As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away. Our economy was one of the strongest in the country; our downtown was thriving. Few of us could have anticipated the toll the pandemic would take on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, people without homes, governments, on each and every one of us. Most of us have been looking forward to turning the calendar and leaving 2020 behind, hoping for the best in 2021.
Hope is important. But it is not enough to dig us out of the challenging circumstances we’re in. Hope will not get our small businesses through January to March which are likely going to be the most difficult months yet. Hope is not going to create new jobs for those who lost theirs, nor the skills needed to find work in what is quickly becoming a digital and knowledge-based economy. Hope is not going to keep our greenhouse gas emissions in check to mitigate a warming planet. And hope is certainly not going to get everyone who is sheltering in parks inside by the end of March.
Hope is not enough. Hard work is required. And I know that we can work hard as a community because I witnessed it all through 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a Facebook live every day. At the end of each broadcast we reported on some amazing community initiatives. We did over 50 episodes and never ran out of examples.
Early in the pandemic, members of our community created the Rapid Relief Fund and raised $6 million to support those most hard hit. Tech sector businesses quickly offered support to retail and restaurant businesses to digitize as fast as possible. Arts organizations created online content so people had access to arts and culture for their mental health and wellbeing. And many more people leapt into action in big and often small ways, supporting their neighbours, pulling together as a community.
City staff made sure that there was no interruption to essential services like garbage pickup and running water. They also worked at a rapid pace to create Build Back Victoria so local businesses could have patios and more outdoor space for retailing. And they installed electric charging stations, new zero waste bins, more space for pedestrians near village centres and a lot of other small projects to make life better.
Nurses and doctors, transit drivers, grocery store clerks, people working on the front lines in parks and shelters all worked hard, went above and beyond. And they still are.
2020 showed us that we’ve got what it takes to pull through as a community. And that’s a good thing because there’s much work to do in 2021. We need to implement the regional Reboot strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 so those hardest hit economically have an opportunity for a better future and so that our economy is more diverse and resilient to withstand future shocks.
The pandemic has also revealed some of the weaknesses in our social fabric. Another thing that’s going to take hard work and purposeful effort in 2021 is to ensure that as we recover as a community we leave no one behind.
This piece was originally published in the VicNews here.
Thanks, as always, to everyone who took the time to write to me this week. I appreciate hearing your ideas, insights, complaints and frustrations. As usual, I’m responding to everyone together – on the one hand, for efficiency, but on the other, to ensure that as many people as possible have answers to the questions and concerns that people are raising.
If you’d like to stay in touch on a weekly basis, you can sign up to receive the weekly email here. If you’d like to look back over the past few months on information I’ve shared with respect to parks sheltering, housing and related matters, you can do so here. The posts are categorized by topic.
Housing Update As noted in today’s Times Colonist article, Hotel Fire Delays Efforts to House People Without Homes in Victoria, we are not going to meet our original goal of helping 200 people move inside by the end of the year. Since August, the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group, comprised of BC Housing, Island Health, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Our Place, has been working hard to identify transitional and supportive housing units and to move people in. The Times Colonist article lays out the challenges really well and I’d love if you take the time to read it.
The good news is, that this week I spoke to both the new Housing Minister as well as to Victoria’s new MLA Grace Lore and both expressed a commitment to help meet Victoria’s goal of moving people inside by the end of March 2021. This is going to be an enormous challenge and it’s going to take all of us, working together to make it happen. And we will!
Impacts of Sheltering in Parks A few of you have written to me this week concerned about the impacts of people sheltering in parks. One extremely thoughtful email from a North Park resident outlined challenges facing both housed and unhoused neighbourhood residents in North Park. I want to share some of the thoughtful and detailed analysis from that email here:
“According to 2016 Census statistics for North Park:
57% of residents live in 5+ storey apartment buildings,
28% are considered low income,
21% are racialized,
4% are recent immigrants,
28% of children (0-17) live in poverty, and
36% of seniors (65+) live in poverty.
North Park is ranked the most financially vulnerable of 78 neighbourhoods in the CRD
“Since May, when the City of Victoria relaxed bylaws to allow continuous sheltering in light of public health recommendations, Central Park, located in the heart of North Park, has experienced the highest concentration of outdoor sheltering in the city. North Park has been working collaboratively and compassionately for months to advocate for the needs of those sheltering while also balancing the needs of housed community members: primarily, access to Central Park – a well loved, and much needed community amenity.
