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Consultant gathering public input on downtown Nanaimo’s Commercial Street redesign

Public engagement underway to find out wants and needs for the area
Urban design firm Toole Design has been hired by the city to form a plan for redesigning Commercial Street and has been hosting open houses this week at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to find out what Nanaimo residents will like to see in the renewal of Nanaimo’s main downtown street. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Downtown Nanaimo’s Commercial Street is being re-imagined with help from an urban design firm and ideas from the public.

The ‘Design Commercial’ project being conducted by Toole Design is in its public engagement stage this week. Urban designers are at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre gathering suggestions and ideas from Nanaimo residents, downtown merchants and other interested parties to find out what people want and don’t want included in the makeover of Nanaimo’s main downtown street.

A design studio open house is happening this week, Nov. 22-25, and public input will be compiled to form a plan that will determine funding and construction schedules.

Tyler Golly, Toole Design’s Western Canada market lead, presented the project to city councillors at a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday, Nov. 22. He said the goal is a “unified design vision” for the area.

“What’s been made clear to us is it’s not just another planning exercise,” Golly said. “We really want to be focused on design and to move this forward and align it with the Reimagine Nanaimo efforts.”

Information compiled from the Design Commercial project will help establish “urban realm design guidelines and help inform that process for future projects in the downtown area,” Golly said, adding that public engagement will help the consultant learn more about the street, its uses, and the needs of users.

Some of the design features for Commercial Street being considered include public art, street surface refinishing, trees, lighting and other treatments.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo councillors recommend Commercial Street revitalization

Coun. Don Bonner asked if Indigenous and other cultural design features would be incorporated into Commercial Street redevelopment plan.

“We’re not in a position yet in society where it’s taken as a given, so there’s really no mention of the work that would include Indigenous themes into the design, possibly Indigenous spaces that were more culturally appropriate,” Bonner said. “So, in the work that you’re going to do, are you going to be including that? And not only for Indigenous, but also … people with disabilities, that sort of thing, to bring it all together?”

Golly said the firm is applying a “gender-based analysis-plus model” to its work.

“It extends way beyond gender. That’s what the ‘plus’ stands for, but it’s a way of including diversity into the design process and design decisions,” Golly said.

He said that includes First Nations engagement, ideas and themes. He also provided assurance that people with disabilities would be able to navigate the area and that it would be a safe and comfortable space for all residents.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong asked if the project will look at prior attempts to improve Commercial Street and why prior remedies haven’t worked.

“[A] question that was sent to me by a couple residents [is] we’ve spent millions of dollars trying to fix Commercial Street. Are you going to look at why those remedies … didn’t work?” Armstrong asked.

Golly said it’s part of the process to look at past work and learn from it.

“We also want to be sure that we’re valuing and honouring people’s contributions to that past work … We want to make sure we’re building on that instead of starting from scratch,” he said.

Toole Design will hold another week of workshops and public engagement in February when the firm will present a number of options for the area and start design work and again in April to present the preferred design options and get final feedback on those.

There is an open house being held 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24, in the Dodd Narrows Room at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and a public presentation and questions event 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 25.

People can also share their ideas via an online survey at

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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