“When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.” – Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Indeed, cities can be complex entities. As complex as cities are, striving for sustainability may be the most fundamental directive for each and every one…
Social cohesion, ecology, economy and quality of life are what define sustainable cities from the rest. Maintaining sustainability is not an easy task but is achievable with innovative thinking and a proactive approach to realizing a vision.
The city of Colwood, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, ensures that its community is one that faces challenges through optimization of diligent planning; planning that will not only encourage business development and economic stability, but retain a healthy habitat for its citizens. Community engagement is central to the city’s master plan as it moves forward.
Incorporated in 1985, with a population of 16,000 (expected to increase 108 percent by 2038), Colwood is a waterfront community located to the west of provincial capital Victoria in a region known as ‘the West Shore’. The city’s proximity to Victoria, ten kilometres away, creates the potential for the city to act as a regional transportation hub.
Victoria’s Swartz Bay Terminal, operated by BC Ferries, and Victoria International Airport are easily accessed. The Island Highway, running through the city, enables collaboration with a diversity of business sectors such as technology, government, marine, retail and education. With over three million visitors to Victoria annually, Colwood’s location presents an excellent opportunity for the tourism sector as visitors trek to its shores to enjoy its many unique points of interest.
Colwood’s Economic Development Strategy, recently approved by the city’s council in September of 2014, provides a framework from which the city hopes to realize its economic and environmental potential. The strategy is a collaborative community effort that will provide a supportive environment for business investment while securing partnerships to enhance economic sustainability.
The strategy will also create a foundation for realizing balanced growth, so that the community can engage in a sense of place, and will engage the city’s neighbouring municipalities to derive a bigger picture of the West Shore’s land usage so that neighbourhood self-sufficiency can be achieved.
“It’s important for us to have that plan, backbone and structure,” says Mayor Carol Hamilton. “We’ll be looking for ways that we can enhance our economic sustainability with development that [is] coming constantly through our door to make proposals and that sort of thing. So, we have to get that plan together.”
Colwood’s award winning Official Community Plan (OCP) was developed in 2005 in cooperation with the nearby municipality of Langford. It looks at land usage in terms of housing types and density so that Colwood will evolve into a city of livability with green spaces, urban amenities and an exceptional quality of life. The plan’s objective is to strengthen existing commercial areas and promote economic diversity so that residents may take advantage of opportunities to live and work locally.
These objectives are reinforced by James Moller, Colwood’s chief administrative officer, who notes that the ties to the OCP also align with the city’s Economic Development Strategy. “When we’re looking at revitalization of our downtown core, it’s really important to review the OCP documents, as it is for Colwood and our community and what we envision for our future,” he says. “I think, over the next year, it will be very important to address this by looking at our land use plan by engagement with our community.”
Colwood is in the process of creating its Transportation Master Plan in an effort to restructure and improve how the community and tourists travel, whether walking, driving, cycling or using transit. This master plan incorporates the directives of the OCP by focusing on sustainability and quality of life. There is a need to address the increase in traffic congestion as a result of residents from Colwood and neighbouring communities making the commute to Victoria. It is anticipated that congestion will rapidly increase in the next twenty years.
Colwood acknowledges that pedestrian and cycling networks can be improved to connect residents to workplaces, schools and shopping and that those means of transit, rather than vehicles, will promote overall health.
The city’s Transportation Refresh program hopes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by thirty-three percent by 2020. Through a comprehensive analysis of the city’s existing transportation system, hopes are that the city’s plan is to be integrated with other regional transportation plans such as the Capital Regional District’s Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan, BC Transit’s Future Plan and neighbouring municipalities’ plans.
“As we try to balance this growth in our community and with our fiscal priorities as well moving forward, I think, like most municipalities, we are challenged with being proactive to meet those demands of a future population,” shares James. “It can be difficult and challenging at times, so we want to be lean, we want to be effective, we want to provide efficient services to our community, but we don’t want to be overstaffed. It’s that fine line, that balance.”
Colwood is home to approximately 800 home-based and 400 storefront businesses and is attracting growing numbers of scientific, technical, professional and knowledge-based businesses.
Strategies to encourage new business include: revitalization tax exemptions for the city centre to encourage commercial and office investment, launching a business retention and expansion program, small-business seminars and connecting senior business leaders to act as mentors to small business and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit among students at Royal Roads University. Colwood also offers a five-day building permit.
Carol believes that the revitalization tax exemption strategy, “will allow for those businesses to come in. We have a hotel (Holiday Inn Express) that’s presently being built in [the downtown] that fits the criteria… I think that’s going to draw a lot of [businesses] as well.”
James shares that, as the downtown is redeveloped, the city is going to be very cognizant of traffic congestion, parking and pedestrian and cycling networks. “All of this is going to play a part in redeveloping and providing that incentive for people to relocate their businesses to Colwood and to the West Shore.”
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse national historic sites offer views of Esquimalt Harbour and the Juan de Fuca Strait. The lighthouse is Canada’s oldest West Coast lighthouse, and the site is home to three artillery gun batteries built over one hundred years ago. It offers interactive exhibits and is open year round except Christmas Day.
Royal Roads University, formerly Hatley Castle, was built in 1908 and is recognized for a number of innovative programs. The building is surrounded by Italian, Japanese and rose gardens encompassing what is known as Hatley Park, a national historic site.
Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary offers miles of ocean beachfront with sightings of numerous shorebirds. It is a popular site for kayaking, canoeing and scuba diving with views of Victoria and the Olympic Mountains of Washington state.
About this place they call home, Carol relates, “it’s quite an energized community that’s for sure… the community is like family.”
James concurs. “There’s significant history here on how Colwood has formed and has continued to be developed. Even moving forward, with all future residential and commercial developments, we’re cognizant of this. We don’t want to change our culture and who we are. We want to adapt to these new businesses, to get them embracing in what Colwood is.”