“North Park is considered a ‘park deficient’ neighbourhood with only 1.23 hectares/1000 residents compared to the City average of 3.16 hectares/1000 residents. However, the actual amount of green space is much, much lower when taking into account sheltering taking place in Central Park, as well as the fact that Royal Athletic Park – which makes up about half of North Park’s greenspace – is a fenced, regional facility.”
The writer had also copied many provincial officials and requested that the Province work with the City to house people by March 31st with the supports they need so that they are taken care of and so that the neighbourhood can have its much-needed and much loved park back.
Another North Park resident wrote thanking me for these weekly emails (you’re welcome) but frustrated by the fencing that had gone up in the park without notice, that created confusion and had the effect of moving people sheltering closer to the playground. We hear you. Bylaw staff were in the Central Park all week working with people there to relocate to other parks in the short term until we can find places for them inside. There are so many needs to balance and nothing about the situation is straightforward.
I’ve also received emails from Fairfield residents this week who live near parks where a small number of people are sheltering, likely having moved recently from Central Park. They have written noting the impact that one or two tents are having in their neighbourhood with respect to feelings of safety, not feeling like they can open the blinds etc. We hear you too.
All of these emails reveal how challenging homelessness is for everyone. A writer asked why Council cares more about people who are living without homes than tax paying residents. What I know from the volume of emails received each week concerning parks sheltering, is that if people who are currently sheltering outside move inside and out of parks, everyone benefits. That’s why we’re working so hard on the issue.
Downtown From some of the emails I’ve received over the past few months, from a daily morning show diatribe against pretty much everything the City does, and from reports I’ve been given about some local social media echo chambers, I have to admit, I was getting pretty worried about downtown. I’ve been spending most of my time at City Hall buried in Zoom and Teams meetings, working on the future of the city and recovery from the pandemic and haven’t looked up in awhile.
But Saturday, I went downtown for pleasure. And it was a pleasure! There were people everywhere – most masked and physically distant. Our amazing local businesses were bustling. A couple of retail vacancies I’d noticed a few months ago were now full with new businesses. We’re not through this pandemic yet, and our local businesses need us more than ever. One of the best ways we can help them is to, collectively, tell a more positive, more realistic story about downtown Victoria.
“I read two letters in the Times Colonist. The first was an uplifting account of walking through Beacon Hill Park. As a neighbour to the park myself, I agree with the writer completely!
“My life has ‘not been ruined’ with proximity to the park. It is a fantastic space, for walking, admiring the trees and nature. The tents that we all see do not frighten me. I feel only sadness for those forced to live this way.
“The other letter was about a Victoria I don’t know. The writer claimed that ‘our parks system has been largely ruined, the downtown is dying and the whole city is a more unsafe and sinister place.’
“Wow. This is a description I don’t recognize. I work downtown and am there at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. The City is hosing down and washing the streets. It is not dirty. I walk past all the amazing and vibrant restaurants and businesses. I talk to the street people and they talk to me. It is not sinister or unsafe.
“These are our fellow human beings. That person was a little boy or girl once too. Listen to their stories and what they will tell you. When you really look and listen I believe your thoughts might change.
Your Suggestions Each week I get emails with creative suggestions for addressing homelessness. This week someone wrote and suggested using empty schools for this purpose. Victoria’s population of young families is growing, and any schools that are currently vacant are under redevelopment or refurbishment to get them ready to receive students. Someone else suggested building a tiny home village like this one in Seattle for women. Stay tuned; there will be more coming on this idea soon!
About Everything Else A few weeks ago I started to share some of the projects the City is working on in addition to sheltering and housing, so that you’d know we’re working hard on lots of fronts. I’ll be brief here this week because I feel like I’ve already written a lot – which means you’ve read a lot!
“The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”
In the long-term, the impacts of climate on our economy and community well-being may dwarf those currently being felt as a result of COVID-19.
