I received a really good set of questions via my Facebook page from Dale Butterfield the other day. I was going to respond with a FB comment, but thought this was a great fit for this blog.
“Have you read the “NELSON PATH TO 2040 Process Document” and the “NELSON PATH TO 2040 Sustainability Strategy”? Do you have a good grasp of what is needed to do to see progress with the overall plan? If elected, how would you measure success? What would be your first priority?”
Before moving here in 2012, my wife and I cyber-stalked Nelson for more than a year. Part of our research included spending time checking out the “Nelson Path to 2040 Sustainability Strategy”. The values we saw expressed in the document helped influence our decision to move here.
Soon after I moved here, I joined the Advisory Planning Commission. I considered the “Path to 2040” required reading before I took my seat, and I referred back to it a number of times while I served.
I think I have a solid grasp of what’s in the document, and more importantly, I believe it is in alignment with my values as a citizen and as a prospective council member. I also believe it is a great guide for policy development in our community.
So what IS the “Path to 2040”?
Before I go any further, I just want to say that this document’s scope is massive. It’s actually hard to wrap your head around all of the implications, so I think the best way to approach your questions is to talk about how my work with local organizations and institutions, as well as the four core priorities I’ve outlined for my campaign, are compliant with the “Five Sustainable Principals and Directions” that direct the Path to 2040.
- Cultural Strength celebrates our history and diversity through arts, traditions, heritage and recreational assets.
- Healthy Neighbourhoods are safe, welcoming and connected places for neighbours of all ages in all income levels.
- Robust Ecosystems are about ensuring our natural environment flourishes.
- Prosperity is about fostering a diverse local economy that provides meaningful employment and supports sustainable lifestyles.
- Resiliency focuses on enhancing our ability to withstand future challenges and builds healthy relationships to ensure residents trust and support each other in times of need.
My efforts so far…
I’ve served on Nelson’s Cultural Development Committee, where I helped bring public art to Baker, launched a study on festivals in our community, helped initiated a design competition for bike racks, and wrote a lengthy application to bring a large conference to Nelson. (FAIL on that last one, but in all fairness, out of the four cities they picked, the smallest was Kelowna, so I don’t think we were ever seriously considered.)
In my role on the Advisory Planning Commission, I reviewed a number of development proposals (rejecting one because I didn’t feel it was a fit for the neighbourhood, nor did it fully honour the spirit of the Path to 2040), and pushed for a reduction in the minimum size for secondary suites, following the leads of other cities that are working to incentivize the creation of more rental housing.
As a member of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society’s marketing committee, I helped out with numerous campaigns to fundraise, host galas, and promote society events and meetings. And I ran the Civic’s Facebook page for more than 18 months. (And I’m still working backfill as required.)
I’ve helped to launch the communications committee for Kootenay Co-op Radio and started their Facebook page in order to increase listenership, improve fund raising outcomes, and promote special events.
I am working with the Nelson Green Building Group, a collective of local architects, designers, engineers and builders, to redesign the Nelson And District Youth Centre and possibly add a second floor that includes housing for youth at risk. Still in the very early stages, the plan will involve broad public consultation, and hopefully unparalleled community involvement to make it happen.
And I run the unofficial Nelson Facebook page and Keep Nelson Weird Facebook page, which I use to promote and celebrate countless cultural, environmental, and charitable causes. In 2012, I used this page to reach out and help coordinate support to win the Ski Town Throwdown, which resulted in considerable tourism press for Nelson.
My four core priorities
I think I can make the case that my efforts so far have helped push Nelson along the path to 2040. But I’d like to do more, hence my run for council.
Here are the four core priorities I’ve outlined in my campaign:
- Housing Affordability
- Economic Development
- Community Engagement
- Sustainable Development
I’ll be exploring each of these topics in depth in their own blog posts (for example, I’ve already covered Community Engagement), but here’s a quick overview:
It’s complex, to say the least. With the feds and province reducing support for affordable housing, we’ll need to continue to be strong advocates for funding. But in the immediate future, I’d like to focus on how the city can spur the market for more rental housing. I think we can do this by further examining the bylaws governing secondary suites. We must look at how we can simplify the process and make it more transparent and attractive to homeowners. More rentals mean more choices and a vacancy rate that is more favourable to renters. (It’s about 1% right now — 3% is optimal.)
We need a multi-tiered approach. Let’s do more to boost and benefit from tourism. Let’s attract people who bring their jobs with them, especially the kind of people who not only want to just live in Nelson, but get involved with serving the community. Let’s reboot our “buy local” campaign to not only educate consumers on the benefits of buying local, but to encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to take the lead on figuring out how to keep more dollars in town. Let’s get the most out of our new fibre project by using the vacant space in the White Building to launch a startup incubator.
I think Nelson is a perfect size right now. But it’s not going to remain this size, no matter how badly people want it to. Between 2006 and 2011, Nelson’s population grew by 10.5% compared with the national average of 5.9%. So like it or not, we are growing and it’s not really something we can (or should) stop. But you can make sure it’s smart growth.
So what does this mean? Developers who purchase land can build whatever they want on their property so long as it meets zoning regulations. That’s the law. So we have to be realistic and stop expecting that the city can tell developers what to do in this regard.
However, our current zoning regulations are basically one-size-fits-all, and most developers of larger projects will come asking for variances or rezoning. We have to start viewing these requests as an opportunity to tweak our bylaws so that they not only benefit developer interests, but those of residents as well. We are already doing this to some degree with projects like Nelson Landing and Nelson Commons, but as our experience with this sort of thing grows, we can push it further to include the creation of more parks and amenities, and hopefully more affordable housing as well.
You should really check out my blog post on how I would like to increase community engagement and why I think it’s important, but here’s a summary:
Many of the committees, amenities, services and charities operating in our community are powered by volunteers. But we can always use more. The more people we get involved, the more we can accomplish, and the tighter our bonds will be as a community. I would like to do this through a better use of online tools, more informal meetings and presentations, the creation of more committees, and partnerships with local organizations and institutions to leverage the power of our community members.
How to measure success
If you refer back to the Path to 2040’s Principals and Directions listed above, it should be clear that my past experience and core priorities are in sync with the goals of that document. As for measuring success… besides using the assessment tool in the Path to 2040 document, I think that, at the end of Council’s next term, you could measure it by the success of each of these ideas:
- Did we create more suites, and did this help ease the housing crunch?
- Did we launch a startup incubator, and has it helped create new jobs?
- Are new developments in keeping with the character of Nelson, and are we getting sufficient benefits when we allow for variances and rezoning?
- Is our community more engaged?
Again, these were great questions. Thanks to Dale for asking them. I would love to see how the other council and mayoral candidates answer them.
If you would like to help sponsor my campaign please consider making a donation. You can donate directly via PayPal, or contact me directly to arrange a donation. Your help is greatly appreciated.