Shaping Our Piece of Paradise — The City of Victoria looks to a bold, creative and inclusive future
Q+A with the City of Victoria
It’s a tourist, tech and foodie mecca, home to more than 85,000 people and the downtown of the 15th largest metropolitan area in Canada, set among stunning natural surroundings and part of a region that’s become the country’s most desirable place to live.
Victoria’s hub of unique neighbourhoods and walkable village centres give it a character like no other, providing a wealth of opportunity for business investment. The City’s Business Hub works to foster a business environment that welcomes creativity, collaboration and bold new ideas.
Mayor Lisa Helps shares the City of Victoria’s vision, including the challenges to overcome and the potential.
Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?
Victoria – along with many of our municipal colleagues around the region – was one of the founders of SIPP in 2016. At that time there wasn’t a regional approach to economic development, and our region was falling behind the rest of Canada in terms of investment in building a strong, resilient economy. SIPP has changed that and we’re proud to be part of getting SIPP off the ground and helping to sustain it.
What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?
Two keys for our future are diversifying our economy and embracing diversity. Tech is strong and growing, the public sector is a stable source of well-paying jobs, and as one of the most beautiful regions in the world, tourism is strong. But we’ve all seen what happens when calamity hits. Diversifying our economy beyond the big three will be key to withstanding future economic shocks. Our region is also changing with more people from around the world choosing Greater Victoria as home. We need immigration and we need to embrace diversity, fight racism and make our hiring and workplace practices as welcoming as possible, for all.
What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?
We’re facing the future and tackling challenges head on. This creates jobs, opportunities and a reputation that hard things can get done here. The size and scale of our region leads to deep meaningful collaboration and a particular feeling; it’s too small a place not to have each other’s backs but it’s a big enough place to face the world and the future with confidence. Greater Victoria is a mid-size city region that has high-quality ideas, products, services and human capital on offer — oh, and there’s the fact that we live in paradise!
What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?
I’m most excited to continue the roll out of Victoria 3.0 which is the City’s long-term plan for inclusive, low-carbon prosperity. Key projects like an ocean and marine innovation hub (COAST) are already underway in collaboration with SIPP and many others. Another key project, the Arts and Innovation District on the north edge of downtown, is in a planning phase to lay the groundwork for Victoria’s next 100 years.
What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?
The City of Victoria is beginning to be seen nationally and internationally as a leader in building a sustainable, inclusive city for the future. For example, we’re one of two cities in Canada that is part of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Program. We’re a small city, globally speaking, but some of our bold plans like Zero Waste Victoria, Go Victoria, Climate Leadership Plan and Victoria 3.0 are getting attention far beyond our border.
What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?
Housing, housing and housing. In the City of Victoria, we are approximately 7,000 housing units short for the people who already live here. And we’re woefully undersupplied for the housing needs over the next couple of decades. We need to get as much housing of all sorts approved and built so that people have safe, secure affordable places to live near where they work, their kids go to school etc. We need to do this so that companies can attract workers and also so that we can mitigate climate change. Density and compact communities are not only vibrant and awesome, they’re also one of the most effective climate change mitigation tactics.
What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?
The most important currency we have are our relationships, and the most important words we can say are “thank you.”
When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?
Honestly, we’re at a fork in the road right now. If we continue on the road we’re on – suburban sprawl, a reluctance to densify in the core and in city neighbourhoods, clinging to the steering wheels of our individually-owned cars, a veneer of politeness rather than tackling head on racism and stigma against people who are homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted – we’re going to have a very divided, low-prosperity, and high-carbon future. Not my vision!
If, on the other hand, we choose a road of addressing racism, examining our own privilege and biases and working to address these; if we ask not, “How will this new proposed housing development impact me right now?!” but rather, “How will it serve the greater good, and my children’s grandchildren?”; if we return more of our public spaces to people and to a human scale, and embrace car-share, transit, walking, cycling rather than individual car-ownership (making more space on the roads for people who need to drive their own cars) we will have an inclusive, prosperous economy by 2040. And, we’ll all be a lot happier!