In 2018 the City adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to take action on climate change mitigation (actions to stop climate change) and adaptation (actions to adapt to a changing climate). We did this because we know that climate change will negatively impact our community’s well-being and our local economy. I know between my post last week and this week, I’m loading you up with lots of holiday reading. In addition to Victoria 3.0, I’d love if you’d take the holidays to read the Climate Leadership Plan.
The reason for my reading request, is that we just got our first Climate Progress Report. And while we’re doing well corporately and are on track with city operations to meet our 2025, 2030 and 2050 goals, as a community we’re falling behind. The City’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions are only 1% of the total. The other 99% are generated in the community through buildings, transportation and waste.
Just as Minister Dix and Dr. Henry remind us on a regular basis that beating COVID-19 takes every single one of us, so too with climate change. It would be great if you could have a read through the Climate Leadership Plan and the Progress Report and find just one action in there – large or small that you can take at home, in your workplace, school, community group etc.
Facebook live address, Friday May 22nd. We’ll be back Friday May 29th at 1pm.
This week, the Province initiated Phase Two of their recovery plan and coffee shops, boutique retailers, and shopping centres around Victoria have started the process of reopening to the public. The City has been collaborating with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Think Local Victoria, Community Micro-Lending and other business leaders to create a toolkit to support businesses reopen safely.
The toolkit helps highlight businesses that are practicing physical distancing, taking hygienic measures, and exercising the necessary precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The toolkit includes:
Occupancy signage to communicate the number of customers businesses are allowing inside at one time
A checklist of COVID-related measures expected of customers and being followed by employees
Design files – that can be taken to many local printers for easy production and use – for poster or floor stickers that businesses can use to mark out places for people to stand with appropriate social distancing
We know businesses have a lot to worry about without thinking about the little things. We’re taking care of the little things so businesses can stay focused on getting their operations up and running smoothly.
“The items in this new toolkit will help provide some certainty for customers visiting businesses that have reopened downtown,” said DVBA Executive Director Jeff Bray. “The occupancy signage, COVID checklist and floor stickers will give people confidence the businesses they’re visiting are committed to providing a safe shopping experience.”
In another move to support local business owners, Council recently brought forward several creative motions aimed at reopening businesses safely, including the use of public spaces for restaurants and retailers. These proposed measures and interventions are being reviewed by staff and will be presented to Council as concrete actions on June 4 for consideration and adoption.
In addition to these initiatives, over the past four weeks, the City has been promoting campaigns focused on how local businesses can receive support from generous groups within our community, as well as encouraging residents to shop local whenever possible. The #yyjBizSupport campaign connects local business owners with resources to obtain a loan or get help building a website and the #ShopYYJ campaign encourages Victoria residents to support their favourite restaurants and retailers.
All of these initiatives – from the new toolkit, to laying the groundwork for businesses to use public spaces, to campaigns aimed at supporting our local businesses – are important steps the City is taking towards reopening and recovering in a way that gets us all back to work safely.
In other City news this week, Victoria is partnering with BC Hydro to install an electric vehicle (EV) DC fast charger station with two chargers at the south end of Store Street, between Johnson and Pandora, near the Johnson Street Bridge. DC fast chargers can rapidly charge most EVs to 80 per cent capacity within 30 minutes. The charger is expected to be ready for public use by the end of 2020 and will be the first DC fast charger in Victoria.
By making charging faster and easier, we hope more residents will choose EVs over combustion engines. This charger supports the City’s Climate Leadership Plan target of renewable energy powering 30 percent of passenger vehicles registered in Victoria by 2030 and 100 per cent of passenger vehicles are renewably powered by 2050.
News from the community
June 1 is Intergenerational Day – a celebration of the mutual benefits of building relationships across generations, and 2020 marks the 10th Anniversary of Intergenerational Day in Canada! Now more than ever, we need ways to connect. We need to celebrate. Just because we can’t be physically together in the same way doesn’t mean we can’t be connected.
The Intergenerational Society let us know that they are building a virtual national quilt! They want to know: “What do intergenerational friendships mean to you?” They would like you to send in an an email high resolution drawings, photos, and inspirational notes to email@example.com by Sunday, May 24th. I’m late in posting this so hopefully they’ll let a few last photos slip in after the deadline!
The IG Day Quilt will be showcased and celebrated across Canada on Intergenerational Day, Monday, June 1st 2020. Find out more at here.
