From his office at City Hall, city manager Ron Mattiussi has a unique view of Kelowna and the path the city is currently taking.
Not only does he look over Okanagan Lake and the new Stuart Park, but he has a vision of what the community of Kelowna will look like in the next 10 years and the issues that will mould the city in that time.
Baby boomers, transportation and continued development in the core centres of Kelowna are all factors that will see the city continue to grow from a town that was once the smallest settlement along Okanagan Lake into today being one of the major players in the entire province.
But Mattiussi says more than anything, the growth at Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan, as well as service expansion at Kelowna General Hospital and Interior Health will be the main engines to shape the city’s future.
“Okanagan College is big and growing and UBCO has had phenomenal growth, and I think that has really changed the character of our community,” said Mattiussi in an interview with the Capital News.
“I’m surprised at how quickly those two institutions have brought a different culture to the community, and I think they have had a profound effect already.”
As far as changes to the hospital go, Mattiussi says KGH continues to grow into one of the most important regional treatment centres in the province, behind only hospitals in Vancouver and Victoria, a major example of how the health care industry has also become a guide to Kelowna’s development future.
Mattiussi moved to Kelowna in 1995, at the tale end of one of Kelowna’s economic boom periods, as more and more people began looking to the Central Okanagan as a place to move to.
As the director of planning at that time, Mattiussi was in charge of trying to turn what was once a city that covered just eight square miles to a city approaching a population of 100,000 people back in the late 1990s.
“When I got here there was a huge shift in the city’s demographic,” he said.
“Traditionally, our demographic was Prairie people retiring from Alberta and Saskatchewan. But the boom of ’88 to ’95 brought families from the Lower Mainland who could sell their homes there and buy a place in Kelowna and live in a smaller community.
“From ’95 on we started to see a shift (in Kelowna) from a retirement community to a new demographic of young families.”
If there has been one constant for the city over the years, Mattiussi says, it’s that city planners were dealt a tough hand when the rural communities of Glenmore, Rutland and the Mission were amalgamated with Kelowna in the early 1970s.
Because those communities were separated from Kelowna’s former city boundaries by large expanses of undeveloped land, transportation networks were never built until the mid-1990s when the population boom brought with it traffic congestion.
“Because of the history of us being three communities who have never really seen themselves as connected, the city developed piecemeal and never built transportation networks,” he said.
“That played havoc with our transportation system. We had to build connectivity with our roads. We started connecting roads, we started building networks.
“The last couple of years the emphasis is on moving people—not just cars but people—in a variety of ways.”
Mattiussi says the city will continue to work towards a transportation system that connects people using public transit and bike and walking lanes, trying to decrease traffic congestion by getting people out of their vehicles.
“There is less congestion over the last 10 years,” he said.
“Now the focus is how do we move people. Some will be on bikes, some will be on long-boards, some will walk and some will do all three.
“That’s really been our focus now and will continue to be our focus into the future.”