Land development policy expert gives suggestions to increase Okanagan’s competitiveness

Dr. Michael Goldberg says the Okanagan has "all the tools it needs to compete," but it has to be strategic.

Dr. Michael Goldberg speaks to members of the Urban Development Institute's Okanagan chapter about how to increase the Okanagan's competitiveness.

Is the Okanagan losing its competitiveness?

That was the question Dr. Michael Goldberg attempted to answer while speaking to members of the Urban Development Institute’s (UDI) Okanagan chapter on Thursday.

Dr. Goldberg is a professor, researcher, author and speaker who has conducted extensive global research on cities, transportation, housing and land use systems.

“I think the Okanagan has all the tools it needs to compete. It can and it should,” said Dr. Goldberg.

“It has to be very strategic, it has to start thinking unthinkable thoughts—namely thoughts that are different than from the past—and it has to do this very quickly, because others are doing it already. The window doesn’t stay open too long.”

Dr. Goldberg started his speech by talking about the importance for cities to be strategic with land use decisions.

“Cities are now drivers of the global economy. . .cities need to take a much more active role in their economic future.

“One thing that cities have control over is land use. Being innovative, flexible and attentive to the role that land use can play in keeping occupancy costs low and livability high is absolutely essential.”

He added that land use decisions should be made with transit and economics in mind.

Dr. Goldberg pointed out that there are three main nodes that need to be developed to create a denser Kelowna.

“UBC and the airport is one huge node. I was pleased to see that not only is the university growing, the airport is growing and right across from the airport, parts are developing.

“You could easily see small conference hotels where people can fly in and fly out. . .you can do that kind of business here.”

According to Dr. Goldberg, Kelowna’s downtown is another area that needs improvement to help the city’s density.

“It always astounds me that you have a beautiful waterfront, you’ve got some lovely old buildings, but downtown is largely a disaster. It’s ridiculous that you have all this vacant land adjacent to Highway 97 and right on the waterfront.”

He went on to explain that certain areas—such as Kelowna’s City Park—have a one-use mentality, which limits density and can potentially create a safety issue.

“You worry about the safety of the park because there is no activity in that park. The secret to safe parks is people; just like the secret to (a) successful downtown is people.

He suggested “taking a strip off the front” of the park and creating restaurants and other developments.

“Now you have people patrolling the park while they’re eating and having fun.”

The third node that will help Kelowna become a denser community, according to Dr. Goldberg, is the hospital area.

“The hospital district I see as being a huge zone of activity. There could be more housing for people that are going to work in that area, hotels for people that are going to be visiting patients in the area.”

Dr. Goldberg said that a “not in my backyard” mentality has often hurt development that would otherwise benefit the greater region. He said that the “greater good has to dominate.”

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com