And much further afield, the Victoria Athletic Football Club, located in Belfast, wrote to me this week to let me know about a virtual journey they are undertaking from their Victoria to our Victoria. The journey might be virtual, but the hard work isn’t. Victoria FC members are collectively running, walking, and cycling 4444 miles – the distance from Belfast to Victoria – all to raise money for PIPS charity, which provides support to individuals who are considering, or who have at some point considered, ending their own lives. PIPS also provide support to those families and friends who have been touched by suicide.
Victoria FC, we are cheering you on all the way, and maybe one day you can visit – the first pint is on me.
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 the32km 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.
Photos from inside a new apartment building in downtown Victoria. This building was approved in 2012 – the first new rental building approved in the City in the last 30 years.
There have been questions from certain corners of our community on the need for rapid densification – why do we need so many new buildings? Should we pull up the metaphorical drawbridge and protect Victoria from newcomers because we think it’s the only way to preserve the quality of life for people who already live here? There are many good reasons to answer no. I’ll highlight two and outline how a growing city and its neighbourhoods can be places where quality of life and well-being are enhanced, for everyone. I love my neighbourhood too.
At a recent talk in Victoria, the Governor of the Bank of Canada highlighted Canada’s aging workforce; as a result, currently two thirds of labour force growth comes from immigration. By 2025, he said, all labour force growth will come from immigration. This couldn’t be more true than in Victoria where we have an aging population with many people moving out of the labour force in the coming decades. These people will want to stay in Victoria and enjoy the quality of life they have here.
So, like the rest of Canada, though perhaps more rapidly, Victoria’s labour force will grow through immigration both from other provinces and other countries. This growing labour force – necessary to support those who are retiring – need places to live. That is a key reason that all this new building is necessary.
A second reason is climate change. In early March I was invited by Mayor Iveson in Edmonton to an urgent weekend meeting of mayors from around the world. The 800 scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were meeting in Edmonton the following week and Mayor Iveson wanted us mayors to help shape the conversation.
The materials provided in advance of the gathering and the speakers at the opening plenary made it crystal clear: We have little time to take radical action with regard to climate change or we lose the battle. And, cities are both the cause and the solution to the problem.
The president of the University of Alberta cautioned, “Cities need to change quickly; the window is closing.” Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements warned us that we are now 1 degree above the pre-industrial average and we have less than 15 years to stay below 1.5. Bill Solecki the Founding Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities put it starkly. “We have all the knowledge we need,” he said, “but at our core, we can’t acknowledge that we have to fundamentally change the way we live in cities.”
Changing the way we live in Victoria in order to take bold climate action means more compact living and more people living in all our neighbourhoods. This can happen without changing their character too much through gentle density, houseplexes, tiny homes, townhouses and more. It means more people living within walking distance of goods and services available in village centres, resulting in less traffic and pollution. It also means inclusion, diversity, new neighbours and a denser web of social relationships.
On major corridors and downtown the changes we make to how we live in order to save the planet are more visible. There are more tall buildings. But what we can’t see from the outside is that almost all of these buildings are being built with vertical backyards: playgrounds on the third floor, lush, green community gathering spaces on the roof tops, one building even has an multiple birdhouses!
We don’t need to trade in quality of life even as our city grows to accommodate a changing labour force and a changing climate. What we do need is to have real dialogue rather than name calling and finger pointing. “NIMBY” is not a helpful term as it doesn’t take seriously the concerns and fears that people have – we all want to maintain the incredible neighbourhoods we’ve built together. Nor is it helpful to have a drawbridge mentality – this makes young renters and others feel unwelcome, and prevents us from adapting to changing times.
As our city grows and changes everyone will win because ultimately we all 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 and to know that our children will have good futures. We’re all in this together.
A version of this article first appeared in the Victoria News here.
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.
Last week, the complexities of transportation editorial launched what the DVBA is currently partnered and working on. The initial 28 action items have now grown to 31 and we are working diligently to bring some or all of the ideas to fruition.
Part one was to produce an interactive map of every possible parking lot/structure and on-street parking space in the Downtown core that we will continue to update. Some of these facilities are privately owned and some are city owned. We have broken them up by parking type and added whether they are monthly, hourly, or weekly.
