ECONOMIC STRATEGY

Reality prevails despite our wishful thinqing.
Are we still in denial?

"Peak oil will necessitate major changes in our infrastructure, Barring all of the nonsense about hydrogen fuel cell powered cars and bio-diesel, we will need to restructure our communities, revamp our railroads for freight, and build up from scratch an effective public transportation network. It is well known that various corporations‚mainly the auto and tire manufacturers‚ made a conscious effort to dismantle our public transportation in the 20th century, and to redesign our communities around the automobile and the diesel truck. As a result, these corporations made enormous profits, while we were left with an atomized society highly addicted to oil. To top it off, the construction and upkeep of the transportation system was subsidized by public tax dollars, at little or no cost to business. Corporations have benefited from this system long enough. It is only fair that they should pay for the restructuring during the decline of the oil age."

Peak Oil and the working class.
Dale Allen Pfeiffer. Online Journal.
September 02, '05.

" . . . need to restructure our communities . . ." caught my attention. So did, . . . nonsense about hydrogen fuel cell powered cars and bio-diesel . . . All the alternatives in the world wont stabilize our profligate energy waste: cutting back is our only option.

Polemic aside I have little faith change will come from "we" the people. Change is forced upon us. Chaos then returns until one or two people wake up. We prosper for a while. Then the cycle of entropy repeats . . . This is evident in the recent misunderstandings surrounding the city's approval of additional height to the high-rise condo/hotel next to the NNC.

Protest was inevitable. But what misses the protestors is their complicity. Solutions to Downtown Nanaimo's demise is found in sprawling north Nanaimo and to a lesser extent south. As the protestors gear up for high dudgeon they drive their gas-guzzlers to their quarter acre lots in the sprawl oblivious . . . pretty hard to empathize with that . . . and few decision makers do . . .

In any event this blog is not about protest. It is about renewing Nanaimo now and responding to the exciting events transpiring. And evidently the community is split down the middle on how to respond.

Nanaimo is no longer the thriving resource and fishing community of nostalgia. Globalization has had its effect and while the impact is demonstrable there is little evidence the voting public understands.

Nanaimo, over the last two decades, has devolved into a series of discrete areas of expensive, tax-intensive low-density sprawl: everyone driving to work, pleasure and shopping. While the letters to the editor rage about the New Nanaimo Center the real issue is about something quite different.

No one, elected, non-elected, protesting, non-protesting, concerned public is willing to grasp the essentials . . . DENIAL . . . SPRAWL. And of course no one understands. Time-serving councillors with life experiences limited to suburban sprawl and sunny-beach tourism know it all. What else can we expect?

NNC can be a community asset, if not as a conference destination, then as a community place: second stage, meeting rooms. The real issue must be a sustainable ideas economy that will mediate population growth.

A "sustainable" economy? First, replace lost industries. Thousand of acres are lying dormant awaiting non-existent "speculators." Intensive farming, food processing, horticulture and gardening: those are the replacement industries, along with sensible affordable housing . . . Yes, an easy popular remedy to the decay is more housing. At face value that resonates. But as, Trevor Boddy effectively pointed out, Vancouver has obsessed on downtown condos to the extent commuter traffic is reversed.

Nanaimo downtown will prosper by eschewing zoning in favour of comprehensive development allowing a varied mix of residence, close-by retail support for residences, art, performance, music composition, playwriting, manufacturing / production of all the foregoing, meeting places, and much more that only a vibrant community can envision.

So, what is happening that an economic strategy may address? Reading the official prognostications RDN population will grow to 213,032 by 2021, which bodes ill as statistics downward-slide. The resources based industries are no longer with us, regrettably, at least on the scale of decades ago. Retail and the service sector is expected to grow: the perennial barrista. But the essential change imposed by globalization, the new economy, whatever it is currently called, has impacted: so far, negatively. Yet, we must not live our lives in despair of catastrophe: we can prepare and be ready for the inevitable. And the inevitable has certainly occurred in Nanaimo.

Discrete neighbourhoods, an over-abundance of malls, have all grown at the expense of the traditional downtown. And this is what this essay is about.

