typical commercial buildings that will be built under the new code’s increased seismic requirements. After an earthquake, the new building will be able to be safely re-entered and used to deliver emergency services.

Subject to Council approval, the City will pay $33.7 million to purchase and own the turnkey facility as part of the broader development. Additional costs to the City will include off-site servicing, sidewalk improvements, equipment and project management, bringing the total cost for the project to $35.9 million. This will be paid for through available funds in the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve. There will be no property tax impact and no grants required from senior levels of government. Under the agreement, the City will make an initial refundable deposit, with the remaining payment made upon completion and acceptance of the facility.

In February 2016, Council approved in principle using up to $30 million from the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve for the procurement of a new Fire Department Headquarters at either the existing site or a new site identified through the Request for Qualifications market sounding process. The $30 million did not include funding that may be required for land purchase or any additional multi-use components such as BCEHS.

Dalmatian Developments is working with HCMA Architecture + Design, who has designed a number of recently constructed fire halls in British Columbia. Dalmatian’s vision for the site, which includes lots on Johnson, Cook and Yates Streets, is a master-planned, mixed-use development.

To provide financial certainty and minimize project risk, a third-party review was conducted by Johnston Davidson Architecture, the firm that completed the initial needs analysis for construction of a new facility. The review looked at functional flow of the layout, systems, specifications and the operational performance of the proposed public safety building.

In addition, an independent Value for Money assessment was completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers comparing the negotiated deal with independent benchmark costing for post-disaster buildings, as well as the alternate option to build on the City’s existing site. The costing comparison indicates this deal is fair and shows greater value for money and overall lower cost than the alternate option.

The current headquarters can remain at 1234 Yates Street while the new facility is constructed, saving time, money and, importantly, operational efficiency compared to identifying and setting up a suitable alternate temporary space if the City had chosen to build on site.

The agreement is subject to Victoria City Council authorizing funds in its 2018 Financial Plan at its March 22 meeting, and to Dalmatian Developments bringing their overall project through the rezoning process, which includes the construction of the new public safety building.

The developer plans to submit a rezoning application to the City within the next six months. It is anticipated that if the land use process results in appropriate zoning of the property and the developer secures the necessary building permits, construction will take approximately 28 months.


Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps:
“We’ve taken an innovative approach to this project. We canvassed the private sector and said, ‘We need a fire hall, what are your ideas?’ What has come back is a fantastic project with a high-quality local developer that will see a fire hall built as part of a mixed use project that will be much more cost effective to the city than a stand-alone project, or rebuilding on the current site.”

Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce:
“This is an inspiring development that will meet our needs today and well into the future, as we continue to pursue local and regional efficiencies in our effort to provide the public with the highest level of emergency services.  The inclusion of an Emergency Operations Centre capable of managing hazard response specific to the City of Victoria is a practical and effective improvement to the management of emergencies on a holistic level.”

David Jawl, Director of Development, Dalmatian Developments:
“We look forward to working with the neighbourhood and the City to deliver a development that we can all be proud of for many years to come.”

Lance Stephenson, BC Emergency Health Services, Patient Care Director for Vancouver Island:
“In terms of location, this is absolutely ideal. The new centre is in the perfect location for us to get to patients in the downtown core. It’s great to be partnering in this new state-of-the-art centre and an incredible opportunity for our paramedics.”  

View the report to be presented to City Council for consideration at the March 22 Committee of the Whole meeting.


Inspiring Town Hall – Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation

Sometimes we just need a little push before talk moves to action. Saturday’s town hall on how to use a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation was that final push for me. I’m more motivated than ever for Sannich’s Mayor Atwell and I to meet with Minister Robinson and lay a path for a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. Both Councils have requested this; the time for action is now.

The event, hosted by Amalgamation Yes, featured North Cowichan Councillor Maeve Maguire and Mona Kaiser, a member of the Citizens Assembly which was convened to explore amalgamation between North Cowichan and Duncan. In her opening remarks Shellie Gudgeon of Amalgamation Yes encouraged us all not to think of “yes” or “no” but for now, Amalgamation Maybe. For those of you interested in the process, read on! For those wanting even more details, please take the time to watch the presentation and Q and A session in the video.

In 2015, North Cowichan and Duncan came together and requested that the Province fund a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. With the Province’s go ahead and funding confirmed they convened a small committee with two elected officials from each area. According to Macguire there was no agenda outside of a fair process.

