Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Our own ignorance

Hello all

On Sunday I guest hosted Sean Holman's Publiceye Radio program on CFAX. One of the guests that I had on was Saanich Councilor Vic Derman. I am someone that tries to keep up on what is happening at the international, national, provincial and local level so I was very surprised to find out how muchI did not know.

I live a short distance outside of the Saanich municipal boundaries - less than 100 metres. Much of what Vic talked about is happening in my neighbourhood and I really knew almost nothing about it. It is not that I disagree with the way forward that is being looked at, it is my own horror at the fact that this balkaniztion locally works to keep even well informed people ignorant of what is happening.

How can we as a regional community of people be expected to actively engage ourselves in the debate on the future of this place we live in when we have to try and stay on top of 12 municipal governments plans other than the one we live in?

Here is a letter that Vic Derman has written:

It’s Our Turn To Set The Stage

By Councillor Vic Derman

During the recent elections, I did a lot of door to door campaigning while often using the introductory statement that: “I’ve just come by to see if you have any concerns about Saanich or your Council?” I must admit, it was nice to get many responses indicating that: Council was doing a good job, citizens were happy with the way Saanich has developed and Council should “keep up the good work.”

I would agree that Saanich has become an attractive community in which to live, work and play. To be honest, however, our past Council, and other recent Councils for that matter, can’t really take the lion’s share of credit. To give credit where credit’s due, much of our success stems back to a planning process created almost forty years ago. Back in 1968, the municipality adopted an urban containment boundary (UCB) to keep Rural Saanich distinct from built up areas. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the authors of that truly visionary policy. Without it, much of what makes us special would have disappeared years ago.

Interestingly, the UCB was as much about development as it was about preservation. In 1968, large tracts of “open” land remained inside the boundary, ripe, ready and identified for subdivision. Many areas of Gordon Head, for example, were still farmland, Cordova Bay remained largely rural and Broadmead was just beginning to become a reality. Simply put, there was lots of room to grow! Planners had created a line in the sand. We would build out to the containment boundary but not beyond. The basic road map their concept provided was fully detailed in local area plans and became a shared vision that has guided Councils ever since. It became particularly important in the seventies and eighties when Saanich became the growth centre of the region, a turn of events which the 1960’s visionaries appear to have anticipated.

This sixties vision has served Saanich and the region rather well. As times changed, it was modified, tweaked and updated but its essential concepts remained the same. With hindsight, would we do things a bit differently today? Probably, but for its time, the vision contained in the UCB was pretty close to state of the art. Its lasting legacy is a reasonably compact urban form and a rural Saanich enjoyed by all. Imagine what we might have become without it! Like most visions, however, it had its own self imposed limits. Eventually, the open land would disappear and then what? Planners thought that building out would take fifty years. In practice, it took thirty or thirty five. By 1990, we were approaching the boundary. Today, we’re up against it.

At the same time, our region, like many across the continent, has recognized the problems of automobile centered growth. To avoid unsustainable infrastructure costs, environmental degradation, increasing traffic congestion and the loss of remaining open spaces, the old pattern of marching subdivisions and urban sprawl has to go. The recently adopted Regional Growth Study (RGS) recognizes this new reality. With a few exceptions, municipalities have decided that future growth must fit into existing built areas as we shift towards denser urban environments. Onward and outward is passé. Looking inward is the new state of the art.

What all this means is that the old vision is finished. It was good in it's day, but its time has come. Fine, but what now? Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a replacement. We are adding density without a clear view of the end product we want. That has to change. If it doesn’t, will some future councillor be told to “keep up the good work”? Not likely! Fleshing out the broad concepts contained in the RGS will take determined planning and a large dose of political leadership and courage. We must meet those challenges. It’s our turn to set the stage for the Saanich of the future

Vic Derman

As a footnote, Saanich Planning is launching a series of public events to examine how we should manage our growth and development. The first event will take place:

Thursday, March 30 at 7:00 pm in the David Lam Auditorium
Room A144, MacLaurin Building at The University of Victoria

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