The Nanaimo Way

Dan Appell: Sept. 19, 2013
In large part this little rant was inspired by a presentation given by Todd Latham titled “Rejuvenating our cities” and sponsored the “Inspire Nanaimo” group.
I love this city. After spending far too long a summer in Calgary, I’ve returned to realize that I love this city more than I thought I did. This new realization; this change of perspective has softened my view towards the ‘Nanaimo way‘ of doing things. Where before I found myself frustrated by this unique approach, these days; at least for now, I’m more bemused.
We’re all familiar with the ‘Nanaimo way‘ of doing things, so I won’t describe it with too much detail. We all know there is a ‘right way’ to do things, and there is a ‘wrong way’ to do things, and there is a way to do things to ensure that everything is ‘F-d up’ completely, and then there is the ‘Nanaimo way.’ The Nanaimo way can be best described as the willingness to do more, spend more time, more energy and more resources to ‘F-‘ things up completely. In short, we do way more then we need to do to ‘F-‘ things up completely.
My first real exposure to this process was with the development of our conference centre, and the latest example is the Colliery Park Dam fiasco. In between there was the Pacifica development, the Overall Community Plan, various neighbourhood plans, the boat basin, the Port shopping centre, Diana Krall Plaza, the Downtown Business Association arrangement, downtown parking policy, the conference centre hotel, and, well, the list is a long one. My interest is planning and development so my list focuses on that stuff. People who have other interests have equally long lists of other kinds of stuff.
I do realize that this description is flawed. I’m making it look like the participants are doing something intentional. They are not. They are all well meaning, hard working, good people trying to do good things. Its just that they are so thoroughly committed to a flawed process, and they are so grimly determined to seeing the process through to the bitter end, that it looks intentional. Even when it becomes clear to everyone that the result is going to be one massive screwup, the proponents will push harder just to get it over and done with. So, I suppose, they can move on to the next mess.
The sad thing is, we are all resigned to this. Proponents and opponents both seem to agree, ‘this is our way of doing things,’ and we are all too small and insignificant to do much about it. All my friends are telling me not to get my hopes up with this up-coming transportation master plan. Yes, I can already see that train going off the track. They tell me not to expect anything much from the South Downtown Development plan. Yes, its early days, but we all know this will all end with a massive bill to the taxpayer and an argument over where to put the parking lot for the multiplex. We sit around in our coffee shop in some fatalistic funk knowing that our feeble imaginations cannot begin to comprehend how completely ‘F-d up’ these noble initiatives will become.


But I do have hope. Its a tiny, sliver of golden hope, probably less than the dimension of a micron. I stubbornly cling to it. My friends think I’m crazy and my opponents think I’m an idiot . . .  or is it the other way around? Doesn’t matter, I still have hope. I really do believe that we can change the way we do things so that we can get a better result.
The solution is as simple as it is radical. We must stop employing our planners and designers to go out and find solutions that are acceptable to a majority of people. First; these solutions don’t exist. If we think we have a solution that is acceptable to the majority of people, then we are wrong; its either not a solution or its not acceptable to the majority of people. Finding a consensus is an impossible task. We are paying people, to commit their lives to going out into their community to find a consensus that isn’t there, and it will never be there. The only consensus that can be found revolves around the status-quo. There is always too much risk associated with change to make change an acceptable option to a majority of people. If all we are doing is promoting the status-quo, then we are all agreeing to bury are heads in the sands of change. The planners and designers are doing their best job. It’s just that they are not doing the right job. Right now, the best they can do is find something that looks like a solution but isn’t, or recommend a real solution that nobody will accept. 
We need to employ our designers and planners to finding the most efficient solutions. These are the solutions that employ, overall, the least amount of effort, the least amount of resources, and produce the best and greatest result. These solutions can be illustrated, quantified and promoted. That’s the job of professional planners and designers. They don’t have to find a solution that is acceptable, they just have to find the best solution for each and every problem. From there it is up to the leadership to build a consensus around these real and good solutions. 
Consensus is not something to be found. It must be made. Norm Chomsky is right; consensus is created, it is built, it is “manufactured.” If we are trying to build a consensus around bull shit for solutions then we are putting too much effort into something that is going to “F-” things up. Even if its a lot of work at the beginning, and requires more effort up front; doing something because it is a real solution, because it will work, because it creates the greatest amount of efficiency is the only way this city can grow, adapt and prosper.
My sliver of golden hope, as small as it is, is that the we can change how we do things and ‘the Nanaimo way‘ can become the best way to get things done.