When you use our map you can click on the pins to get full details, including the number of spots, location and who manages the lot. We have also included how much it costs to park in each facility as well as the hours of operation where applicable and whether there is a waitlist or not for monthly parking. When you click the on-street parking lines, the map will zoom you into the streets themselves so you can conveniently see where the best parking areas are for your daily needs. This map is available in both a digital and pdf version on our website that you can print and carry with you as well.
The digital link will live on our website, so you can access it at any time – with the legend outlining the different kinds of parking on the parking home page. Most people are unaware there are 16 parkades, nine customer parking lots, more than 40 surface parking lots, and over 1,000 on-street parking spaces in or within a short walk of Downtown Victoria.
Most people are also unaware of the fact Modo Co-operative is in three of our downtown parkades for use when you sign up with their program.
We are continuing to work behind the scenes to bring more private lots online as they become available and continuing talks with developers for public parking within their new buildings.
It is this kind of incremental change and information sharing that keeps the public up to date on where to go and how to get there.
We know how valuable your time is and we want to make it as easy as possible to continue to come downtown to work, shop and play. Our vibrant downtown economy is continuing to grow and we are here to support the businesses throughout the changes.
Parking is only ONE piece of our complex transportation system, but if we can make it one step easier to locate for consumers, shop owners, commuters and residents than it is one step forward in a positive and productive way.
The proposed development at St. Andrew’s school site that runs from Pandora, to Vancouver, to Mason will be a really difficult decision for me at the public hearing on September 11th. As elected officials, we’re legally required to keep our minds open until the public hearing. My mind is open and so are my ears.
Here’s the conflict I find myself in.
On the one hand, this type of development on this site is what the Official Community Plan (OCP) envisions: compact and dense developments on major corridors near village centres. And, in terms of height and density, what Bosa Properties proposes to build is less than the official community plan envisions. When 6000 people gave input to the Official Community Plan, there was an overwhelming consensus that people wanted a land use plan organized around strong village centres and density in villages to support village businesses. Now when it comes to implementation and people see what this actually could look like on the ground, the theory in a city planning document meets the complexity of real life and the lived experiences and desires of people living in these village centres.
On the other hand, as a North Park resident and friend reminded me during our email correspondence on this topic, the role of a city councilor is to work with developers to go beyond the simple wording of the OCP to explore the spirit and intent of the wording and how these can meet the needs of the neighbourhood and the community.
Last Thursday at a Council meeting Jesse from Mason Street City Farm presented a petition with 450 signatures on it opposing the development and made a compelling presentation. Until then, I wasn’t aware that opposition to the project was so strong. I’m meeting with Jesse and Angela from Mason Street City Farm on Monday. I’m meeting with Mark from Bosa on Wednesday.
North Park residents, at least 450 of them, seem to have a different vision for this site. As my friend and North Park resident said, “We have repeatedly told Victoria City Council that we want to be the city’s ‘yes in my back yard’ neighbourhood. We feel this is both our duty as the city’s downtown neighbourhood, and also our reward for disproportionately shouldering many of the city’s urban complexities.
“It is not a handful of Mason Street property owners opposing Bosa’s plan. It is a group of intelligent, engaged, diverse neighbourhood residents who think Bosa’s plan is deeply flawed.
“We are looking for leadership from City Hall on this neighbourhood-changing re-development. And we are looking for game-changing development – precisely the kind that a recent Douglas Magazine ‘Shift in the city’ article talks about!”
I was interviewed for this article in April. I said that, “The outcome of the St. Andrew’s school site will indicate the City’s direction for the next 30 years. If Bosa is turned down, that sends a message that we’re not serious about re-development.” My hope is that it’s not too late to create a win-win situation: a development at that site that does set Victoria’s direction for the next 30 years as a compact, sustainable city – and a development that also incorporates the visions and desires of North Park residents.
To participate in the democratic process and share your thoughts on this proposal join us at City Hall Thursday September 11th at 7pm. I will post final plans and agenda package for the site here when we receive it this Friday.
