by hans peter meyer
The current Elks Park/Kye Bay exercise in neighbourhood direct action is another example of great community spirit overcoming inadequate land use planning. In the absence of a good growth management strategy, are we fated to re-experience crises similar to Elks Park until we either lose our neighbourhood greenspaces altogether? Or are we going to figure out a better way to go about looking after our natural wealth?
There is something noble about a neighbourhood digging into its own pockets to preserve greenspace. It?s a shame, however, that we leave to neighbourhoods things that rightly belong with the larger community, as represented by our elected officials. Decisions about land use and the shape of development should be handled by local government, not left up to residents to deal with on an ad hoc, out-of-pocket basis.
The green space that neighbours enjoy at Kye Bay is in their backyard, but it?s there for our benefit too. Given the growing need for public access, especially to waterfront, the rest of us in the Valley shouldn?t be expecting Kye Bay to foot the bill.
I know it's very old hat (and my editor has told me he's tired of reading it), but the Elk Park situation points to that recurring theme in the Comox Valley: the absence of effective political leadership, and the absence of a common vision for this divided community.
"Visioning" has lost it's cachet. It's seen as an expensive, "feel good" proposition with no ties to ?real? issues like jobs & business growth. Consider this: What is our "competitive advantage" in the Canadian or West Coast or global economy? What "product" do we sell?
Anyone in real estate and tourism knows the answer. It's found in the little mantra: location, location, location. The word isn't just about where we sit viz. other locations; it's also about what makes this location such a great place to move to, build a house in, raise a family in, move a business to, etc etc etc. People moving here -- growth" -- is what keeps most of us alive here. Our location is what drives our economy.
So, what are we doing to nurture our "location, location, location?" Who are the people actively working to make sure that we have a ?product? to enjoy (and also sell to the many visitors who become potential home-buyers/investors in our community)?
Answer: Neighbourhood organizations like the folks at Kye Bay. The folks behind the Land Trust and the Community Forest. The volunteers who keep our understaffed (and increasingly heavily used) local parks in shape. The people who put their money where their hearts are to pledge support for efforts like the ill-fated Lannan Forest mission and the more successful Elks Park bid. People like Ruth Masters (thank you Ruth, not just for your recent generosity but for all your years of working on behalf of this place).
I'm glad to hear that the Town of Comox is on side for Elk Park. Too bad the Lannan bid didn?t have a municipality on board. In the absence of a long range land use and growth management strategy in the Valley, and in the absence of visionary leadership, it's not unusual for municipalities to act conservatively. But still, it's sad.
The bigger picture in the Valley is that through a series of lost opportunities we are losing time & ground. Short-sighted decisions -- from Lannan back through the decision to junk the whole of the previous attempt at a Valley Vision, as well as the late '90s amalgamation/restructuring initiative -- are leading us into a situation where we squander neighbourhood and natural resources. Who dreams up these distracting jurisdictional municipal-RD cat fights? Local elected leaders, planners, administrators, economic development folks have bigger issues to deal with. They also have an opportunity to act on, created by the willingness of neighbourhoods to stand on the financial front lines.
This opportunity is to develop a long term growth management strategy built on attractive development located in a mature, "green" context. Forests that provide recreational and wildlife values, as well as potential income from managed forestry practices. Waterfront (lake, river, and ocean) that provide ample public access to the wealth of great scenery we've got here. Corridors of public lands that encourage development of (new to this area) tourism forms like walking tours, bicycle touring.
We are rich in resources. But we need to cultivate what we?ve already got, working with the wealth of creative & resourceful people in our neighbourhoods. We can do something exciting & different here, building on a sense of community that is rooted in who we are & what we can do, without importing the same-old-same-old modes of development. (You know, the ones that brought us the Anfield ?Centre? ? the modes that have made places like Nanaimo and Surrey and much of the beautiful State of California good reasons to come here.)
Relying on neighbourhoods to pull up the slack where local government hasn?t done it's job risks too much. Some neighbourhoods are strong and resourceful. Others aren't. A default let's-let-the-neighbourhoods-look-after-themselves strategy risks losing key pieces of the landscape; it also risks exhausting and embittering our stores of neighbourhood spirit.
When the people who care enough to fight for & finance local greenspace are too tired to fight, we all lose. No matter how generous a Ruth Masters is, or how effective a Land Trust organization can be, these cannot take the place of a shared vision, an effective plan, and the political will to act on it. Pledge forms to support Elks Park can be picked up at Second Wind Interiors, 420 Fitzgerald Ave, Courtenay, (next to Orbitz Pizza).
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