I attended a two-day forum, along with Council and regional colleagues, regional staff, planners, community members from across the region, students, community leaders and others, co-sponsored by the Capital Regional District (CRD) and the University of Victoria. Titled “A New Leaf – Turning to Our Region’s Future,” the forum focused on impacts ahead related to:
- population growth and demographic change;
- climate change and energy;
- community health; and,
- economic uncertainty and technological change.
The first evening opened with keynote speaker Dr. Caroline Andrew, Director, Centre of Governance at the University of Ottawa. She talked about the importance of creating welcoming, diverse and sustainable communities to address the challenges of globalization, urbanization and citizen engagement.
Dr. Andrew cited the importance of bringing together and sharing, through citizen engagement, the perspectives of urban, suburban and rural communities. In choosing our future, she argues that people need to have a sense of where they were and where they are, in order to think of where they want to be. She believes that such engagement involves a clear sense of mission and coordination of resources and information, something that I believe is reflected in Oak Bay’s current initiative to renew its Official Community Plan, an exercise in “choosing our future.”
Dr. Andrew also believes that there is what she calls a “collective impact,” a process for social change and cross sector coalitions or partnerships. She says that to achieve collective impact, five conditions must exist:
- a common agenda;
- shared measurement (evaluation);
- mutually reinforcing activities;
- continuous communication; and,
- backbone support.
She calls for multiple sectors to work together to “reach the hard to reach,” to build trust, to move from individual states to a more collective state and to be aware that when there is competition for scarce funds, turf protection increases.
The second day of the forum opened with Dr. David Turpin, outgoing UVic President, who focused his comments and concerns on regional demographics, namely that our older population is more than twice the national average, that youth populations are declining and the region’s ability to attract immigrants is “quite low.” He believes that these factors can negatively impact regional prosperity and encourages decision-makers and opinion leaders, all levels of government, private and public sector employers and educational institutions, among others, to focus on planning for change to mitigate these negative impacts.
Dr. Turpin was followed by a panel discussion where Dr. Andrew was joined by opinion leaders Dr. Rob Abbott and Alek Ostry. Comments opened with a statement that when planning for communities of the future, “sustainability is not a problem to be solved but it is a future to be created.” Four factors in looking at the region’s future and determining where to plan new population centres are:
- Demographics – will have a profound impact.
- Energy – prices will continue to increase and will affect housing affordability.
- Climate Change – will result in changes to annual minimal temperatures (increases), decreases in annual precipitation, rise in sea levels and salt water intrusion into aquifers.
- Community Health – impacts of lifestyle choices related to diet and exercise.
Related to food resilience and local food production, we learned that Vancouver Island is only 22% self-sufficient and produces primarily eggs and dairy products. The food “hinterlands” are the Courtenay, Cowichan Valley and Saanich areas where we are roughly 14% plant food self-sufficient.
Dr. Andrew focused her comments on looking at the future through an “equity and inclusion lens” designed to reach out to and include immigrant populations who want to locate here. Immigrants do not come here because the labour market is not good enough. They will instead migrate to areas where language, cultural identity and available skills and training will help meet their needs to achieve a community identity or sense of place.
Engaging youth was cited as another factor, given that we are planning our future communities for younger people. Conventional planning practices have not involved youth nor attracted them. Youth empowerment is a key element in planning related to housing, employment, transportation, accessible local child care and recreation.
Small group discussions followed the panel and I attended the session on population growth and demographic change. We were asked to consider and discuss three questions:
- What are the big anticipated changes facing our region?
- What are the regional implications for health care, transportation, housing etc.?
- How should we respond?
A variety of factors was identified before we reached some ideas for solutions to our planning challenges. Our group suggested the following solutions:
- integrate planning and practice holistic community development processes.
- support post-secondary education.
- develop long term planning.
- increase immigration.
- recognize seniors as an untapped resource.
- support First Nations (fastest growing population).
- re-purpose public buildings (such as empty schools) for local community use.
- create a multi-cultural and diverse environment.
- collaborate and create opportunities for broad dialogue.
- build diverse housing.
This forum was very valuable and re-affirmed for me that, as local decision-makers, we are moving in the right direction. There is still a lot of work to do to address many of these challenges and communities such as Oak Bay cannot do it alone. Opportunities to work with other municipalities and various levels of government must be created if we are to be well prepared to face the region’s future with confidence.