Prince Rupert city council agrees that the city is on the cusp of major change.
What they didn’t necessarily agree on last Monday night at their regular meeting was the process to engage the public concerning the potentially unprecedented growth that comes with industrial projects to the region.
While all councillors knew that engaging the public and gathering information pertaining to how the downtown, waterfront or outlying neighbourhoods will look in a few years is important, the speed with which the City of Prince Rupert does so became a divisive point at the meeting.
Coun. Joy Thorkelson began the discussions when she put forward a motion for the city to host three separate public consultation workshops with the public concerning land use around the downtown, as well as undeveloped lands and parks, at the beginning of the council session.
That’s when Mayor Lee Brain promptly revealed the as-of-now unofficial, but tentatively approved, Re:Design Rupert project.
Slated to begin this fall pending various funding stakeholders complete the financial details, Re:Design Rupert is a thoroughly comprehensive public engagement and consultation process that will be coordinated by the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) Community Development Institute (CDI).
Brain explained the city’s vision of working with CDI and the public for an 18-month process to fully outline the direction the city will be headed in terms of health care, education, land use planning, environmental and green space, sustainability and much more.
“It would be one of the biggest public engagement processes our community has ever seen,” Mayor Brain explained to council.
“It would be designed to create a vision for the future of this community as well as address topics such as [those brought up by Coun. Thorkelson]. Re:Design Rupert is not formally announced yet – there’s still contractual things that we’re signing to ensure it’s going to come to fruition … but it would be branded, it would have a full-time facilitator, staff, research people associated with it and it’s all to address the fact that we’re going to experience unprecedented change and we want to ensure that as we go through a changed process, that we all collectively agree what the other side of a changed community would look like,” said Mayor Brain.
Coun. Thorkelson’s main concerns stemmed from the immediacy of large residential developments potentially changing the look of downtown and the Kanata school area and a lack of public process that brings the developer, city council and the public all together for multiple meetings. She stated that she’d like to see a less rigid process than the one currently outlined in the Community Charter where council takes the public’s suggestions and then considers them down the line.
“I think we have lots more to talk about than just where buildings are going to be located downtown, but right in front of us, we have two of the biggest proposals [in recent memory] and the only way the public has input in them is coming to a public meeting or public hearing,” she said.
Mayor Brain responded that council still has time and should they want to try and shape residential developments a certain way, then it’s their prerogative to do so.
“We’re trying to balance private interest as well as public lands with social housing. The bottom line is this: We’re totally in control of this process because we’ve got really good information coming in [from the Go Plan Survey], about baseline data that we’re going to be able to sit on as a foundation and say that ‘The data says, right there, that this is the type of housing we need to invest in as a council’ … the good news is, look at the opportunities we have. People actually want to come and develop this community. It’s been how long since people have come here with a bunch of proposals? We want to do it right, I’m with you on that. We want to have the right types of housing, I’m with you on that. But at the same time, I don’t want to just rush into these types of conversations where nobody shows up.”
Nearing the end of the session, Coun. Blair Mirau put forth a resolution that council meet together to establish the base criteria and effort that they would like to see developers engage in to reach the public and involve council until Re:Design Rupert gets underway.
Brain later elaborated on Re:Design Rupert, a program with branding similar to Re:Build Rupert and the City’s continuous efforts to address its $288 million infrastructure deficit and to establish accounts that maintain each piece of property the city owns for decades to come.
“I think the debate [at council] was more about the timing of when we should be engaging the public, not necessarily that we don’t want to be engaging the public because it’s just that I don’t believe that we’re ready yet to have these conversations because we don’t really know where the information’s at,” said the Mayor.
“And [at the meeting] I felt it was pressing to say that the city, as well as multiple organizations and stakeholders in this community, are working to lock in a funding arrangement to hire UNBC’s Community Development Institute and they run and do major public engagement processes for communities.”
The 18-month long process led by CDI will use some of the more established engagement tools that have been proven to garner more passionate responses from its participants, such as open space technology facilitation.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is build a culture of engagement in this community and build something that people actually feel they want to participate in. So, what I don’t want to do, is have these one-off conversations about infilling and maybe get 10 people to come. If the process isn’t engaging enough and they show up and perhaps it’s a boring conversation or it’s not structured properly, they may go home and say ‘You know what, that wasn’t very fun. I don’t necessarily want to go back to that again’ … [I acknowledge the speed that these latest developments are happening], but at the same time council needs to get that information first, get a good grounding of where we’re going to head and from that point, with the baseline information, we can then come back to the community and say ‘OK, here’s what we know. What are your thoughts about what you want to see?’,” said Mayor Brain.
“My goal is to set up a process or processes, so that regardless of who becomes mayor and council in this community, there’s always going to be a mechanism to engage the public [Re:Design Rupert] and always going to be a mechanism to address infrastructure [Re:Build Rupert]. That’s why things like Re:Build Rupert might outlive me, because it’s a forever process. You’re always going to be rebuilding infrastructure.”