Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Email to Mayor and Council May 12, 2011

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Jane's Walks
Date: Thu, 12 May 2011 12:27:01 -0700
From: Frank Murphy

To: Mayor&Council

Mayor Ruttan --

The recent Jane's Walks across Canada in honour of the work of urbanist
writer Jane Jacobs reminded me I wanted to contribute a couple of quick
thoughts to issues and projects currently in front of you and your
Council colleagues.

They fall under this general umbrella: Nanaimo faces no greater
challenge than that presented by its large land mass and low population
densities and compounding this problem resources and amenities are
thinly dispersed and not effectively integrated into their immediate

To see what I mean, stand in the parking lot of the small shopping
centre at Dufferin Crescent and Boundary Avenue. Note how Nanaimo
Rregional Hospital is buffered from the neighbourhood by lawns and
parking lots, sending a message to the neighbourhood: we're not really
part of you. Note how the streetscape has been conceded almost exclusive
to the car. Note the low quality poorly placed apartment buildings
surrounded by parking lots. To the pedestrian it's a hostile
environment. The neighbourhood has no centre, little public space and no
amenities to speak of.

I live on Selby Street, across from the E&N Train Station. I very much
appreciate the neighbourhood's mix of commercial, office and residential
uses. It is walkable and has something of an anchor in its Fitzwilliam
Street shopping street. The new Immigrant Welcoming Centre has just
opened down the street, new rental housing has been built in the last
couple of years. Not everyone in my neighbourhood is happy about the bus
exchange being located on Prideaux, but I'm fine with it. I return from
my morning walk and see people arriving by bus and heading to work at
the tailor shop or the restaurants or offices.

This neighbourhood has been informed that the City with the Province
will be building 40 units of "assisted housing" on Wesley similar to
that proposed for the Hospital neighbourhood. There has been no outcry
here, granted the proposed site is not as contentious. This
neighbourhood is better able to absorb a project like this. The lesson
has been learned in other cities that if you want a neighbourhood to
accept projects like social housing, sometimes you have to first fix the

The lesson has also been learned in other cities that you have stop
making the planning mistakes that lead to the problems in the first
place. Which brings me to your decision to proceed with the City Hall
Annex without public discussion or neighbourhood consultation, and most
importantly in my view, without a comprehensive plan for the Quennell
precinct. Both of these projects bringing millions of dollars of
development and opportunity to this site, but are placed helter-skelter
and amount to another opportunity lost to integrate public capital
projects into their surroundings to the benefit of all involved. This
particular site offers opportunities that would be the envy of every
small city in the country. There are strong ownership positions here by
both the City and the Province. The School District has maintained a
presence here and a private trade school is currently using the
facility. The precinct includes the Law Courts Annex and the City-owned
Franklyn Street gym. Imagine the redevelopment of Quennell Square as the
subject of a country-wide Design Competition, as other cities have done.
Imagine incorporating into this precinct a strong element of education
and training, designing and incorporating the supporting infrastructure
and encouraging the location of private and public education facilities
into this block. Critcal mass where we now have this growing economic
sector, for one example, spread thinly throughout the city. Where we had
dislocation we start to see integration and cross-fertilization. The
site would probably include some public space perhaps the entire site
designed around a central zocolo creating a very desirable, diverse,
residential neighbourhood as well.

While these ideas are hardly radical and are being tested daily in
cities across the country, they are not prominent here. I've never
understood this because anytime I've had a chance to talk with the
professionals in your Planning Office, or sat in a meeting of your
Design Advisory Panel or had a chance to chat with local architects or
for that matter developers, it's ideas like this they discuss. I've
never understood why they don't champion these ideas and why they don't
feel they have a responsibility to promote them and educate both Council
and the public at large in how fundamentally important they are to
reaching our goals to be a healthy, prosperous, inclusive city.

Frank Murphy

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