The pursuit of more than two dozen infrastructure projects will be central to the City of Nanaimo’s pandemic recovery plans.
Nanaimo city council voted to support and endorse the recommendations of the mayor’s task force on recovery and resilience working groups, presented at a meeting Monday, July 18.
The most noteworthy recommendations were 26 projects put forward by the infrastructure working group.
“We’re no longer a small, rural community. We’re an evolving, large urban centre, and we need to start acting that way and investing in our infrastructure that way,” said Donna Hais, chairperson of the working group.
She touched on all 26 projects in her presentation to council, but acknowledged that the working group had settled on a top-five list of projects: a patient tower and cancer centre at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, a south-end community centre, equitable housing, and a community fibre-optic network.
Hais said NRGH has more patients than beds every day and said images of people receiving treatment in hallways “is our hospital every day.”
In terms of housing, she mentioned a few specific projects and strategies including the city’s health and housing action plan and memorandum of understanding with B.C. Housing. She noted that the recommended housing infrastructure requests relate to social housing and that market housing was consciously excluded.
“We believe that the private sector will take care of those projects, but we do know our population is increasing at an incredibly rapid rate – one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada,” she said.
The notion of hard-wired network connections is something that is also in the city’s economic development strategy.
“Imagine your university, your hospital campus and your downtown business core being connected through black fibre and what opportunities that brings to this community, as well as an opportunity to bring new businesses who need that infrastructure to our community,” Hais said.
Some of the other projects on the list outside the top five included the Harbourfront Walkway, accessible mountain bike trails, a new or rebuilt Nanaimo Art Gallery, a renovated Nanaimo Museum, a small performing arts venue, a new Nanaimo District Secondary School, Island rail corridor upgrades, access improvements at Nanaimo Airport, Port of Nanaimo marina redevelopment, a new gymnasium on Vancouver Island University campus, and a VIU fieldhouse in the Third Street stadium district. Also mentioned were a new City of Nanaimo public works yard, a rebuilt Nanaimo RCMP detachment, city water supply upgrades, further terminal expansion at Nanaimo Airport, expansion of the port authority’s Duke Point terminal, and an artificial turf field in the city’s north end.
Hais said the working group, in compiling its list, evaluated many other projects that had merit and also considered how projects aligned with the goals of the Reimagine Nanaimo city plan.
“Not just help us get by, not help us limp by, but how are we going to thrive?” she asked. “What are fundamental project building blocks for a new and emerging Nanaimo?”
The city will begin work setting up a ‘table of champions’ to advocate for the recommended projects and programs.
Also as part of the mayor’s task force discussion Monday, council heard from Kim Smythe, chairperson of the doughnut economy philosophy awareness working group, and Keith Wilson, chairperson of the youth attraction and retention working group.
Smythe, who is CEO of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, presented six recommendations for supporting and promoting the Nanaimo doughnut economy, including applying the model to an “outcomes-based budgeting philosophy.”
“I’m sure there’s lots of questions out there in the business community and at the chamber of commerce we certainly have those questions, too,” he said. “What we want is an efficient-running city and what we want is businesses that can perform and look towards a more prosperous and sustainable future.”
Wilson talked about how concerns about housing and career options “cause significant stress” for residents in the 15-34 age range.
“Those were way ahead of other concerns,” he said. “They’re fundamental to the success of any retention and attraction strategy that the City of Nanaimo may undertake.”
He said recreation and leisure options are also a consideration, and suggested the city’s younger residents share many of the same concerns as any other citizens when it comes to social problems, community safety and health care.
Council unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the infrastructure and youth working groups, while the recommendations of the doughnut working group were endorsed in a 6-3 vote with councillors Ian Thorpe, Sheryl Armstrong and Jim Turley opposed. Mayor Leonard Krog said to him, supporting the doughnut model signals acceptance of the climate emergency and recognition of the need for more equitable distribution of wealth.
“It’s not an unreasonable approach,” he said. “I appreciate the philosophical differences and the concerns that may exist around it, but we’re not going to create a new world here in Nanaimo in the next few years because of the implementation of the recommendations of the mayor’s task force. I wish it were that simple.”