Past and present community leaders are applauding an effort by a local group to spur more community engagement in an effort to create a long-term, community-backed vision of Nanaimo.
Earlier this month, a newly formed group held the Nanaimo Community Vision Rally that hosted speakers Ken Melamed, mayor of Whistler, and Mike Harcourt, former mayor of Vancouver and B.C. premier.
Both were invited to provide outside ideas and visions that other communities have found success with in an effort to generate discussion on what Nanaimo's future should look like.
While Nanaimo already has its Official Community Plan, a public document forged from the roots of Imagine Nanaimo, an initiative started under former Nanaimo mayor Joy Leach in the early 1990s, Angie Barnard, one of Vision Rally's organizers, said it doesn't go far enough in establish a vision for Nanaimo that includes social, environmental, business and other aspects of the community.
"From my perspective, the OCP is very much infrastructure-based," said Barnard. "It's one step that doesn't take on board environmental, social and business pillars of the community. It's a tool for planners, not a vision for the community."
Barnard said the evening was intended to engage community members in active participation a generate a showing of people that also believe in creating a unified vision for Nanaimo.
About 300 people attended.
Former Nanaimo Mayor Gary Korpan, who was a councillor under Mayor Leach before taking the mayor's seat from 1993 to 2008, was at the head of council when planNanaimo (the original OCP) was passed in 1997. Though revised in 2008 after heavy public participation resulting in several amendments including a new zoning bylaw, new corridor bylaws and opportunities like off-campus student housing, Korpan said it never hurts to revisit the direction the community is taking.
"I disagreed with a lot of things Mayor Leach wanted to implement but we were both on the same page with Imagine Nanaimo," said Korpan. "The vision rally gave me a sense of déja vu to me and anybody who was involved in the planNanaimo process. But even the best of plans need updating and regular scrutiny, nothing is perfect. It's good for any project to be evaluated on a regular basis just to see if there are better ways or other opportunities."
PlanNanaimo won provincial awards for its vision and structure shortly after being adopted.
Councillor Fred Pattje defends the current OCP, saying in its amended form it does address many facets of the community and that it is strong enough to guide Nanaimo into the next 10 or 15 years.
"We have an OCP with seven very specific goals and we have 168 pages that explains what you have to do to get there and what you should be doing," said Pattje. "Some people aren't familiar with it or they haven't bothered to glance at it, never mind read the 168 pages, but the seven goals we have are good and the explanantions are equally as good."
Those seven goals are manage urban growth; build a more sustainable community; encourage social enrichment; promote a thriving community; protect and enhance the environment; improve mobility and servicing; and work towards a sustainable Nanaimo.
Pattje said he refers to the OCP "as a sort of bible" when considering issues before council, and he noted that many Whistler initiatives that Melamed promoted have already been employed in Nanaimo.
Still, Pattje said the energy and enthusiasm of the vision rally was hard to ignore, referring to it as "a very valid evening."
"I'm all for community vision and I was glad to be there and I hope that the enthusiasm that was there continues," he said. "When they get the action going that is required I think they ought to look to the OCP and see what is in there and lift anything out they want, or maybe get some action on some of the stuff in a more succinct way that we at the city have been able to do."
Which is part of what Vision Nanaimo is trying to do. Barnard said by encouraging more public involvement in civic matters, the weight of every detail of every issue can be taken off city council and staff, allowing more time to plan for larger issues facing the community.
"There is currently no vetting mechanisms before things get to council," she said. "I mean, council spent 18 months on one LED sign for one business. No wonder they don't have time to think about infrastructure sustainability of our community for the next 20 years. This is as much about process as anything."
By having a long-term community plan built on public consensus and vision, said Barnard, the city can move more efficiently as a unit toward its goals.
Coun. Bill Holdom, who facilitated public consultation for the OCP's 2008 update, said the vision rally may be the beginning of an exciting phase in Nanaimo's future.
"This process is less predictable and more exciting," said Holdom. "(Vision Nanaimo) may find what we have is just fine or they may determine that we want to stop all population growth and draw up the draw bridge and say this is it, we've got it the way we like it and we don't want any changes or may plan for a population that's double or triple. Who knows where this may lead?"
It wasn't lost an anybody, however, that the evening also served as a soap box for potential candidates who plan on running in the November municipal election.
Still, said Barnard, as long as public participation and interest in the issues facing Nanaimo is achieved, Vision Nanaimo will be a success.
"Our goal was to engage with other community members and engage in active participation and get a showing of people that also believe in creating a unified vision for Nanaimo," she said. "Our statement is 'Lead. Run. Vote.' and it's geared toward taking action."
Barnard said comments received from the rally's comments box ranged from people being angry and frustrated at the city's direction to optimistic and hopeful.
Vision Nanaimo's website, www.VisionNanaimo.com, is in the process of being built but is able to accept ideas from the public.