Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The elimination of Nanaimo's
Urban Containment Boundary : 3 :
The Downtown BIA : A cautionary tale

This is the third in a series of posts on how we lost the fight to protect the Urban Containment Boundary which protected from development the rural “green-fields” in the southernmost area of the city. Plans for a golf course resort and a big box retail “master planned community” didn’t proceed. A new proposal has come forward however, ahead of our upcoming Official Community Plan review.
In the first post I mention that a Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) had been organized. It had a board of directors that included two city councillors and met at the council table of the day at City Hall on Wallace Street.
Funding for the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, from both a commercial property levy and matching funds from general revenue (the only BIA in the province double-funded like this), was withdrawn by the last Council and we're left with the cautionary tale of how not to structure a BIA. Its greatest failing was its inability to stand up to the perhaps greatest threat to downtown's future, the elimination of the UCB.
Over its history it had suffered membership revolts and the removal of its President by City Council. It was increasingly unaccountable and opaque.
It ran on hubris and too much money. It thought of itself as an unelected arm of government, directors sat around the Council table for their meetings giving them an inflated view of their own importance. Two City Councillors were also on the board of directors, if memory serves, Diane Brennan and Bill Holdom.
Individually board members would express opposition to the removal of UCB, but were compromised and co-opted by City Hall. The BIA had one job, protect downtown from the force that had done it harm: low population density car-dependent sprawl and the subsequent corporate-owned shopping centres. At the public hearing at which the UCB was eliminated the BIA didn't speak up, board members sat on their hands afraid to displease the Councillor board members or risk the loss of City funds.
Our downtown is again threatened by sprawling growth on remote green-field lands and there will be no doubt calls for the creation of a new downtown BIA. I hope we’ve learned how not to do it.
It’s time, in my view, for a comprehensive downtown plan, best organized around a modification of Vancouver’s Grandview-Woodlands Citizens’ Assembly. The success of small and large business downtown is important but it’s only one element of a vibrant urban core. Time too, for a review and updating of the National Urban Design Award winning 2008 Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Getting better, more broadly
representative public input

During a City Council’s term, aside from a referendum or sophisticated, costly polling, only its election is an expression of the collective, tens of thousands of votes across all areas and demographics.
I risk splitting hairs, it may be just semantics but when Councillors hear folks at public hearing they're probably not hearing an expression of “the public.” It’s good in my view Council is mandated to hear citizens at public hearing and good that citizens make the effort to appear but without a way to analyze a usually small sampling, speakers at public hearing probably don’t represent the views of the broader public. Important to add to that, again outside of a binding referendum, it falls to Council to make decisions for the longer term even if those decisions are at odds with current public opinion. Otherwise we could have government by algorithm.
Getting better, more broadly representative public input should be an ongoing goal nevertheless. Initiatives in Vancouver and in Portland may offer ideas we could modify here in Nanaimo.
Vancouver, frustrated with a fractious and polarized east side neighbourhood enacted the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly tasked with putting forward recommendations for the neighbourhood’s Community Plan. From the website :
Invitation letters were mailed to 19,000 area residents, property owners, and business owners in late June 2014. In addition, hundreds of invitations were handed out at street corners, community centers, service centers and other key locations in Grandview-Woodland.
The 48 members of the Assembly were selected through a blind draw from the pool of over 500 volunteers. The blind selection process ensured an equal number of men and women; representative numbers of members from six neighbourhood zones; representative numbers of members from each age cohort; and, representative numbers of members who rent their home, own their home or reside in a co-op. Volunteers were asked to identify if they are Aboriginal to make certain we have representation from this community. In addition, two seats were reserved for business owners in Grandview-Woodland and one seat was reserved for a property owner who does not reside in the neighbourhood study area.
It's time for a new Downtown Plan here in Nanaimo IMO and this is the approach I’d hope we’d take.
The other initiative is Portland’s innovative way of working with neighbourhood associations. The City will officially recognize a neighbourhood association and allow it to access the resources of Office of Neighborhood Involvement if it complies with its requirements.
The rules aim to ensure a more representative body, clarifies membership is open to anyone living in or operating a business in the neighbourhood, ensures transparency, inclusion, non-discrimination and makes clear an association would not be allowed to charge a fee for membership.
Without this sort of guide we have to assume that currently Nanaimo neighbourhood associations—some more than others—though they’re composed of engaged well-meaning citizens, represent the views of a relatively few individuals not the broad view of the neighbourhood.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Why Big Cities Matter in the Developing World - CityLab
Architecture students know less about cities, urbanism, urban design, and place-making than you might think. urbanismproject.org

