Category: Well Being and Healthy Cities

Affordable Housing: Watershed Moment of Community Support

These are my closing comments from the public hearing for Fire Hall #1 and Affordable Housing.

Something really remarkable happened at our City Council meeting last week. Or rather, it’s what didn’t happen that is remarkable and it gives me hope for the future of affordable housing developments in our city.

Last Thursday we held a public hearing for a new fire hall, 130 units of affordable housing for people living on very low, low, and moderate incomes to be run by Pacifica Housing and three additional market condo buildings. The proposed development borders Yates, Johnson and Cook.

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New Fire Hall #1, commercial space and 130 units of affordable housing on Johnson up from Cook.

The Council Chambers were packed. For some, it was a controversial development proposal because of the substantial amount of new density and height proposed on what is now a parking lot and one-story car dealership.

But the remarkable thing is that it wasn’t controversial because of the proposed affordable housing. In fact, it was quite the opposite. From Pacifica tenants, to business people, to students, to neighbours, person after person came up to the microphone and talked about how much needed this affordable housing is and how Council should support it.

It was only about halfway through the hearing that I realized something really special was happening. At every other public hearing we’ve held on new proposed affordable housing developments, there are people who come out and express their opposition precisely because of the affordable housing.

“We don’t need more housing of that kind in this neighbourhood.” “The crime in the neighbourhood is going to go up.” “This is a family neighbourhood.” And once, someone came and insinuated that all poor people are pedophiles and that there shouldn’t be affordable housing overlooking an elementary school. It’s gotten pretty nasty.

But last Thursday there was no discrimination expressed towards low-income people who need housing. Why was it different this time?

It could be because we’re starting to realize as a community that it’s good for everyone if people have the housing they need. There are at least 300 people sleeping outside in our city every night. And this is even with some of the seasonal shelters starting to open.

When people live outside they are vulnerable, get sick more easily, die younger, and have a terrible quality of life – not to mention the stigma and ill-will they face as people walk past them taking down their tents in the morning, or sitting with all their belongings on the sidewalk with nowhere to go. It’s good for all of us if people get the housing they need.

The other thing that was different, as was pointed out by one of the speakers, is the unique three-way partnership between a private sector developer, BC Housing, and Pacifica Housing. The developer is building the building. BC Housing is buying it. And Pacifica will own and operate it. So maybe the fact that all the parties are delivering the project together, based on their own unique expertise makes this different than a non-profit housing provider going it alone.

It was a watershed moment. And I hope we turned a page as a community that evening in terms of how we think about and talk about affordable housing, because there’s a lot more affordable housing to come. The Regional Housing First Program still has 1100 more units to build. The City of Victoria is buying land to partner to build housing. And the provincial government will be rolling out more money for housing in the spring.

All this housing is a good thing. One of the most poignant presenters at the hearing on Thursday was the Housing Placement Coordinator at Pacifica Housing. She told us that there are over 300 people on her wait list, that every day she has to say no to someone, and it’s heartbreaking. “This building,” she said, “is 130 yeses to the people on my wait list.”

Victoria joins U.N. Challenge with 5,000 Tree Pledge

Today in New York City, I participated in the launch of the United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge hosted by the U.N. Executive Secretary, Under-Secretary-General Olga Algayerova.

As part of this initiative, the City of Victoria will work with the community to plant 5,000 trees on public and private land by the end of 2020. Victoria is the first city in Canada to join the pledge.

We know there is a climate crisis and we’re committed to doing everything we can as a City to mitigate the impacts. Participating in this U.N. Trees in Cities Challenge allows Victoria to join in a global movement of cites that are embracing nature based solutions to climate change. City staff are currently designing ways in which we can harness the power of our community to meet this goal.

Algayerova wrote to me in the summer; somehow she had heard about Victoria’s Urban Forest Master Plan and our renewed commitment to the urban forest in the City’s 2019 budget. “I believe there is a lot we can learn from the progress your city has already achieved in this area,” she wrote, “and I would like to help you share this achievement with other cities and allow them to learn from it.”

The City’s Urban Forest Master Plan identifies 26 recommended actions for the improved management of trees on public and private lands over the next 50 years. A new investment of $1 million annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest.

