I often wonder how Nanaimo will look 20 years from now.
On my optimistic days, I envision a thriving seaside community with a vibrant downtown packed with tourists and shoppers enjoying stores, restaurants and many of the facilities the city has to offer.
People come and go from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and the doors of nearby hotels busily swing open and closed.
Visitors and residents alike trek to a concert or game at the multiplex, the Nanaimo Museum, or for a walk along the nicest harbourfront walkway in the province with an ice cream in hand. Some even venture to the gleaming two-storey glass casino that has become a destination for many, or to Diana Krall Plaza to watch the nightly live entertainment.
Somewhere else in the city, a movie with A-listers is being filmed.
I see jet planes landing and taking off at the airport, whisking people to and from far-off destinations, while a passenger train service shuttles people along the E&N corridor. At what is now the Wellcox Rail Yard, I see a busy transportation hub, the centre of a system that moves people efficiently by bus throughout the region, along with a foot passenger ferry bringing people to and from downtown Vancouver.
In the harbour, float planes buzz over boaters, kayakers and canoeists, as well as hikers and campers enjoying the jewel we call Newcastle Island.
Busloads of tourists, fresh off their respective cruise ships, are whisked off to spend their money, or take an historic tour of the Old City Quarter proudly hosted by Tourism Nanaimo.
In our parks, people play frisbee with their dog, or picnic with family members under a stand of Douglas firs.
In the city’s back 40, the more adventurous cast a fly into the lily pads, pedal down one of the local mountain bike club’s sanctioned trails or hunt with friends for the next geo cache challenge.
And as commerce and tourism flourish, so too does industry. Nanaimo loggers work busily in the bush to bring raw logs to market, and to keep local mills pumping out products destined for global markets while providing a livelihood for local workers and their families. Many of the workers are trained as heavy equipment operators, road builders, or mechanics right here at VIU.
In my rose-coloured vision, Nanaimo is clearly a place people want to be.
In reality, however, we have yet to create that vibe. To the outside world, Nanaimo is a place people or companies are willing to invest in, but the scuttling of the boat basin deal with the Pacific Northwest Marina Group and the backing out of Chinese investors to build a conference centre hotel suggests we are not yet ready.
The dichotomy between those who are pushing to realize the potential of this city and those who wish to see things remain as they are is not unique to Nanaimo, but it is a division that has remained strong here for more than a century.
Despite that, the truth is Nanaimo has already achieved many of the attributes I’ve described above. The potential is there.
I understand the desire to keep Nanaimo small, quiet and reserved, it’s the reason why many people come here to live. We’re proud of our history and who we are. We like peace and quiet.
But at the same time, no city can prosper without outside investment. As it stands now, our boat basin will not be improved, and there are no longer much-needed hotel investors.
We can do better.
I think my vision of Nanaimo is a positive, vibrant one.