They hired MASS LBP to assist them, and off they went. There were 10,000 invitations sent out; 277 people expressed interest in participating; 147 could attend all events – which was a prerequisite for participation; and 36 people were selected. There was even gender distribution, fair distribution among neighbourhoods and age distribution within neighbourhoods and a set number of First Nations participants. Both Councils agreed to the criteria and then after that, it was out of their hands.

Kaiser, one of 36 residents selected for the Citizens Assembly, said she learned about her neighbours and local history, how local government works, and about the shared values and differences across their region. It is so valuable to spend time with people who think differently than you, she said.

The Citizens Assembly had a four-month mandate to examine amalgamation between the two areas. Both Maguire and Kaiser spoke of the brilliance of the approach and how it could be used to solve other complex problems and increase citizen knowledge and engagement. Participants received technical advice, financial information and presentations from community and business groups to assist in their deliberations.

After months of work, the Citizens Assembly presented to both Councils and the public and recommended amalgamation of the two areas. Both Councils had to agree to the recommendation in order to move forward to a referendum. Next step is further First Nations consultation by the Province and then the Province will hold a binding referendum on amalgamation of the two areas.

Lessons learned? Make sure we get a clear road map from the Province on what the steps will be after the Citizens Assembly reports. And don’t interfere with the Citizens Assembly process; once it is set up, just let them do their work. As Kaiser said, “Having a whole bunch of people in the room [beyond the 36 appointed] is not the the most effective – the voices get louder not deeper.”

What next for our region? We’ll keep you posted as Mayor Atwell and I meet with Minister Robinson. I’d like to see a Citizens Assembly set to work before the summer. And I’d like to trust the wisdom of a randomly selected group of citizens to explore the question of amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria with no preconceived outcome, willing to listen, learn and explore the similarities and the differences between us, and willing to recommend a path forward one way or the other.

Wholehearted Support for Songhees Games Bid

Something remarkable happened in Victoria recently. Late last Monday morning I walked into the Songhees Cultural Centre on the lower floor of the Steamship Terminal Building in the inner harbour. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I was thrilled to see such a packed room. And happy to see so many of my colleagues; there was a least one elected official from each local government across the region.

We were there with local business leaders, media, and community members to throw our wholehearted support behind the Songhees Nation in their bid to host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.

The North American Indigenous Games were created in the 1990s as a catalyst to support the health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth through sport and cultural activities. The Games today are a symbol of respect, friendship and athletic achievement. The event serves as a powerful opportunity to showcase the rich Indigenous cultures from across North America and to foster understanding.

Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are transformational experiences for anyone. These are particularly important for Indigenous youth for whom we must all work together as a community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to ensure this next generation has a future full of cultural pride, optimism, opportunity, health and prosperity. Pride, success, celebration and harnessing the strength of their distinct cultures – these are transformational experiences for everyone, but especially for youth on which the Games focus.

Bringing the North American Indigenous Games to Greater Victoria also makes great economic sense. The Games will be a significant economic generator and for the entire region. The Toronto games generated over $44-million for the regional economy. And we expect more delegates than Toronto.

Family members, coaches, and chaperones will come, along with 5000 athletes who will compete in the following sports: 3-D archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball (male), Basketball, Box Lacrosse, Canoe/Kayaking, Golf, Rifle-shooting, Soccer, Softball (female), Swimming, Volleyball and Wrestling.

The Songhees dream of hosting the Games is not a slam dunk by any means – Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa are all in the running. And the Songhees and their partners have a lot of work to do between now and the bid deadline of March 16th. But there’s something special happening here in the region that bodes very well for their bid: we are united as a region behind them

In his remarks at the event Chief Sam shared with us a word in the Lekwungen language, “NÉTSAMAÁT” which means “together we are one.” This North American Indigenous Games bid is a big deal in an era of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for us as settler allies to stand with the Songhees and partner nations and to support them in any way we can.

And when they are successful in winning the bid we will celebrate with them, as a community. And when they host the games in 2020, we will stand beside them as they watch their young athletes compete with pride in their culture and with achievable aspirations and opportunities for a very bright future.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

First National Sustainable Tourism Conference Hosted in Victoria

Plenary - Lessons from the North 2.jpgPanel Discussion: Lessons from the North                             Photo Credit: Impact Conference

In late January, Victoria hosted Impact: Sustainability Travel and Tourism, Canada’s first national conference on sustainable tourism. Organized by Tourism Victoria, Starrboard Enterprises, Beattie Tartan, and Synergy Enterprises, the conference was buzzing with energy from the moment it began.

