by Danny Zanbilowicz
Two separate but related fun events in early March offer everyone a chance to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas about Courtenay’s downtown, and to participate in actions which will preserve and revitalize the area.
Where is Here?
First off on Saturday March 5, starting at the CV Art Gallery, participants will be joined by a team of interviewers and videographers, who together will walk for an hour or so within a fifteen minute perimeter throughout the downtown area, as participants describe the places where they “feel most connected to the community”.
Sharon Karsten creator of the event, is a director of the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and also working on her PhD at Vancouver Island University. She recently received funding for the project from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a national research body.
Sharon says- “Videos (no more than 2 minutes each) of residents talking about their ‘connect-spots’ are uploaded onto an online map that is accessible to the wider public.”
This event will also happen in Port Alberni and Nanaimo, creating a fascinating record of what people value in their downtown experiences.
Sharon says: “Downtowns are struggling, moving from resource to knowledge-based industries. We want to address issues of out-migration, and keep young people in town. Downtowns can play a role. Making our downtowns more vibrant requires knowledge of what residents value about them. We want to know what people love about their cities, and what keeps them there.”
You can join the walk at 1pm, 2pm or 3pm. Sharon says- “The event will happen rain or shine, and will end with hot coco and cookies!”
Sign up in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In your email, state:
A) your name
B) your downtown ‘connect spot’ (note – this must be within a 15-minute walking radius of the Comox Valley Art Gallery (CVAG)
C) a description of why this spot is important to you
Also, indicate which of the following hour-long time-slots on March 5th works for you: 1-2pm, 2-3pm, 3-4pm. For further info, visit the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/whereishereculturalmapping/info/.
Sharon is also planning a major event for this summer- a Symposium – she says- “Big thinkers working on small communities.” As it turns out, small cities may be where it’s at in terms of innovation, progressive solutions, and community engagement. The Symposium is planned for July 20-22, and there will be twenty-five to thirty speakers or presenters- coming from Thompson River University, SFU, UBC, Emily Carr, NIC, VIU. This event is still in early development- watch for it later in the spring.
‘Where is Here?’ is a collaboration of Vancouver Island University, The City of Courtenay, Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association (DCBIA) and Comox Valley Art Gallery.
Your Ideas Turned Into Pictures
The second series of events consists of a Design Charrette, which will be held over three days- March 7, 8, and 10 at the Upper Native Sons hall, where citizens will help visualize how the downtown City of Courtenay can change for the better.
On Monday March 7, 5:30-9pm, participants will sit at a table which focuses on a particular area of interest, and come up with ideas for implementing their vision. Illustrators will be on-hand to draw the ideas.
On Tuesday March 8, 6:30-8:30pm people can pop in to see the designers work in progress
And on Thursday March 10, from 5:30 – 8pm there will be a community presentation with the finished drawings. All stages welcome feedback from the public.
This event was made possible with a grant from the Real Estate Foundation, and flows directly out of public consultations which occurred October 26-28, 2015 led by Michael Von Hausen- the 2015 Downtown Forum.
Early in 2015, council identified five priorities facing the City, one of which was Downtown Revitalization. The Downtown Forum was created to bring members of the public and community leaders into the discussion.
At the Forum, a number of areas of interest were identified, including- population densification, “wayfinding”, better connection to the Courtenay River and parks/greenways, and “pedestrian first” policies. These will be some of the subjects explored at the Charrette.
Mayor Jangula is among those at City Hall who supports these initiatives. He is personally interested in the vitality of Courtenay`s downtown- “I walked down Fifth Street recently- there are some stores that have been empty for a long time- it’s like front teeth missing from a smile- doesn’t look great.”
Nevertheless, he thinks most stores are doing well, some extremely well- “Rents downtown are low- maybe fifty percent of what they would be paying at the big malls. I heard about a business on Duncan moving to Fifth Street, and sales doubled.”
Above all, Jangula loves the personal, hands-on service- “My sons and I always shop locally, because people are friendly, with mostly long-time family owners. The staff really know the prices and stock. Recently I called up a jeweller- my wife’s birthday was coming up- and I suggested something. They said- no- she likes another piece. And they were right!”
Jangula believes- “Downtown is the heart of the community,”
City staff are looking at ways to help keep the downtown economy thriving, including a plan where “If you build downtown, we will reduce the DCC’s”. Also, a possibility to defer tax increases for five years.
Jangula adds- “We have tried to help the little guy. “ A new revitalization tax exemption program will be considered by council in coming months,
Ian Buck, Director of Development Services, says- “We are early in the process of community visioning. But this has to be action oriented. My goal as a planner is I don’t want to develop a plan that sits on the shelf. There will be a lot of design- artists, architects with pen to paper, working their butts off for four days.
The City has hired a “land economist” to undertake a commercial and residential market demand and opportunity analysis. The goal is to figure out what demand there is for various uses to inform policy change. Potential development sites will be examined to see what works from an economic point of view.
Jangula explains- “We need to look at different scenarios, from a market absorption point of view. When we look at the whole, what is the best mix downtown? Certain groups want greater density, but we need to know what the market will bear.”
The economist’s report is expected some time in February.
Buck stresses- “At this stage, we get our heads to the ground, and ask how does it work? This is not just a City plan. We need multiple people. We are looking for partners, to identify the players and get working relationships started. We need organizations that will help shepherd the plan.”
Then it is up to council and City Hall to develop policy, amend bylaws, and implement change.
One thing is certain; the City is actively seeking out partners- individuals and groups, who are interested in working together to shape the successful future of the downtown.
You are invited to join in!
City of Courtenay ‘Design Charette’:
Native Sons Hall (upper level) : Monday March 7, 5:30-9pm – Small working group discussions; Tuesday March 8, 6:30-8:30pm – Pop in to see the designers work in progress; Thursday March 10, 5:30 – 8pm – Community presentation.
The City of Courtenay website is at www.courtenay.ca/downtown or Facebook and Twitter sites.