David Witty

David Witty

Colwood needs to create identity: planning expert

Ideas offered for how to make city successful and unique

Colwood has a tremendous opportunity to reshape its future in the coming years, and open discussion is a great start on the road to becoming a successful city.

That’s what David Witty, provost and vice-president academic at Vancouver Island University, told a sizeable gathering of residents last week. His talk was part of the City’s ongoing public engagement efforts as it prepares to update its Official Community Plan.

Witty excitedly commended the planning that went into the roads around Royal Bay secondary, where the talk took place, pointing out the multiple ways they move people – on foot, by car and by bicycle.

“If you get streets right, you are well on your way,” he said.

That same enthusiasm wasn’t felt for much of the Old Island Highway, where stretches of the road are without sidewalks, and certain areas are plagued by large parking lots set back from the road.

The latter is an issue that Witty came back to on numerous occasions as he pointed out the pitfalls of strip malls and parking lots next to main arterial roads. “Land is really valuable and you think about (parking lots) and it’s really a waste,” he said.

He used examples from multiple European centres, as well as Canadian cities such as Winnipeg and West Vancouver, as ways to create gathering places and town centres that work towards giving a city an identity.

“Place-making is important for a whole of bunch of reasons,” he said, noting that it not only serves identity purposes, “it has fundamental bearing on quality of life.”

Liveable cities with great infrastructure, public green spaces and inner city residential areas can contribute to economic success, he added, and attract professionals for whom it’s important to live where there is high quality of life.

“My hypothesis is this: you, Colwood, are competing with other cities for future residents and workers,” he said.

With that, he urged the city to find a central place that would give Colwood an identity.

“I say this respectfully … (you need) a centre or place where people go to do a variety of things; to shop, to eat, to recreate, to sit, to look at the ocean, to reflect.”

He also pointed to Langford – a former client of his – and the creation of its own town over the past couple decades as an example of how a city can reshape itself.

“I took my students a week and a half ago to take a look … is it perfect? It’s not perfect, but they’ve done some really good things,” Witty said, while also commenting on some of the aesthetically pleasing design concepts and the mixed use of space along Goldstream Avenue.

Later, Witty told the Gazette that variety in development is needed in order to make a city unique, and that uniform housing stock and commercial development isn’t the way to create a proper identity.

“If you’re in a helicopter and you got dropped off in the middle of Colwood, made some notes, then got back in the helicopter and got dropped off in a suburb outside of Akron, Ohio … your notes would basically say the same thing in describing the same place,” he said.

The Royal Bay development will be a key in creating that identity, he said, adding that a varied residential and commercial neighbourhood there will be important in creating a unique seaside community.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com