Our local hosts and guests from across the nation grappled with important issues facing Canada and the world as the tourism industry continues to grow.  Sessions explored climate change, technology, transportation, Indigenous culture, policy, local labour markets and new tourism trends and experiences. Themes included innovation, prosperity, conservation, culture and partnership.

What does all of this mean for Victoria as host to over three million visitors a year and counting?

Victoria is booming right now. Tech and tourism are both growing. There are lots of new apartment and condos being built for people who want to live downtown. And we’ve recently been named by the renowned Condé Nast Readers’ Choice as the second best small city to visit, in the world.

The result? We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. But this also means we have labour shortages and we also clearly have housing shortages for workers.

So in Victoria we are already not sustaining this growth. And people will continue to vacation here for the same reasons locals live here – it’s paradise.

What to do? Author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks were instructive. “You have to know what you are sustaining,” she said. She also urged us to answer key questions: “What is the culture? What is the landscape? What are the events? And what’s the transportation plan?”

What are we sustaining in Victoria? A small-scale, compact community, on Indigenous land with strong Indigenous presence where we share the values of environmental sustainability, stewarding natural assets, community, connection, smart growth and prosperity.

In Victoria and other destinations poised to grow we need a deep collaboration between local elected officials, city staff and the tourism industry to answer these questions. And we need the industry to develop according to the answers.

How do we get to 100% renewable energy as a community and as industry by 2050 while still having people arrive by ferry boat, cruise ship and plane? Do we “exempt” these emissions because they “don’t really happen in Victoria?” How do we reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 while more people come to our destination?

Some of our operators in the region are already moving in this direction; sustainability is woven into their business practices. Wild Play as an attraction, keeps the forest intact and has a “treading lightly” program to promote sustainability such as composting and recycling on site. Ocean River sports gets visitors out on kayaks to experience nature without emissions. The Inn at Laurel Point is a carbon neutral hotel that runs with a social enterprise business model. And the Victoria Airport has set targets for emissions reduction, and has restored the creeks that run through their land, where native fish species can now spawn.

These are big questions with no easy answers. But the first annual Impact conference was critically important naming the questions, collaborating to answer them, sharing best practices and moments of inspiration from across the country, and saving the world – one destination at a time.



Tsunami Warning – Reflections and FAQs

Screenshot 2018-01-24 11.51.23

In the early morning of January 23rd some Victorians woke up to their cell phone or landline ringing with a VicAlert call, some received a text, some got calls from relatives or friends. And others slept through the whole thing and awoke wondering what they’d missed. I think what all of us felt was a little vulnerable and a little scared, with pictures in our minds of big waves engulfing entire cities.

I awoke from a very early morning phone call from our Acting City Manager letting me know that she had followed the City’s emergency management protocol and set up an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at Fire Hall #1. I hopped out of bed, got dressed and walked the three blocks to the fire hall to join the City’s senior leadership team in the EOC.

In order to be better prepared as a community and to understand the risks that face us, here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned. It’s a bit wordy but packed with important details. Please read and please share with your family, friends and neighbours.

What does a Tsunami mean for Victoria?
A tsunami in Victoria is not a big wave. The City has done tsunami modelling and it shows for the City of Victoria it is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters. The maximum water level rise is 3.5 metres with a water flow speed of one metre per second. This means that the people who would be affected are those living within a maximum of two blocks of the ocean in low-lying areas pictured on the map above.

In comparison, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan had a maximum water level of 40 metres with a water flow speed of 12 metres per second.

What did the City do in the early morning of January 23rd?
Residents were notified of the warning through a number of channels including an emergency takeover of our website, social media and the VicAlert notification system.

Emergency responders were deployed and had started door-to-door notifications in the potentially affected areas based on our tsunami modeling. Victoria Ready volunteers were setting up a reception centre at the Fairfield Community Centre when we received notice at 4:30am the EOC that the warning – of the tsunami that had been predicted to arrive in Victoria around 5:50am – had been cancelled.

As Connect Rocket, the provider of the City’s VicAlert program put it in a tweet the next day, “Always lessons to be learned but @CityofVictoria got it right opting for targeted notifications. No benefit to anyone if evacuation routes become clogged by unnecessary traffic. These are tough calls and their team nailed this one.”

