GUEST COMMENT: Nanaimo has many elements of a successful city

NANAIMO – Harbour City well positioned to become a successful city.

By David Witty

There continue to be a number of national and international initiatives focusing upon the well-being of urban citizens and urban environments.

Recently, Canadian Gov. Gen. David Johnston has promoted Smart and Caring Communities. Healthy communities has been a topic on local, national and international agendas for a number of years, and Compassionate Communities has recently emerged as a topic in international conversations.

While each of these movements offers significant insight into the varied aspects that affect the well-being of society in general and cities in particular, there is a parallel concept that captures the collective notions of those initiatives and brings a broader range of factors into the discussion of cities: that emerging global conversation is called Successful Cities.

The planning and creation of a successful city requires unwavering leadership, vision, persistence, determination and flexibility.

The Conference Board of Canada in 2007 noted, “Canada’s prosperity depends on the success of our cities.”  But, more recent evidence points to an increased emphasis upon a range of factors that affect the success of a city. Factors influenced by trans disciplinary considerations.

As a result, notions of a successful city are more likely to examine the culture, development, environment, governance and social state of a city as much as its economic health. It is that breadth of factors that have led to a broader concept of Successful Cities.

Charles Landry and Richard Florida found cities that were creative (i.e., knowledge based economies) displayed a high quality of life. Florida in Who’s Your City explored the importance of esthetics, values and leadership as essential differentiators between cities. In short, those cities that displayed concerns for aesthetics (i.e., community design, vibrant attractive public spaces), invested in culture, promoted progressive values (support for their fellow citizens) and displayed supportive leadership (able and willing to make important community-based decisions) were inevitably seen to be more attractive for the new knowledge economy.

Nanaimo is well positioned to become a successful city. The recently formed working relationship between the City of Nanaimo, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, and Vancouver Island University to promote the following 12 elements of a Successful City bodes well for the future of Nanaimo.

The three partners hope to engage with a large number of Nanaimo organizations to promote the notion that cities need to have strong five pillars: high quality built environment; vibrant cultural sector, strong economy; healthy natural environment; and diverse and healthy social fabric.

It is out of those new perspectives and experiences in other cities around the world that a number of key elements have been identified as central to the success of Nanaimo:

Connectivity – Facilitating efficient internal and external movement of people and goods while minimizing detrimental environmental and social effects;

Culture of collaboration – Support for respectful and co-operative interdisciplinary processes and varied views to achieve common purpose;

Culture of innovation – Promotion of innovative ways of addressing emerging local and global economic, environmental and social challenges;

Distinctiveness – Capturing the sense of place by celebrating geographic location in the planning and design of the city;

Entrepreneurial governance – Fostering creative and visionary leadership within administrative, elected and volunteer areas;

Master planning and community design – Advocacy for a clear vision and implementation of a high quality built environment;

Quality education – Creating synergies across educational delivery models and with local and regional governments;

Quality of life – Recognition that a high quality of life attracts investment, people and innovation;

Livability – Promotion of high quality urbanism, urban spaces and places that create attractive urban living;

Social conscience – Recognition that healthy cities are socially and culturally diverse and require a supportive social network;

Sustainability – Commitment to meaningful economic, environmental, and social sustainability in policy and action;

Vibrant economy –  an economy that has resiliency, builds on local strengths and promotes community well-being.

By committing to become a Successful City, Nanaimo can be a vibrant city that moves into the future with resiliency, optimism and purpose.


David Witty is provost and vice-president (academic) Vancouver Island University. He is trained as an urban planner and urban designer.

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