The wonderful and dedicated folks at the Community Trees Matter Network are exctied about the City’s commitment at the United Nations.

“We hope all Victorians are proud of our city’s leadership on the urban forest and we are delighted the City has accepted this challenge,” said Frances Litman, a spokesperson for Community Trees Matter Network. “Since three-quarters of our urban forest is on private land, we will certainly do all we can to spread the word and encourage homeowners to plant trees. Planting season is coming up soon – late fall is a great time to plant trees in Victoria!”

Trees are a critically important community asset providing a wide range of benefits, from positive mental health impacts, to environmental attributes such as regulating temperature, mitigating stormwater runoff, and providing wildlife habitat. The value of the urban forest will continue as the city adapts to climate change.

Planting more trees in urban areas holds a considerable potential to tackle effects of climate change. The United Nations has invited mayors around the world to join the Trees in Cities Challenge by making a pledge to plant trees in their city.

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Shaking hands with Under Secretary General Olga Algayerova at the announcement in New York today.

 

 

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.

 

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.

The Future of Government Street and Other People Places

IMG_4979.jpgPhoto taken standing on the edge of the Hauptstrauss (highstreet) in the centre of town, Heidelberg Germany. 5:15pm on a Thursday evening.

I’ve recently returned from trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities and was a key step in the lead up to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action. I learned a lot and will spend the next few blog posts sharing.

In addition to attending the conference, I had an opportunity to study the city while I was there. I made a particular study of the town square and the streets surrounding it. I did this both during early morning runs and in the late afternoon sunshine – between the conference ending and dinner meetings. And, if I squinted hard, I could see the future of Government Street and maybe the rest of old town too.

Cars aren’t banned from the area. It’s just that they aren’t the priority – people are. It was remarkable to see people in cars, people riding bikes, people walking, people drinking beer, all sharing the same space so gracefully. Jane Jacobs calls this kind of urban activity a “sidewalk ballet.” But amazingly in Heidelberg this ballet takes place in the middle of the streets. I sat and watched for a while and here’s what I saw:

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A young child walking her bicycle.

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Two young boys kicking a soccer ball. I didn’t get my camera out until they were a bit far away but they literally walked right past my table, there in the street passing the ball between them.

IMG_4983.jpgA catering truck delivering food to City Hall (building on the left).

IMG_4992.jpgA woman, child and dog standing in the middle of the street.

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A bike and a car sharing the road where only moments before the woman, child and dog had stood.

IMG_4989.jpg A server carrying a tray of beer across the road where only moments before a car had driven.

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And look, she made it without incident!

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I even spotted the mayor! Before our evening event, taking a break in the sunshine.

Remarkably, when I returned to this space one more time to see how it would be used at 9am on a sunny Saturday morning, I was in for a surprise. I expected to find tables full of people drinking their morning coffee. What I saw instead, where the night before had been a crowded street and square full of Friday evening revelers, were parked cars! The town square and streets surrounding it could even function as a surface parking lot if needed.

Businesses are flourishing. People are everywhere. The city centre feels alive! Heidelberg isn’t even a large city – the population is approximately 150,000. Their regional population is larger than ours at around a million people, but they get less tourists per year than we do. So what are we waiting for?

We don’t just need to “close Government street to traffic”, which is a 2020-2021 Action in Council’s Strategic Plan, we need to rethink the whole purpose of Government Street and maybe other streets too. Streets are for people. They are for kids kicking soccer balls and grandmothers bending down tenderly to their grandchildren without any thought of being run down by a car. Streets are for commerce – for the exchange of goods and services, for afternoon coffee, evening beer, for sharing a meal. Streets are for connection and joy.

The most remarkable and moving thing of all – considering the climate crisis we are in – is that running down the Hauptstrauss in the mornings, there were so few traffic noises that I could hear the birds singing, right there in the city centre. Streets can also be for nature.

 

 

Quality of Life Focus for City’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget 2019

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During the election campaign last fall when I was at community meetings, in living rooms, in small businesses and on doorsteps I heard loud and clear that quality of life and well-being are important to Victorians. I heard this from the very young, the very old and everyone in between.

