Nov 19, 2014

Takin' it to the Streets

At almost every Council Public Hearing, we are having a discussion on the age of our Area Redevelopment Plans (ARP’s).  We have many. The general rule is they should be revisited every few years. The common problem for every city is that these plans pile up. The pile gets so high there is no way the plans can be revisited in a timely fashion and soon ten years passes. Building trends change, neighbourhoods change. The plans become outdated, yet they are still the rule for new applications to abide by. And we do not have the staff or resources to go back and revisit them all.
Here is the stack of area
plans, most just waiting for
a redo based on their lifespan.

Just this month Council had to hold a hearing on the reuse of an existing medical building where the restrictions were that only five plastic surgeons could use the building. The owners wanted to rent space to regular doctors, yet had to go through a lengthy approval process. These kinds of barriers have to go by the wayside.

Area planning everywhere gets like a taxi cab company with lots of cabs but nobody to drive or maintain them. The outdated rules get entrenched and can frustrate home owners and other property owners. Land use is not static.

As part of our Main Streets initiative, we have piloted a new approach that has proven successful so far in three neighbourhoods. It is an ideas exercise, based on three copies of the same maps.  The following examples of one of our pilot projects, this one in Bowness, illustrate the approach.
One of our three pilot neighbourhoods for the Neighbourhood Charter associated with Main Streets, was Bowness. This is a commercial corridor with strong bones, with lots of potential to help bring new people and services into the community

Our three map exercise, involves three  steps, focussing community engagement in one day beginning with the first map where the Issues & Challenges for the commercial corridor are identified.

The second map got the community focussed on opportunities in the same area.  These were key underutilized sites, known land assemblies, pedestrian crossings, etc.  Combined with the first map participants quickly identified where actions could result in positive outcomes.

The final map is titled Outcomes.  This is where participants pulled together their ideas on what they wanted in their commercial corridor. We used this information against current economics of redevelopment and retailing to determine if the outcomes were realistic.  We also compared them against the Municipal Development Plan to see if they met the MDP targets for job creation and minimum density targets.

We then did drawings of the physical outcomes from the Charter exercise. This helps put the ideas into perspective so the community could visually understand what they what the outcomes might look like.

The goal of this neighbourhood outcome strategy is to get a focussed discussion that is about outcomes, not process or rules. We are exploring what neighbourhoods want, balanced through input from all actors including business, community, property owners and city staff. Using this approach, we then apply land economics to the outcomes along with the Municipal Development Plan targets to determine a likely outcome. A critical piece is gaining some idea when this outcome could happen.

Once this has occurred, decisions can be made about whether or not to effect any necessary land use changes if needed, to encourage the outcomes, be it a new building with mixed uses or identifying community improvements for City departments to consider.

This does not mean we throw out existing redevelopment plans. We can fold things in from those if they help achieve the outcome.  There are some corridors from the 24 in the MDP that have been looked at recently so they do not need to be revisited. Those ARP’s would remain unchanged.

Imagine if we had these outcomes in a neighbourhood outcome strategy that was flexible, organic, in that it could change as needs or trends happen without a two year process, that everyone could use as a guide in growing the community. An outcome strategy that could focus on ideas like strategic sites along a commercial corridor, where the boundary of the ideas was not fixed but flowed into the surrounding community.

This is where we are headed and our experience so far in working with our pilot communities has been very beneficial in helping shape the neighbourhood outcome strategy process. Stay tuned to our Main Streets web site for more information. Things are happening this month.

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