News,discussions about Victoria and the Capital Region and the issues that affect us. My area of expertise is in active transportation, particularly cycling and walking. My recent term on Victoria City Council also keeps me interested in local issues that come up at City Hall and around the region.
I'm running again for council and the regional district. Hope you find a reason to offer support.
Monday, December 31, 2012
Investing in a more vibrant downtown . . .
Happy to add something more to the discussions about how to
inject some new vibrancy into Victoria’s downtown economy.It’s something that I’ve at least had
something consistent to offer over the last few years.It’s a bit of a contrast to new converts who
have more recently discovered the issue and are looking for new voices and new
ideas to bring to the table.Notwithstanding
that any strategy will need to be a team effort, requiring everyone on council
to be pulling in the same direction, more or less, it would be as useful to
have some confidence that there is a coherent connection between the “nice
things to say” and the “better things to do”.Talk is cheap enough, but concrete action is going to cost more, both in
real dollar terms and in the expenditure of political capital to support
investments or make decisions that may be at odds with the sometimes confusing
directions offered by the changing winds of more populist positioning.
Case in point is the Pandora Green project that our last
council was pilloried for, from both left and right, for being either too
expensive or aimed at disenfranchising those for whom a tent city was, at least
then, a convenient soapbox on which to stand in defense of our street
population.Most of our council, at
least, was focused on a coherent and consistent strategy to aggressively pursue
funding and property opportunities to increase access to diverse housing and
shelter options for our most disadvantaged citizens.It’s still a better, and actually a cheaper,
solution for everyone than the tent city debacle that plagued what is now
Pandora Green only a couple of years ago.
Homelessness is still a problem enough, but the opening of a
new shelter and another project to rescue bankrupt hotels is now paying off, in
some measure, in the provision of supportive housing for some of those most in
need.For the afflicted neighbourhood
along Pandora, the disappearance of the boulevard squat has been a welcome
relief from the downward spiral of disorder, and the new plaza and boulevard
improvements are creating a more livable environment for both the more
transient users of Our Place to the more permanent residents living in
apartments and condos dotted around Harris Green.Over the longer term, the revival is also
likely to attract more local business investment that is as likely to pay for
the costs of the project through increased assessments, contrary to the hand
wringing of those who have, as always, decried the expenditure of public funds
unfairly extracted from their pockets.
The other fiscal dividend may still have a long gestation as
we try and realize the savings that will emerge from a strategy that shifts
management of what was an increasingly intractable policing problem to a more
appropriate social services model.Police calls to the area dropped by more than 25% soon after the
completion of the project and, along with the housing and other supports we so
desperately need in our community, the longer term prospects for at least
containing the growth in policing costs should emerge from investments that
work in concert with one another.Making
downtown and nearby neighbourhoods more attractive and reducing the impacts of
difficult social issues is going to be key to sustaining, if not reviving, some
of our economic vibrancy in Victoria.
That’s a lesson that should be understood by the councillor
now promising to make the downtown economy a priority.Scoring political points by looking for ways
to cut the city’s investment in affordable housing made for a good few news
stories, but it was never a good strategy for building a healthy downtown
economy dependent at least as much on presentation.Likewise, her campaign video trashing the
city’s investment in Pandora Green probably made friends and influenced votes,
but I hope the councillor will be so good as to at least rethink, if not climb
down from that particular plank, or prank.Making mileage with the grass-roots community was good politics then,
but there’s a new year coming and a new parade to chase, even if the more
comprehensive and coherent collection of plans and policies built to emphasize
downtown density, new economy industrial zones and other more substantive
approaches to economic diversification are in play.Teamwork, it seems, is less appealing when
it’s all about being a new voice, a different voice, an independent voice.
I’ll be watching to see what’s under the Christmas tree next
year.It’s bound to be something fresh,
or at least half-baked, again.