Coun. Vic Derman wants the District of Saanich to become a “world leader” in sustainable development, and he hopes a citizen-led forum will be just one small catalyst for change.
On Saturday, Derman will present his pet project, The Natural City, to residents, business owners and politicians who will gather to discuss the future of the Douglas corridor.
“Like it or not, we’re in a worldwide competition for wealth, skill and talent,” said Derman, who has pieced together global shifts in urban planning that show how pedestrian, cycling and public transit infrastructure can transform cities.
“We want those people, and we need them for our future economy. But what’s going to attract them here? I would argue quality of life and place is in fact, for Saanich and Greater Victoria, an economic ace.”
Quality of life, he says, includes a focus on approving new projects with nature and sustainability top of mind. Rainwater management is one example of how cities can influence impact on the environment through smart policy, he said.
The City of Victoria, for example, incentivizes homeowners to retain and distribute rain water on their property instead of sending it straight towards the street drain.
“Another huge issue is sustainable energy. People don’t know how far solar energy has come,” said Derman, who has relied on a solar-powered hot water tank at his home since 1980. The solar energy covers 100 per cent of his hot water costs in the summer, and about 70 per cent of costs in the shoulder seasons.
“Since 2008, the cost of panels has gone down by over 80 per cent,” he said. “Texas feels within a couple of years, solar energy will be competitive with gas energy. In Britain, the feeling is solar will be cost competitive by 2020. And what are we doing here?”
Susan Belford is organizing the all-day Douglas corridor talk, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Garth Homer Auditorium (813 Darwin Ave.). She says Derman’s vision will provide a jumping off point for residents who want to weigh in on a pending local area plan.
“The corridor needs to be something other than a place we pass through,” said Belford, echoing Derman’s sentiments that urban street design should be ‘much more than A-to-B conduits.’
The City of Victoria is also launching its own local area plan for the Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood, which covers the Victoria area of Douglas Street. Belford said Victoria Coun. Marianna Alto has agreed to stop by Saturday’s event, which Belford hopes will help both municipalities work together on a co-ordinated Douglas corridor plan.
“For Saanich, we wanted to make sure there were a wide number of stakeholders involved, and this is the first step in that conversation,” Belford said.
Organizers will be forwarding responses to the Capital Regional District, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Saanich and B.C. Transit, she added.
Derman said the region’s municipal governments have been slow on the uptake of the CRD’s pedestrian and cycling master plan, which was completed in 2012.
“For a dozen years at the CRD, we’ve had walking-cycling-transit as our priority modes. In 10 years, we’ve changed virtually nothing,” he said.
Derman said the next steps towards a sustainable Saanich will take place at the council table, where strong adherence to sustainable, long-term planning needs to be followed. Provincial and federal governments will also need to step in with long-term funding if municipalities hope to create better transportation modes.
“We have to be very careful with Douglas Street. It was seen as a conduit to move people from downtown Victoria to the western communities,” Derman said. “That’s not good urban planning. That’s a huge highway in a city, and it destroys neighbourhoods and kills value.”
For more information on the Douglas corridor open house, visit mountviewcolquitz.ca.