That’s why in Council’s recently adopted 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and in this year’s budget we are making meaningful investments in livable neighbourhoods, affordable housing, senior’s and community centres and safer, more human-scale streets. I know from speaking with members of our business community that quality of life is key to them thriving as well – business owners and employees like all the amenities that come with living in a place where people’s health and well-being matter.

Over the past four years Victoria has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. We are re-investing the benefits of a strong economy to improve life for people. The actions in our four-year Strategic Plan are focused on what our residents want and asked us to do, to make Victoria more affordable, create welcoming neighbourhoods, and to act now on climate change.

In addition to continuing to invest in better City services for people, Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan puts a priority on things that will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

To make Victoria more affordable for families, the City is putting $1 million into the Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and implementing a new suite of housing initiatives to increase the number of affordable homes for people in all stages and phases of life’s journey and to support renters.

To create infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, the City is investing in active transportation, street improvements and traffic calming, with more than $31.6 million over the next four years going to keep people moving around the city safely and efficiently.

To help them deliver high-quality services, Victoria’s eight community centres and three seniors centres are receiving a $234,000 boost to their annual base funding. Neighbourhood Associations will receive a total of $100,000 to support neighbourhood planning.

The City will also convene a Seniors Task Force to learn more about seniors’ needs and desires and to develop the City’s first Seniors Strategy. This will support seniors in remaining independent, healthy, active and socially-connected in the community.

A new investment of $858,000 annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest, with the long-term goal to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 per cent.

The Strategic Plan and Budget were developed with broad public input. More than 1,500 people provided their ideas and feedback to Council in the budget survey and town hall meeting, and another 150 people participated in the Strategic Plan Engagement Summit to share their knowledge and experience to help Council shape the plans.

 The Goal of the strategic plan was also developed by the public: “By 2022, Victoria will be a bold, thriving, inclusive, and happy city that people love. We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, innovative approaches to affordable housing, and for meaningful reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homelands our city was built.” Working together, side by side – council, staff and the community – we will achieve this.

Read the whole plan here.

Highlights of the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan

The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.

  1. Good Governance and Civic Engagement
  2. Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
  3. Affordable Housing
  4. Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
  5. Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
  6. Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
  7. Sustainable Transportation
  8. Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

In addition, Council has set the following Operational Priorities, reflecting the shared values of Council and  City staff, residents and the business community:

  • Heritage conservation and heritage designation
  • Nurturing and supporting arts, culture and creativity
  • Creating and maintaining a high-quality public realm
  • Continuous improvement with regard to open government
  • Meaningful and inclusive public engagement
  • Sound fiscal management
  • Accessible information, facilities and services

Objective #1 – Good Governance and Civic Engagement

  • Working with Saanich Council to develop and implement a Citizens Assembly process to explore amalgamation.
  • Offering free childcare at City Hall during public hearings.
  • Releasing closed meeting decisions and Council member expenses quarterly.
  • Working to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region

Objective #2 – Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations

  • Working with First Nations and the community to create the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.
  • Reinstating the City’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program, providing the opportunity for a local Indigenous artist to develop artistic works and engage the community in dialogue and events.
  • Establishing an Indigenous Relations function and appointing Indigenous Elders in Residence to provide advice on City programs and operations will be considered in 2020 with guidance and support from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
  • Exploring co-governance of Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and shoreline areas with the Lekwungen speaking people.

Objective #3 – Affordable Housing

  • Investing $1 million in the City’s Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and to acquire lands and partner with other agencies to end chronic homelessness.
  • Investing an additional $545,000 in 2019 on a suite of initiatives to encourage and incentivize more affordable homes for people, especially families, as well as look for further opportunities to speed up and simplify the development process for affordable rental homes.
  • Assigning a Tenant Housing Ambassador at City Hall to make it easier for renters to navigate the Tenant Assistance Policy, Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and other programs to support renters, being considered in 2020.
  • Considering grant programs for secondary suites and affordable garden suites, including those that are accessible and serve an aging population.

Objective #4 – Prosperity and Economic Inclusion

  • Convening the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity 2.0 to hit 2041 job targets.
  • Allocating more than $1 million in the City’s Festival Investment Grants over the next four year years ($270,000 annually) to create a vibrant city, strengthen downtown and enhance liveability.
  • Investing $1.5 million to support public art, festivals and events, including the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, Indigenous Artist in Residence, Artist in Residence, and Poet/Youth Laureate programs.
  • Providing nearly $4.3 million each year to support economic development initiatives and make it easier to do business in Victoria, including the Business Hub at City Hall, the South Island Prosperity Project, the Victoria Film Commission and operating the Victoria Conference Centre.
  • Exploring ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.

