Selling our Birthright for a Mess of Pottage

Ron Bolin:  Nov.7, 2010

Why is it that our Planning Department and our Council seem so anxious to sell off the most precious feature that our municipal environment has to offer?  The choice is both short sighted and maladaptive.  The amphitheatres offered by our harbours and shorelines offer a grand stage on which to lay out a magnificent city which can be appreciated either from the water or from its bench-like streets rising along its heights.  To permanently blanket these spectacles with curtains of high-rises –or their shreds- is an insult to our opportunities and to those who will come after us.

On a plain, at its middle or at its edge, high-rises are indifferent.  In fact they can provide points of interest which enrich the plain.  At the edge of a bowl where plain meets slope, high rises can provide the balcony seats looking out over the main seating and stage and demarcate the point at which a plain ends and a bowl begins.

Nanaimo is dominated by its geography.  The Salish Sea denies any tendency for the city to a circular shape and demands an extended egg-in-profile form which itself must then bend to the ups and downs of its highly variable topography.  These factors lead to both the difficulties and the charm of Nanaimo.  We need to recognize these factors and work with them rather than trying to ignore or undo them.  Trying to make Nanaimo into a version of Vancouver with its high-rises dominating the waterfront confuses the opportunities of an amphitheatre with those of a plain.  We have something they do not, and to imitate them is to lose our chance at history.

Ask yourself if the addition of the high-rises which already obscure our waterfront from both front and back have materially added to the charm or the bustle of our city centre.  It is our small downtown businessmen who have struggled to breathe what life there is into the remnant of what was once a vital urban node.  While waiting for the big fix, the downtown fabric continues to shred.  The key to downtown revitalization is to get our existing population to want to come there.  If we want to go there then others will as well.

What is it that our City buys that is half so precious as what it sells?