What is VicAlert and How Does It Work?
VicAlert provides you with important emergency information, such as imminent threats (e.g. severe weather, power outages, tsunami), AMBER alerts, and local incidents that affect specific areas of Victoria. The service enables emergency notices to be disseminated City-wide or to targeted areas, which can be helpful for neighbourhood-specific emergencies such as a gas leak.

When you sign up for VicAlert, you receive emergency updates and helpful instructions where you are, when you need them. You have the option to receive notifications by cell phone, landline, and email. Because emergencies can happen at any time, it’s a good idea to include the phone notification – and list your landline and cell phone numbers. A phone call in the middle of the night may wake you, while a text may not.

During the January 23rd tsunami warning notifications through VicAlert were only sent out to potentially affected areas. If residents selected to be notified only for certain neighbourhoods and didn’t receive a message, they were not in an area notified for evacuation. You can easily change your profile to select all neighbourhoods and receive all alerts in the future.

We are encouraging all residents to sign up for VicAlert in the wake of this warning, and suggest using both mobile and landlines where possible to ensure multiple methods of notification in the event of an emergency. Subscription to this service has increased from 6500 people before the tsunami warning to close to 50,000 people since.

In April 2018 a Province-wide “push” alert system that will automatically get in touch with each cell phone will be put in place by the Province. Here is a CHEK news story about that program.

Where do I go in an emergency?
The City of Victoria has identified potential buildings throughout the City that may be used for reception and group lodging centres. We don’t advertise these, as the locations will vary depending on the situation and suitability.  For example, after an earthquake these buildings will have to undergo damage assessments prior to their use and we do not want residents going to buildings if they’re not safe.  VicAlert, the City’s website, Twitter and local media will broadcast the appropriate locations for people to go depending on the circumstances.

Get a Siren!
On the morning of January 23rd while people were still recovering from panic mode, we heard many cries for the City of Victoria to get a siren. The City of Victoria is not at risk like coastal communities on the open water are such as Tofino and Ucluelet where there are sirens in place.  We do not expect a large fast wave like we’ve seen in places like Thailand and Japan. As noted above, what the Tsunami modelling shows for the City of Victoria is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters.

We have the resources in place to issue tsunami warnings without a siren due to the lower risk, the slow water level rise, and the length of warning time we will receive after an earthquake has occurred.  Our emergency responders have the capacity to go door-to-door and use loud speakers in the small areas within the City of Victoria that the tsunami modelling has shown the water level will rise to.

This approach has the benefit of notifying affected residents and businesses with personal instructions rather than a siren that would be heard by thousands of unaffected people and lead to confusion about what to do.

We’re all in this together!
The communities that do best in disasters are ones where people have a sense of connection, belonging and resilience. The false alarm on January 23rd is an invitation for all of us  to learn more about preparedness. It’s also a good opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours better and find out what their needs would be in an emergency. Where are the seniors who may need our help? The parents with young children? The people with limited mobility? Preparing for emergencies before they happen is a good opportunity to build stronger communities.









Bus Rapid Transit Key to Continued Prosperity of Region


Bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Westshore and downtown is key to the future prosperity of our region and to meeting our climate action goals as a community.  In 2011, the Transit Commission adopted the Transit Futures Plan, which lays the foundation for transit development in the region. BRT between the Westshore and downtown is a key element of the plan. The lines are on the map for dedicated bus lanes. But the lanes are not yet on the roads.

This is because to date, the Transit Commission and local government partners have taken an incremental, patchwork approach to transit improvements. We’ve tackled one fragment of dedicated bus lanes at a time, starting in the City of Victoria.

But we haven’t conceived of BRT as a complete project, including all the stations, the Uptown Exchange, and an additional bus garage. We don’t have a total project budget nor do we have a current business case or a project implementation plan.

Although we hope it doesn’t take as long to get there, the sewage project serves as a good approach to thinking about transit. We received a business case and implementation plan for the project as a whole.  We call it the “$765 million sewage project.” With sewage we don’t think of the liquid processing facility, the conveyancing, and the solids processing plant as separate projects. All elements of the system are needed to make it work. This is also true with BRT.

It’s clear that incrementalism isn’t working. We know this because we haven’t moved the needle on transit ridership. In 2010 6.5% of the people in the region used transit. In 2017 6.5% of people in the region use transit. When BC Transit brought in BRT in Kelowna they expected 7% to 8% ridership; ridership jumped to 14%.