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The elimination of Nanaimo's Urban Containment Boundary : 2 : Revisionist view

In my last post I look back at the review process that led up to 2008 Official Community Plan. This post offers, in part, a revisionist view of the role played by two central figures in the City of Nanaimo administration during this time, City Manager Ted Swabey and Director of Planning Andrew Tucker. From my current vantage point my impressions are clearer and I come to some conclusions.
Andrew Tucker had only been with the City since 2004. During his early years here I now realize he was a proactive chief planner. He conducted this OCP review process and was the public face on discussions about the since-demolished Maffeo Sutton Park arena and foundry buildings and on his watch the award winning Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines was completed.
As part of the 10 Year OCP Review, Swabey and Tucker agreed to attend a Friends of Plan Nanaimo sponsored Q+A meeting which was likely to be contentious. When I had an opportunity to ask a question I said, “Good for you guys for doing this... My question is this: If Council agrees to eliminate the Urban Containment Boundary, to allow these developments across the city’s southern green-fields, will that not be a disincentive to develop lands currently within the Urban Containment Boundary?
Planner Tucker’s response, “That’s the most compelling argument against eliminating the Urban Containment Boundary."
At public hearing, the last chance for the public to address Council on the OCP, I repeated Planner Tucker’s answer, adding it to the list of arguments against the elimination of the UCB on the record from Smart Growth BC and others. As expected Council approved the OCP eliminating the Urban Containment Boundary. The result of the process was a forgone conclusion, a highly manipulative process that is clear to me now was ideological in nature.
In 1993 my family arrived here from North Vancouver. Only days later a long time family friend introduced us to then-Mayor Joy Leach at the Civic Arena Canada Day festivities.
A quick sketch of Nanaimo civic history: after decades of Mayor Frank Ney’s real estate development frenzy his grip was finally broken in 1990 by Leach and her group and she was elected on the promise to bring community planning into what was essentially unregulated sprawl. Her Council created Nanaimo’s first Official Community Plan, Imagine Nanaimo, among its guiding principles "Manage Urban Growth."
It becomes clear that the competing forces in community building, here in Nanaimo at any rate, are forces of economic opportunity as perceived by the private sector and the creation of shared public good, amenities, land use, mobility etc. And the ongoing tension: which leads and which follows?
This cynical process, the OCP Review, added to the widespread feeling of Nanaimo-ites of a distrust of what goes on in our City Hall behind closed doors. A few years ago Nanaimo was startled to learn that there was a proposal to lease a portion of a downtown waterfront park to a commercial developer. On my morning walk thru this park, when I saw people studying the sign, I'd ask them what they thought. Comments consistently included "I don't trust them." For good reason.
After this process Andrew Tucker wasn’t the public figure leading important conversations he had been and it was and continues to be my impression he was under, in effect, a gag order. What I’m convinced was a calculated ideological shift was complete in 2013 when City Manager Swabey “phased out” the position of Director of Planning. We have now, tellingly in my view, a Director of Development.
The ideological shift that was the dismantling of the previous planNanaimo and elimination of the Urban Containment Boundary was successful and is entrenched in our City Hall to this day. It successfully shifted Nanaimo from a city that plans, back to a city that develops. My revisionist view is much kinder to Andrew Tucker than I was then.

And here comes Sandstone…

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The elimination of Nanaimo's Urban Containment Boundary : 1 : Full circle