Objective #5 – Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City

  • Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration
  • Striking a Peer-Informed Task Force to identify priority actions to inform a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, actionable at the municipal level.
  • Creating a city-wide Childcare Strategy and Action Plan.
  • Developing and implementing an Accessibility Framework to make City policies, services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible for all.
  • Increasing local food security with urban agriculture initiatives to foster food production on private land, support farmers markets and community gardens, food storage and distribution systems.

Objective #6 – Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship

  • Taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
  • Working with the community to develop and implement a Zero Waste Strategy that will chart the course to a local economy where nothing is wasted.
  • Allocating $13.7 million in upgrades to the drinking water, stormwater and sewer system.
  • Implementing the BC Step Code and mandating electric vehicle charging capacity in all new developments.

Objective #7 – Sustainable Transportation

  • Providing a $975,000 increase in capital investment for street improvements, for a total of  $3.6 million in 2019.
  • Investing $450,000 in traffic calming initiatives to make local streets safer, and reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h on neighbourhood streets by 2021.
  • Investing $2.5 million in crosswalk upgrades or new installations at 18 locations to improve safety and encourage walking.
  • Fast-tracking completion by 2022 of the City’s 32-kilometre, AAA cycling network through
  • Providing free BC Transit passes for all Victoria youth, funded through new revenue raised by charging for Sunday on-street metered parking beginning May 1, 2019.

Objective #8 – Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

  • Investing $35 million in 2019 in the City’s parks, recreation and facilities, which includes 137 parks, 207 hectares of parkland, 90 hectares of natural landscape, 40 playgrounds, 23 tennis courts, 12 dog off-leash areas, 45 sports fields and 104 City facilities.
  • Expanding the LIFE program to provide low-income families with free year-round use of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre and ice skating at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
  • Exploring partnerships to create meeting space and a home base for neighbourhood associations that currently do not have their own community centre.
  • Providing $60,000 for the City’s Participatory Budgeting program to empower the community to direct investment in neighbourhoods, with youth-themed projects the focus for 2019, newcomers in 2020 and neighbourhood placemaking in 2021.

 

Victoria: One Pedestrian Hit, By Car, Per Week

Very informative presentation to Victoria City Council on Go Victoria: Our Mobility Future

In a recent Times Colonist opinion piece, “I walk my daughter and her friend to school; I don’t want you to kill them” a mom addressed the “the typical driver. I’m sure you’re a very nice person,” she writes, “but if you’re like most people, you probably drive too fast most of the time – on residential side streets, in school zones, in parking lots.”

She is not alone. Last term, I visited Parent Advisory Councils at almost all the schools in Victoria. The number one concern from all parents at all schools in all neighbourhoods? Traffic, traffic, traffic. Parents are worried about people speeding through school zones, not stopping at stop signs, not stopping at crosswalks, not aware of how vulnerable their children are just by walking to school.

The parents have a point. Last week the City of Victoria launched Go Victoria: Our Mobility Future. Council learned in a presentation (video above) on Go Victoria launch day that a pedestrian is struck by a car every week in Victoria. In his presentation, consultant Jeff Tumlin told us that one of the fundamental questions his team has about Victoria is, “Where do you fall on the balance between motorist convenience and pedestrian safety?”

He goes on to say that, “Every pedestrian or traffic fatality is 100% preventable. We know how to prevent all traffic fatalities through design and management of the street. But we also know we desire speed. Speed is the enemy of safety.” He tells us that we’re going to need to balance these two principles because they’re in tension with each other.

We also learned that mobility has a bigger impact on public health outcomes than the medical profession does. If we expect our citizens to have to drive to a gym to walk on a treadmill, we are condemning our population to poor health outcomes. Tumlin asked us, “How are we designing Victoria in order to optimize the health of everyone?”