At an early February Planning and Land Use Committee meeting, Councillor Pam Madoff arrived with a stack of reports of past harbour visioning exercises that was many inches high. She said they’d been sitting on her bookshelf since they’d been written, some dating back to at least the 1980s. She lamented that after countless hours of public input and high public expectation, nothing happened. She’d brought the reports for show and tell, because at that Planning and Land Use Committee meeting, council was considering a Project Charter for Inner Harbour Revitalization Opportunities. The Project Charter lays out a public participation plan for gathering input with regard to three strategic sites on the Inner Harbour.
Yes, another harbour visioning exercise. But the circumstances are different this time. This past week, the City of Victoria, the Province and Ralmax, operator of Point Hope Maritime, announced a three-way land deal. The City swapped City-owned lands on Harbour Road currently leased by Ralmax to the Province in exchange for five strategic pieces of land. Four of these are on the inner harbour, including land at Ship Point. The Province will in turn sell the Harbour Road lands to Ralmax at market value. The Province has committed to reinvesting the proceeds of the land sale in Victoria.
A Times Colonist opinion piece called this land swap a ‘good deal’. It’s more than that. With the Inner Harbour Revitalization Opportunities Project approved by Council on February 13th, there’s a huge opportunity right now for the City to take proactive, collaborative leadership on our Harbour’s future. It’s time to make something happen.
Rich History The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) provides a detailed summary of the rich historyof Victoria’s habour that’s well worth a read to understand the historical context for current decision making. There are two key elements of this history that must bear on the harbour’s future. First, the harbour lands, like the rest of the City of Victoria, are the unceded territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, the harbour waters and lands were their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Any plans for the harbour must include a rich future for the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples. Second, public participation in the future of the harbour is key.
Opportunity, Focus and Leadership The Official Community Plan policy goal of a working harbour was significantly furthered last week. The land sale to Ralmax, and the protection of those lands by covenant for marine industrial use sets the stage for the expansion of the shipyard and well-paying marine-industry jobs well into the future.
It’s now time for Council and the public to turn our minds to the jewel that is the City’s inner harbour, what I hear referred to often as “the heart of Victoria.” Past harbour visioning exercises have included the harbour as whole. This spring, between March and June, City staff and Council will be engaging the public as to vision and ideas for the future of three key sites pictured below: 1. the provincially-owned Belleville Ferry Terminal Lands 2. the now fully City-owned Ship Point lands and 3. the provincially-owned Lower Wharf Street lands.
At the beginning of the process, at an Ideas Forum, the City will share information with regard to development potential at Ship Point lands and what it’s actually possible to do with that site. A Victoria Opera House or water front art gallery, or other ideas put forward in the past aren’t possible there. A recent, and interesting, geotechnical report reveals that anything built on the large lot closest to the ocean has the potential to sink into the water at any kind of seismic event. But the report also revealed the development potential of the smaller lot closer to Wharf Street. The point is that the City will seek public input based on the reality of what is possible. This will help ensure that the public’s vision can be turned into a plan that can actually happen.
The City only owns the Ship Point Lands. Nonetheless each of the sites is an important public place in the City’s downtown. So there’s both an opportunity and a necessity for the City to play a collaborative leadership role by a.) bringing the many harbour-involved players together to develop a vision and a plan for each site b.) prioritizing which site to start with, and c.) taking action.
Here’s what I would do once the City has received public input on these three key sites in the heart of our downtown. While it might make the most sense to start taking action with the City-owned Ship Point lands, I’d start with the Belleville Ferry Terminal and the public realm surrounding it.
It seems to me that there’s energy and opportunity gathering at the Belleville Terminal Lands. With the winding up of the Provincial Capital Commission, responsibility for the Belleville Terminal was recently transferred to the Ministry of Transportation; we’ve got a fresh set of eyes on this location, which has been a bone of contention and sight for sore eyes in Victoria for decades. With this past week’s land swap, the Province committed to reinvesting the proceeds it makes from the sale of the Harbour Road lands in Victoria. What better place to reinvest some of the proceeds than in the Belleville Ferry Terminal, a key international gateway to the Province’s capital city. With Canada’s 150th birthday celebration on the horizon in 2017, revitalization of the Belleville Terminal would potentially be a good fit for any federal grant funding released for that occasion. And, with the potential for long-term leases and the possibility of jointly operating a new facility perhaps the Coho and Clipper owners might be willing to invest.