Controversy essentially centers upon a public / private partnership arrangement between the city and Suro Development Company, a Canadian subsidiary of US Triarc Corporation. At last authentic count: 48% NO 52% YES! Suro has been engaged to build the New Nanaimo Conference Center on downtown Commercial Street replacing a row of 1950's storefronts of dubious heritage or indeed design, value. Rejuvenating the moribund downtown is, of course, the strategy. But, the whole project has turned into an unmitigated disaster that, of course, no one dare acknowledge: hotel contract collapsed, street front retail all empty, cancelled conferences and the beat goes on.

But revitalizing a moribund downtown is about much more that planting a chunk of concrete.

"The Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre fell 24-percent short of an earlier estimate for nonresident delegates for the 2004-05 fiscal year. The earlier forecast, conducted by KMPG in 2000, was the justification for a $565-million expansion to VCEC."

Forecast missed on convention delegates. Georgia Straight Charlie Smith. Vancouver: September 01, '05

Comparisons, VCEC / NNC, are inevitable and if letters-to-the-editor are to believed expectations of doom abound. The NNC. or VICC as it will be named when complete, will have a capacity for 1200 conventioneers, with accommodation for maybe two or three delegations simultaneously. The VCEC has a floor area of 494,600 square feet, with capacity for thousands, in separate groupings large and small simultaneously. Future economics of the two cannot be compared although numerous experts have been engaged to debate either side.

That debate is long over . . .

VICC will nevertheless have some positive impact. Which brings us to the nub of the issue: the essential direction of downtown development. And our willingness to recognize, reinforce and encourage. It is a matter of integrating the manner in which it has been developing over the last decades, acknowledging the change and building upon it. Downtown Nanaimo is, and has been, changing into an urban culture park. This essential condition must be acknowledged and built-upon. This is good economically: the Port Theatre, VICC, a Foundry restored as, hopefully a NANAIMO CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING AND VISUAL ARTS. This latter appears doomed . . .

Two new ice sheets are now completed away from downtown. A multiplex is mooted. Bad idea!

High-rises are proposed: some on the waterfront, which may prove to be a mistake. Nevertheless, downtown Commercial Street is sort of limping along with nightclubs, art galleries, restaurants, buskers, and opportunities to people-watch. And it is in such facilities that entry-level jobs are abundant. Of course it is de rigueur to disparage entry-level jobs but that is to be unaware of what jobs were like in the coal mining days.

And last, but certainly not least, the opportunity beckons, and of great importance, to max-out and rehabilitate the downtown crescent, known popularly as the bowl, into a pedestrian urban environment. Indeed, at this stage urban design enhancing the ambulatory environment and creating a close relationship between downtown and the crescent, public urban space integrated within a pedestrian matrix, is of the essence.

Urban design is more than pretty storefronts: integrated, healthy economies make far prettier places. Economies of North America, including Canada, BC and Nanaimo, have transmogrified, without many of us noticing, from a production economy to consuming economy. Is this bad? Evidently it is inevitable . . . so build on it.

If an urban design / economic strategy is to be effective there are certain "untouchables" that must be addressed: i.e. debilitating, expensive sprawl is the paramount issue, next comes throwing money mindlessly at any problem (tourism, for example comprises 5% - of PDP while Nanaimo treats it as the only game in town) and close behind is that many of the incumbent decision makers have been there a long, long time. Once those are recognized potent polices have a chance . . . And among those potent policies would be: to declare Nanaimo the first sustainable Canadian city. Imagine the attention and wealth that would attract.

Accordingly, for greatest economic advantage we must accept downtown Nanaimo for what it has become over the last decade, an URBAN CULTURE PARK. Culture, according to the late Jane Jacobs, is a clean, environmentally friendly, potent generator of wealth: farming is a part of culture. And that is where the economic strategy for Nanaimo should be focused.

Will that work? Or will the status quo be content calling those who sincerely work for progress troublemakers. Ummmm . . . will looming events crowd out complacency? . . . huh, wait and see . . .

IT'S ALL ABOUT FOOD PRODUCTION . . .STUPID!

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