Thankfully at its December meeting the Victoria Transit Commission, which I sit on with a number of my colleagues from across the region, unanimously adopted a motion directing staff to develop a business case and implementation plan for a complete BRT project from downtown to the Westshore. We’ve asked staff to include all the necessary infrastructure in their business case. We’ve also asked them to include an analysis of the costs and benefit to our residents.

There will be an initial capital cost to building this infrastructure. But this infrastructure investment will keep money in people’s pockets and increase general well-being.  Recent research shows that people who commute daily by car spend at least 20% of household income on transportation. Research also shows that those stuck in traffic in daily commutes express lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being.

The time to act is now. We have a provincial and federal government interested in funding transit. We have a thriving economy and a growing population. And for the first time in history with the millennials, we have a generation that is driving less than the generation before them. This trend will continue. Our current and future citizens want to live and work in places with high-quality, high-speed transit. We can’t leave our future behind.


2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope

Think Before You Speak
Poster by Julian Gibbs-Pearce, Grade 5

I’ve decided to run for Mayor for one more term. In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform. In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation. These include:

But in the meantime, long before beginning a campaign for re-election sometime in the summer, I need your help with a more pressing issue: I need your help in restoring civility to public dialogue – especially about big changes, new ideas, experimental pilot projects, and bold innovations.

When asked in a year-end interview by a Times Colonist reporter what I thought was the biggest issue facing Victoria, I didn’t say affordable housing, lack of high-speed transit from downtown to the west shore, or preparing as a coastal city for a rapidly changing climate. There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into “us” and “them.” This is hurting us all.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, climate change – we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. We need to engage in what Michel Foucault calls “ethical dialogue” which means we need to listen to and understand other perspectives and to be willing to be changed by what we hear.

I feel that what’s happened in the last few years, in particular on social media – but also increasingly in the real world – is that we vehemently agree or disagree with something before looking at the whole picture, seeing a wider perspective. And because we’ve staked a public claim in a Facebook post or a Tweet, we feel that we can’t back down from our positions, we become rooted in our conclusions – which we may have jumped to with only a fragment of information.

This posturing paralyzes us as a civil society, it impoverishes our public dialogue and it ultimately tears us apart from each other as members of a shared community. It also keeps us further away from addressing the challenges I outlined above.

In The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan F.P. Rose makes a compelling case for diversity. “For an ecosystem to thrive,” he writes, “it must be sufficiently diverse, providing opportunities for multiple connections … If the elements of a system are too similar, something ecologists call ‘limiting similarity’, the variety of its interconnections is reduced, and it becomes more vulnerable to stress and volatility. Just as a healthy ecosystem integrates diversity into coherence, so too must a healthy urban metabolism.”

Affordable housing, bike lanes, downtown development, parking, transit, public art – there is a diversity of thought in our community on these important issues.

The coherence part is easy, we all ultimately want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves, to know that our children will have good futures, to have a general sense of well-being. And as humans, we’re hard-wired to want the same things for others. No one wakes up and says, “I want to do everything I can to make my life and my community worse today.”

It’s how we communicate our different perspectives that seems so hard sometimes. But what if we were to take a deep breath before pressing “Post”, or getting up to speak at a public hearing at City Hall, or making comments at the Council table or to the media. What if we were to take a deep breath during political conversations around the dinner table or at the pub.

And what if during that breath we were to ask: Is what I’m going to say True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind? This wisdom comes from the son of a friend of mine, “THINK before you speak”, his poster for school (pictured above) said. My pledge for 2018 is to try to practice this. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because it will make us stronger and more resilient as a community that shares this 20 square km slice of paradise here in Lewkwungen Territory on southern Vancouver Island. Because it will make room for complexity and wholeness. But most of all because it’s necessary if we want to build a prosperous, sustainable, affordable and smart city – our future literally depends on our ability to listen to each other better. We must move beyond cynicism and division in order to meet the many challenges we face.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

Here’s to a hope-filled 2018 and to public dialogue that enriches us as individuals and as a community.




City Budget – Your Input Needed


City Council is about to make the most important decision it makes each year, and we’d like your help. Join us at the Budget Town Hall this Thursday November 30th. Or take the survey here.

