Friesen: Kelowna’s planning challenges

A new column about exploring leadership, community values and civil discourse from Kelowna podcaster, Lindsay Friesen

—Lindsay Friesen

Kelowna is a city of many diverse communities. How these communities learn to listen and speak to one another is invariably the result of discovering our shared values.

On March 4, I encourage you to come to City Hall for a public hearing on the Scenario 3, tabled December 10, 2018. This is a continuation of the Imagine Kelowna consultations last year. At that time, the public clearly indicated the social values they aspired to realize for the community. In form (building mix and scale) and function (expressed in the resultant social fabric) the urban experience they most aspire to is adaptive, resilient, and efficient. After analysing the current housing mix, pre-existing approvals to existing suburban developments, and long-term planning goals, the City now has the responsibility to take all stakeholders views into account and present a clear path forward.

The approval of expansive suburban developments like Wilden, the Ponds, and Black Mountain go back more than 10 years. City documents available to the public indicate that past approvals, considered reasonable at the time, now appear to have tilted the entire planning ethos at city hall in favor of suburban housing. Perhaps reactionary in a sense, Scenario 3 includes a “no future development” stipulation for certain existing suburban developments. It’s fair to say that developers will view the appearance of a moratorium, as risking a ‘stranded assets’ scenario. Any respectable enterprise could reasonably conclude that the spectre of such a reversal not only reflects poorly on the City but sends the wrong message to future potential investors.

READ MORE: Controversial supportive housing project gets green light from Kelowna city council

While the city is framing Scenario 3 as a net benefit to the community, the fact is that the choices the planning department and city council made in the past, are having an outsized impact on our long term future. In plain words, the short term economic values embodied in the ‘suburbia’ development ethos continue to outweigh the long term value of achieving the highest and best use of all of our communities’ assets and resources over time.

To their credit, the City of Kelowna has invested in the future of this community through the Imagine Kelowna consultations. The value of that investment does not end with consultation, however. As a community we will need to remain activated to ensure our values are understood by our leadership at City Hall. The urban planning choices being made today will impact us for decades, and each person who calls Kelowna home, has a responsibility to listen, and be heard.

While it is each citizens responsibility to understand how the municipal process works, we also have the freedom to self-organize into groups, and advocate for ourselves. So I encourage each of you. If you are young, take hold of this community and embrace it. It is like no other. If you are old, share your knowledge and wisdom with all ages. Your experience is invaluable, since time past shall not pass again.

Finally, I’d like to conclude this article by asking the entire community to think of our current planning challenges in the context of a broader conversation on debt. Traditional arguments of supply side economics, as the only useful metric for addressing the speculative housing market, are clearly insufficient. In fact, solving housing and municipal infrastructure deficits requires bigger thinking. As a nation, Canada faces the very real task of deleveraging a debt laden economy. As a region, the Okanagan is perfectly poised to help provide solutions.

One possibility is to begin a national conversation on issues like infrastructure deficits, in the context of a 40+ year run of speculative real estate marketing. Many have benefited from an ongoing national fiscal and monetary policy that has supported the creation of enormous levels of debt, and overseen a shift in understanding housing as a liability, to that of a speculative asset. Those who have benefited the most economically, now have the responsibility to lead, by leveraging their out-sized levels of influence in political, and economic spheres. All it takes is the will to begin.

If we speak with one voice, every resident of Kelowna can achieve important gains in two vital areas. The first is education, in the form of basic fluency in municipal and provincial economics, for starters. The second is the application of that education, in the form of informed debate, and the expression of a common vision for the whole community. So consider joining your community association, and actively seek out opportunities to engage with your local councilor. And on March 4th, we can all take a step in that direction together by meeting at City Hall, showing support for our local leaders, and sharing in the work and responsibility of building a place, a city, and a home we can be proud of for generations to come.

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