Vision will come from residents

Rally attracts more than 250 interested in shaping Nanaimo's future

It’s up to the citizens of Nanaimo to decide the city’s identity for the future.

More than 250 people listened as Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed and former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt shared their experiences.

The event at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre was organized by a group of Nanaimo citizens with the goal of creating a new vision for Nanaimo.

In the audience were current and former city councillors, business owners and members of social organizations who listened as Harcourt, who is also a former mayor of Vancouver, outlined how that city became one of the most livable in the world.

“For 60 years, we had really bad choices – dead downtowns and suburban sprawl,” he said. “We’ve got to get cities right.”

Vancouver had the option to create a super highway through the centre of town, but council opted for public transit and an increase in density to get people to live in the cities they worked.

Preserving the natural environment was a key component of Whistler’s plan. Another was to get workers living in the village, rather than commuting to work.

“You can arrive without a car and get around very easily,” Melamed said.

Both speakers highlighted the idea that cities can have development without growth.

Harcourt said civic leaders are starting to realize that property tax will not cover the cost or upkeep of infrastructure like roads, bridges and sewers.

The solution in both communities was to build on the existing footprint.

“We’ve had a moratorium on growth for a number of years,” Melamed said. “We didn’t say no to profit.”

A vision that the community buys into will also help council make developers and investors conform to the city’s goals and priorities.

“These aren’t our rules – they’re the community’s rules,” Melamed said.

Whistler undertook an extensive community discussion, which was where the priorities of the long-term plan came from – not from the politicians. Residents and the community must show a willingness and ability to move forward rather than wait for government, said Melamed.

“Politicians are not willing to put their heads on a chopping block,” he said.

Rather than ask what a candidate’s vision is, Harcourt said voters should ask about ideas.

Kim Smythe, one of the rally organizers, said the evening posed more questions than it answered. He said the rally’s six organizers will evaluate and discuss as a group to create a process to eventually create a plan.

“We’re going to go into planning mode,” Smythe said. “There are a lot of people in Nanaimo eager for change, leadership and direction.”

He said the rally was inspired from the anger residents felt over the lack of vision from government but after the experiences shared by Harcourt and Melamed, Smythe said the onus is now on the community to show leadership.

“Now it’s been turned properly back in our laps,” Smythe said.

Organizers are planning future events to help shape Nanaimo’s future. To become involved, please e-mail