How does the annual budgeting process work? At the beginning of the term Council set objectives for the City through the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. Each year at budget time Council reviews the strategic plan and allocates funding through the budget to achieve its objectives including Create Prosperity Through Economic Development, Make Victoria More Affordable, and Take Climate Action and Prepare for Emergencies, to name just a few.

In late October and early November Council dove deeply to the 1116 page draft budget document. We face a challenging task: how can we continue to provide the broad scope of approximately 200 services and over 200 capital infrastructure projects that our citizens value and also meet demands from citizens and businesses for increased or new services? And how can we do this in a way that keeps people’s ability to pay their taxes top of mind?

This is where we’re looking for your input. We know our residents are busy so we want to make it easy for you. Head here for all the information you need about how to participate.

There’s be a budget survey so you can share your priorities with us. There’s a property tax calculator so you can see what the impact of any proposed increase would be on your particular property. There’s a budget snapshot for each neighbourhood so you can learn more about the work proposed to be done in your area. And most importantly, there’s a Town Hall meeting on Thursday November 30th at 7pm at City Hall. Come in person if you can; if you can’t you can call in, email, tweet, and Facebook with your questions and comments. We will use the public input gathered to inform Council’s decision on the budget in early January 2018.

Council understands like you do that, the City budgeting process is about services – ensuring your money is spent prudently on the priorities of our community. But the bigger picture, or perhaps the guiding principle of Council in making budget decisions is to make sure that we’re spending your valuable money in a way that enhances individual and collective well-being and meets the demands of our growing and changing community.

As I’ve shared in my last few articles, and based on census data, our community is changing. Young families with kids need playgrounds, green spaces, downtown public spaces that are welcoming for everyone; seniors need gathering places and programs to keep them connected with each other and with the community; young people need to be engaged, have their voices heard and the city shaped around their needs; and all of us need to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century including building a resilient low-carbon city for the future.


Victoria to remain a human-scale city


I’ve been reading the news headlines lately: “Victoria’s skyline could soon be reaching higher” and “Vancouver-esque’ 989 climbs downtown skyline”. The latter article states, “The Harris Green strip continues to grow as Cox Development’s $75-million, two-tower condo development climbs the skyline at 989 Johnson St., hoping to shake the design restrictions set by the city.” This isn’t even true. Headlines and stories like these are causing unnecessary alarm and generating fear about Victoria’s future.

989 Johnson and all the other buildings under construction right now fit very much with “design restrictions set by the city”. They conform to the design and livability guidelines set out in the City’s Downtown Core Area Plan (DCAP) as well as the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP).

When the City undertook deep consultation with its residents and business owners between 2009 and 2012 to refresh the previous (1995) OCP, the City asked what kind of land use planning it should do. The overwhelming feedback on the City’s future land use was to concentrate density in the downtown, in village centres, and along major corridors like Fort, Yates, Johnson and Pandora, to name a few. And now, five years after adoption, we’re seeing this plan come to life.

The benefits of this kind of density concentration are twofold. First, the traditional, single family neighbourhoods that take up most of the landmass in the city will remain largely untouched and intact. Second, concentrating people downtown, in village centres and along transportation corridors allows us to achieve our climate action goals as a city and as a community.

It should be a wake up call to us all that greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions in the community – which comprise 99 per cent of all emissions – are increasing not decreasing. This flies in the face of our image of being so green and sustainable. Dense compact land use planning decreases GHG emissions in all sorts of ways.

Another myth out there is that all the cranes on the skyline are there to build high-end condos. This also isn’t true. There are a total of 2,006 housing units currently under construction in the City of Victoria. Of those, 43 per cent are rental apartment units. A further 2,237 units are currently in the planning/approvals stages with 48 per cent of those proposed as rental or affordable housing units.

It’s not only Victoria’s built form that is changing, but our demographics as well. According to the 2016 census, the single largest age demographic in Victoria are 25-29 year olds. The second largest are 30-34 year olds, and the third largest are the 35-39 year olds.

Victoria is changing, but it’s changing by design. It’s changing to meet the needs of its current population and future generations who want to live in a vibrant, compact city with lots of nature, trees, parks and public spaces for all to enjoy. Victoria won’t become a city of skyscrapers. We’ll be a world-class city with a liveable, human scale. And we’ll continue working together to make our city in the 21st century one of the healthiest, most sustainable, inclusive and prosperous places to live, in the world.

This piece was originally published in the Victoria News here.