Recent news that the Sandstone property had been purchased by Seacliff Group and that they were submitting Official Community Plan Update and rezoning applications, brings things for me full circle. In 2004 my wife and I and our daughter who was soon to graduate from VIU and go off on her own moved from a North Nanaimo suburb to the downtown "Old City."
At that time the City of Nanaimo was preparing for its 10 Year Official Community Plan Review. Downtown revitalization initiatives were a major reason we moved house and business to the inner city. A Business Improvement Area (BIA) was organized with funding from both a levy on commercial properties and matching funds from the City of Nanaimo taxpayer. It had a board of directors that included two city councillors and met at the council table of the day at City Hall on Wallace Street. More on this later...
There was well an organized and effective group, The Friends of Plan Nanaimo, that participated in the review process and were increasingly opposed to elements of the new plan that differed greatly from the previous OCP (Plan Nanaimo). I wasn't a member of the this group but increasingly we shared many concerns.
An important feature of Plan Nanaimo was the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB), meant to halt sprawling growth across the undeveloped southern area of the city. It was clear to most observers that the UCB was of critical importance to the revitalization of our downtown.
The new plan called for the elimination of the Urban Containment Boundary, even tho by the City's own Land Capacity Analysis there was sufficient residentially-zoned land to meet projected population growth to 2031 and beyond. Then Director of Planning Andrew Tucker was quoted as saying Nanaimo had growth capacity for another 30 - 50,000 people without extending development past the UCB. Why then, eliminate it?
The "review" turned out to be the formalizing by the City of its intent to eliminate the Plan's Urban Containment Boundary and greenlight low density subdivisions and big box retail and a fantasy destination golf course resort across the previously protected greenfields at the southern extremity of the city. I decided then I should perhaps pay a little more attention to civic affairs.

The OCP Review process began with a community consultation conference held on November 18, 2006 at then-Malaspina University-College. Approximately 200 people participated in the all day event that included keynote speakers and small group discussions.
Keynote speakers from Smart Growth BC and Urban Futures, as well as Vancouver Urban Planner Lance Berelowitz spoke on land use and sustainability issues with the overriding message that the Urban Containment Boundary should be maintained and strengthened.
From my letter to the editor, April 2007 : "Massive, sprawling projects outside the Urban Containment Boundary will set back downtown revitalization and therefore the economic and cultural health of the entire city for five, 10 even 15 years... Our regional shopping centre must be the revitalized core of the city. The 'gateway' to the region described in the South Nanaimo Lands [Sandstone] proposal is more accurately a wall."

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nanaimo City Council to decide on
downtown tactical "quick wins"

Monday's Governance and Priorities Committee meeting will be making recommendations on downtown “quick win” tactical interventions. I shared some thoughts…
>Subject: Quick Wins
Date: July 27, 2019 at 3:06:32 PM PDT
To: Mayor&Council@nanaimo.ca

I support the idea of taking high visibility actions now downtown, pop-up, tactical quick wins. It’s said it’s important for an organization to both do good work and to be seen to do good work.
Too, other cities are reporting that this approach results in better public opinion feedback and allows for corrections before being made permanent.
Some of the proposed quick wins I suspect will be easy for you to green light: refreshing crosswalk paint lines, and increasing sweeping and power washing frequency, etc.
Here’s the ones I’d prioritize:
Tactical trials of road diet configurations for Front Street with explanatory signage announcing its upcoming redesign. There will be push-back to be weathered! Let’s make a start.
Eliminate the slip lane to create an enlarged Dallas Square. I’d hope this would include signage announcing an upcoming redesign of this important ceremonial plaza. Include a temporary activation element, a piano perhaps, a basketball hoop, moveable tables and chairs...
Repair the Square! http://www.thesidewalkballet.com/2012/11/repair-square.html
Good to see attention to Robson St footpath to Fitzwilliam. Spend a bit of money here. Quality design, include lighting. An important neighbourhood street for infill uses (as are currently underway).
Green light Tideline park, include some tactical element and signage announcing its coming role in that area’s revitalization.
Unsure what re-configuring pedestrian crossings at Commercial, Wallace Albert and Victoria entails but I’d hope it would include elimination of “beg-buttons” (green light automatically includes “walk” signal) and no right turns on red light.
Access to the waterfront walkway concerns me. The drawings of the current plan show the walkway stops abruptly at the edge of the property. This is of course unavoidable but the important connectivity and continuity of the walkway would not be disrupted to the same degree if it carried on from the waterfront on a pathway at the north edge of the property. The access as configured in the drawings is a mistake. A footpath at the north edge would coherently mirror the footpath around the Cameron Island tower and create a superior walking experience.
I’m not sure a scramble intersection configuration at Bastion and Commercial should be a high priority. Crossings are plentiful now here, and my inclination would be to “take our victory” on Commercial and look to surrounding streets to expand on the kinds of things that have made Commercial a far better street than it was a few years ago. Consider though a test scramble at Front and Bastion and/or Front and Chapel.
Happy deliberations!

— Frank

Many of you may have seen this. Urban Studies Prof Michael von Hausen webinar “Making the Next Great Small to Mid-Size Downtowns." Link to his webinar here : https://youtu.be/pnj7OUc5bBo. There are some good ideas for Nanaimo here...

Friday, July 19, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019