BY FRANK MURPHY
Our new city council will face a number of urgent issues. One issue will have, potentially, the greatest impact on the largest number of Nanaimo citizens and over the longest period of time, over generations in fact. It’s no exaggeration to say decisions this council will be asked to make about our south downtown waterfront will have consequences for a century.
The City of Nanaimo in 2013 purchased 10.8 hectares of downtown waterfront lands from CP Rail. The city currently refers to these lands as 1 Port Drive. There were a number of complex issues resolved but one key issue remains unresolved, the land claims and treaty rights of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. When, and not until, this is satisfactorily resolved the site will be ready for important decisions on how to proceed.
Waterfront redevelopments across Canada in recent years have proven to be transformative for their cities. Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria have all invested in this important industrial lands renewal and repurposing.
There are two tools which these cities have used to ensure the success of these projects. In one variation or another they have employed an open design competition to attract the top talent specializing in this area: architects, urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects, with proven experience and documented accomplishments.
The second tool common to these projects is a public development corporation, a city-owned corporation operating under a charter making clear its mandate and restrictions. This was also among the recommendations of the city’s South Downtown Waterfront Initiative Committee. This tool was used in one form or another to develop Granville Island; Pike Place Market, in Seattle; Waterfront Toronto; The Forks, Winnipeg. The SDWI visioning and guideline principles document available on the City of Nanaimo website gives these and other examples.
Good work has been done to prepare the site and now it’s ready for the next exciting phase. It’s time for an open design competition to attract top national and international talent to create a new downtown neighbourhood to be proud of.
This downtown waterfront property is a gem, the envy of any and every city in country. It deserves, Nanaimo deserves, that we settle for nothing less than excellence here.
Frank Murphy operates the urban planning blogs Nanaimo Commons and the Sidewalk Ballet.