Open letter to candidates for mayor and council:
In March I attended a meeting at city hall devoted to plans for some waterfront properties that the city owns. While I applaud the work that city staff did developing the proposal, the meeting and the issue speak to the relationship Kelowna residents have with the lake.
There were people from all over the city that came to the meeting and nobody spoke against more lake access. The lake is the defining feature of our city, yet it is becoming ever less accessible to those of us not fortunate enough to live on the water.
Mission Creek has been good enough to deposit a large fan of sandy material along the lakeshore, the longest continuous beach on Okanagan Lake with some of the best shallows. However, unlike our neighbour city to the south, we have not protected this beach for the public.
When the city was small, it probably didn’t seem wrong to allow private residences to be built along the lakeshore. However, we are no longer the third town on the lake. We are now the first city.
We are a city. We are not a small town. I believe we need to start thinking like a city.
I also believe that great cities have great public spaces that build on the connection between the people and the place they live. Stadiums, airports, and casinos are just buildings, and they can be found anywhere. However, Okanagan Lake is unique to us. I believe that we need to take full advantage of our lake, and do so for all people in our city.
I have a vision for the future of our lakeshore. In 20 years, I see myself cycling south along the Abbott Parkway. On my right is parkland with trees, picnic tables, and here and there a tennis court, a skate park, or a water park. Beyond the trees is the beach.
As I cycle along, I pass on my left clusters of low rise condominiums with coffee shops, restaurants, and other shopping on the ground floor. Between these clusters are some neighbourhoods of heritage single family residences and other places where linear parks lead back to Pandosy. From time to time the free Kelowna Beach Bus passes me, shuttling people between parking areas further back from the water.
There is little other traffic, as the only parking along the parkway are a few clusters of handicapped spots. People of all ages, from all over our city, are here enjoying our waterfront.
Can this vision be achieved? I believe it can. It won’t be cheap and it won’t be easy.
Some people, particularly those who own property on or near the waterfront, will certainly be opposed. Living on the water gets more attractive (and more expensive) the more crowded the public beaches get.
It will cost us more now than if earlier leaders had had the foresight to act.
They didn’t. However, it will keep getting more expensive the longer we wait.
If I were in charge, I would designate a special development zone from the bridge all the way to the Cascia Linear Park in the South Mission area, extending a couple of blocks back from the water. No further development would be permitted for any properties along the water.
Low density development would be allowed east of these properties. Developers would be able to increase the density and/or height of allowable development by purchasing lakefront properties, clearing them, and granting them to the city. In this way, we can harness the creativity and industriousness of the development industry to help transform the lakeshore into our signature public space.
I also expect that the benefit of creating this public space for quality of life in our city will be reflected in property values throughout the city.
It will also play an important part in attracting and retaining the knowledge workers of the modern economy that create the high paying modern jobs we want for our city.
Vision seems to be a popular theme for many candidates. However, it seldom goes beyond something like “strong, sustainable economy with opportunities for all?”
I believe we need more details, and we need leaders who will commit to a vision and then do the work needed to make it happen.
To me, real leadership is about bringing people onside and mobilizing the talent and resources to achieve the vision.
I want to support a leader who will seize the opportunity and guide Kelowna toward the great city it has the potential to be.