Focusing first on what could be called the terminal precinct, doesn’t mean the City ignores the rest of the harbour. The Harbour Pathway Plan is well underway and sections of the pathway will soon be under construction. The City will continue to help create a vibrant summer festival venue at Ships Point. Conversations could continue to move the other two sites from plan into action. And, with the passion around our downtown these days and the stars aligned around the Belleville Terminal, focusing on the terminal precinct is a real opportunity to make something happen this time.
I had the pleasure of attending the Urban Development Institute’s Under 40 breakfast event on Friday morning. Our host and guest speaker was Robert Jawl of Jawl Properties. Jawl Properties built the highly acclaimed Atrium Building at Blanshard and Yates. And, they’ve got two more leading-edge projects in the works. First is a LEED Platinum office development at Douglas and Pandora – directly across from City Hall. Second, in conjunction with Concert Properties, the redevelopment of the six-acre site behind the Legislature, which, in Robert’s words will “broaden the civic sphere around the legislature. Though the land will be privately owned, it will read as public space.”
It was as Robert began speaking, eloquent as usual, about Jawl Properties’ core development principles and his vision for Downtown Victoria, that the idea for this series came to me. My departure point is similar to Robert’s. I’m not at all convinced by the story that I hear far too often – that Downtown Victoria is dying. Yes, the downtown vacancy rate is 7%. But Robert assures this is not indicative of a downtown crisis and warned that, “Downtown is dead,” could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s not fulfill that prophecy! Instead, let’s see Downtown Victoria as going through a process of reinvention and renewal in which everyone – residents, businesses, developers and the City – must participate. And let’s look a little closer at Jawl Properties core principles, because there’s some simple wisdom to be gleaned from these principles with regard to how we seize this opportunity and re-create downtown Victoria together.
Principle Number One:Developers should have positive, collaborative working relationships with the communities in which they build. It’s important that the community see new buildings as enhancements to the community and that residents feel as if they’ve played a key role in creating these enhancements. As Robert notes, “because (as local developers) we’re members of our community there are far more important criteria to be met than whether something is a ‘good (financial) deal’ or not. In the long-term, projects that are embraced as community enhancements also create long-term economic return.” Too often it feels as if the process of development is adversarial and a zero-sum game: if developers win the public loses; if the public wins, developers lose. With the Jawl’s and other developers sensitive to the needs and the desires of community residents, this doesn’t have to be the case. Lesson number one for building Downtown Victoria: collaboration is key.
Principle Number Two: Orientation to quality. Jawl Properties is motivated to build quality buildings because they retain ownership of the buildings they build for the long term. They care – over a 50 year time period – about how their buildings perform. Lesson number two for building Downtown Victoria: build a quality public and private realm that will continue to sing 50 years into the future; long-term vision matters.
Principle Number Three:Local partnerships and relationships are the lifeblood of business. Jawl Properties doesn’t refer to the people who lease their buildings as ‘tenants’. “They are our clients,” says Robert, “and we work for them.” Part of being able to deliver quality customer service to their clients, is that Jawl Properties is also a local business. “In any environment where you have local knowledge, where you know the difference between this block and that block, your business performs better.” Lesson number three for building Downtown Victoria: focus on local.
With collaboration as key, long-term vision, and a focus on local, what does the future hold? Downtown Victoria will continue to be the commercial centre for the region with a focus on high-quality office space, local retail, more downtown residents from a diversity of backgrounds, and a growing tech sector. Buildings themselves will be high-quality amenities that enhance both the public and private realm. People will walk, bike and bus as much as they drive to the City’s core. Victoria will capitalize on what Robert calls its “lifestyle proposition” that allows us to “attract and retain top talent from anywhere.” The City needs to be proactive in this regard to succeed.
Finally, Downtown Victoria will continue to develop this new identity that’s emerging as a great place to live, a place of vibrant and beautiful public spaces, a site of innovation and creativity, and an epicentre of locally focused business that attracts local and tourists alike. “We’re not a mini-Vancouver,” Robert says. “we’re not a copy-cat of Portland, and we’re not a retirement community for Alberta and Ontario. We’ve got our own identity and our own swagger!”