Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Susan Chapelle presents her vision on Council and Governance
I moved to Squamish about 15 years ago hoping to live the dream in a town that I was told was bar fights and industry. We bought a home, because Whistler was unaffordable for a young family, and I set about trying to build a sustainable, localized existence.
Opening a business in Squamish a challenge I didn’t expect. My first dealing with the governance of the day was trying to convince planning staff to add professional services to any zoning. There has been change, however there is still frustration with antiquated policy. The ability to bring forward contemporary governance and public policy that reflects the diversity of our community and changing society is slow, and not as reactive as the speed in which our world is changing.
I see Squamish through a lens of a downtown Toronto girl that spent her formative years in social housing. Things were difficult, but there was process, and big city resources. Squamish continues to be in transition; until 2006 most were employed around various forms of industry, with very few services available to the community.
In 2000, the Downtown development strategy was adopted. Growth was slow, and anticipated development did not happen as fast as expected. The Whistler Olympics were announced in 2003, and with the expectation of a boom from highway construction and housing, the plan was updated to reflect anticipated changes. The adoption of the plan came in 2005.
“The identified changes in community conditions will have implications, direct and indirect, positive or negative, on downtown Squamish” ~Squamish 2000
The 2000 plan, with the Official Community Plan governs much of our community vision. Policy requires constant amendment to keep up with changing development and land use conditions. Each variation in government throughout the years has struggled to keep up with the expense of rapid growth and change. The employment of staff on a limited budget and the gleaning of expert opinions to predict our future has dictated policy and governance with fewer resources to implement any plans to date. In 2004, the University of British Columbia Urban Studio did an analysis of Squamish;
“Major changes to the direction of growth and context of Squamish have occurred over the past few years. The pressures of development have intensified dramatically. Under these circumstances, it becomes increasingly important for the people of Squamish to have a clear vision of how they want their community function economically through 2010 and beyond. “ ~ UBC Urban Studio 2004
The history of governance and policy in Squamish is not unlike other small towns in transition. Notice a problem, fund extensive studies with experts, then have difficulty finding financing for solutions. There have been valid reasons. Short political terms and public pressure to not increase residential taxes in the face of lost industry revenue.
Our small business community and residences are under increasing pressure to support a changing demographic. Those that move here desire first class recreation infrastructure funded through taxation, while we still struggle to support ailing pipes and sewer. Idealism versus political reality works best with adequate financial resources.
In the next few years we will do extensive Official Community Plan updates. It took 9 years to adopt the last OCP review. The 2004 Downtown Community Plan, which was meant to update Squamish 2003 still has not been officially adopted by council. Future politics requires accessible engagement, with commitment to implementation or risk loosing public trust.
Looking to our future, I feel optimistic. We have progressive new leadership, with a diversity of opinions and values. Our ability to collectively notice issues and communicate our concerns is fresh, and collaborative. We have a financial plan, our infrastructure is well documented, mapped and we have funded its rehabilitation. Municipal staff is innovative and bright, but highly overworked and challenged to meet community expectations with very little resources.
It will be a challenge to meet future community desires on a limited tax base. The cart is before the horse with expectations. The hope may lie in our newfound global popularity and a commitment to utilize public intelligence. Good governance requires imagination to explore localization of our economy, humanized policy, and intelligent urbanism.
Photo: GAGANDEEP GHUMAN