Tumlin left Council with a firm message: We need to be clear about our values as a community. What matters to Victorians when it comes to moving around the City and the region? Safety? Convenience? Affordability? Sustainability? Over the next few months the team of consultants, alongside City staff, are going to be asking Council and the public to clarify our values and to identify where our values are in tension with one another. And then we will set priorities. How do we differentiate wants from needs? We have limited public space in a built out city; how do we allocate it so the greatest public good can be achieved?

What we know at this point is that the balance is off. According to the 2016 census, 52% of people in Victoria walk, bike or take transit as their main modes of getting around (up from 47% in 2011). Yet not even close to 52% of the public right of way is dedicated to transit, walking or cycling.

We need to make a shift as a community. The Go Victoria Strategy will help us to guide this shift in a values-based way. Get involved! Look for the Go Victoria team out in the community. Tell us what matters to you. Together we can build a city and a culture where children can once again walk safely to school.

 

Mobility Future_1
Residents share their mobility values at Go Victoria Launch January 24, 2019.

 

Just for fun. Shared at the Go Victoria Launch – a video from downtown Victoria in the early 1900s. The background noise is people at the event watching the video and trying to figure out where in the city this was shot.

 

 

How do we build the city we all want?

Home Together_Sacks

NB If you want to skip the theory and go right to the call to action, join us Saturday January 19th to ‘Give a Day to Your City!’ and help shape the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.

In the past few years, there’s been a growing body of literature published that outlines the degraded state of civil society and what we can do about it. I’m reading as many of these books and articles as I can in order to understand my role as mayor and the role of local government in addressing some of the problems facing us today. I’m also reading them because it’s a pleasure and an inspiring journey!

In a magnificently argued book, The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society, drawing on a political reading of the Hebrew bible, British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes a strong case for the reinvigoration of civil society. He talks about the need for a “covenant” among people with different religions, ethnicities, sexualities, points of view, etc. This will allow us to create a shared understanding and work across difference recognizing each difference as a gift that can be contributed to the common good.

“Liberal democracy,” he writes, “has tended to concentrate on the individual and one particular power, the power to choose. Courtesy of the market, I can choose what to buy. Thanks to the liberal state, I can choose how to live. Surely everyone gains in such a situation. True, but only up to a point. We gain as individuals; we lose as a society. There are, we feel, things so important to human dignity that they should be available to all, not just those with wealth or power. That is when the concept of covenant comes into play: the idea that all of us must come together to ensure the dignity of each of us. Covenant is the politics of the common good.” 1

The main argument of the book is that the common good can best be stewarded through civil society. In other words, we have a profound responsibility as human beings to take care of each other and not only to rely on the government and the market to do so.

Since last January in my 2018 New Year’s blog post, and throughout the year, I’ve been talking about, calling for, and striving to demonstrate with my own actions the importance of a more civil public dialogue. Sacks suggests that it’s more complex than this; listening deeply even when we disagree is important, but just talking and listening is not enough for us to rebuild society together.

Citing research from 1954, in a strong and moving revelation, he asserts that the key to remaking civil society and a strong social fabric is not dialogue; it is doing or building things together. It “is a paradigm-shifting insight,” he says. “Side by side works better than face to face.” 2

This is key wisdom for all of us involved and invested in building cities, neighbourhoods and public spaces together. While not abandoning a more civil way of speaking with each other, and working through issues – particularly as different perspectives and strong differences of opinion arise – we need to do much more. As individuals and as a community we must make a renewed commitment to the common good and work – side by side – to build it.

And we can start right now with the next four years. On Saturday January 19th we’re asking people to give a day to their city and to work, side by side, with fellow Victorians, Council and staff on the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. From 10:00am – 3:30pm at the Victoria Conference Centre we’re hosting an interactive workshop on the draft strategic plan. You can roll up your sleeves and dive deeply into the proposed objectives and actions. Our plan is ambitious and far-reaching. It takes seriously the multiple issues facing Victoria and many other cities across the globe: climate change, affordability, economic prosperity and inclusion, and reconciliation. You can sign up here.

Beyond creating a strategic plan together, there’s wisdom in Sack’s approach more generally. As mayor I’ll be looking for opportunities over the next four years, as we bring the strategic plan to life, to build the city together whether it’s neighbourhood plans, improving a public space, or developing housing policy. We have a huge opportunity to address the significant challenges ahead by working together in this new way.