Arts and Culture as an Economic Driver?

As we look at Economic Development opportunities for the District of Squamish, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the importance of a vibrant arts and culture community to our economic goals. Creative industries are a growing segment of the employment landcape in Squamish, and need to be included when looking at a multi-faceted economy for Squamish.

The City of Brampton, Ontario has recently embarked on a project to use the Arts and Culture sector as a means to revitalize their downtown core. While I appreciate the difference in scope, I think there is a good case to consider how these activities could apply to revitalizing the Squamish downtown core.

So now the question remains: Does the Creative Sector drive Employment?

According to the Opportunity BC 2020: Creative Sector report produced on behalf of the BC Government, economic activities from the creative sector outperformed more traditional industries such as forestry and agriculture, and employed more British Columbians then those industries, or over 4% of the total workforce.

So how could Squamish harness this potential? 

We have a problem before our community - what can we do to revitalize a dying downtown core? In an earlier post, I introduced a vision where  downtown Squamish could become our urban space; our centre for arts, entertainment and night life. The first seeds of this transformation have already been planted downtown, and I believe council should develop real strategies for leveraging arts and culture as a catalyst for the rebirth of our civic core.

Arts, cultural and entertainment uses should be encouraged as a way to bring life to the core in the evenings, and where possible, civic infrastructure should be utilized as much as possible to encourage these activities. Street parties, live music, indoor and outdoor art installations, preference of art uses for the community amenity portion of development applications, similar to the Percentage Arts policy in London England, or how the City of Calgary has woven arts through public / private partnerships into the core of the the iconic East Village redevelopment.

We have the right talent in our creative sector, the right location, and the right civic partners in the Squamish Arts Council. With some vision and courage from our political leaders, I believe we can give Arts and Culture in Squamish it’s due, and let it help create the future of our downtown core.

The Small Lot and the Bottom Line

Recently, I was reading a story in The Squamish Reporter about a small lot proposal, and while I will not judge the value of this particular proposal, I do believe it is important that the discussion be guided by facts and centred around why the small lot concept deserves some attention as a means to grow more sustainably.

There are some misconceptions that usually get tossed into these discussions, including perceptions around land values, traffic, and crime. Lucky for us, a group called ACT, who  has done the analysis, and has it available for public consumption. With this, it’s important to note hat the term affordable means that no more than 30% of household income is needed to service the mortgage. 

In their words: 

The Affordability and Choice Today (ACT) initiative was created in 1990 to help overcome planning and building regulatory barriers to the development of affordable housing by funding and promoting practical solutions at the local level.”

The conclusions from their work is this in a nutshell: Small lot development does NOT depress property value, and does NOT increase crime. I’ll get to traffic later.

I’m glad we got that out of the way, now let’s move on to why it’s a good idea for our community as a whole.

Efficiency and Sustainability

By the nature of the increased density, providing water and sewer service to these developments is cheaper, as services are nearby and more users are paying for a similar amount of infrastructure. When tasked with managing the public purse, this seems like a great way to stretch both the operating and capital budgets, and adheres to the principals set out in the Official Community Plan. Transit and other community amenities become more viable as the concentration of people increases, and with the right planning, alternatives to the car can alleviate traffic issues.

Aside from the municipal service savings, small lot development makes it possible to provide a detached home, while reducing the amount of resources consumed to do so. Far less land needed for roads and lots, leaving less disturbed while managing the needs of a changing community.  

Diversity and Community

By allowing different building forms to be mixed in a community, we give choice to wide variety of people; seniors, young families, couples and singles from all walks of life. We offer the ability to age in place, and to locate close to shopping, educational and employment opportunities. Mix this density with a well managed park system and we allow the community to flourish, with these parks doing double duty supporting arts, culture, and community events.

As a community, we have to strive to contain sprawl, and grow within our physical and economic boundaries. We need to respond to the changing needs of our community, and start making the linkages between planning, transportation, and community.

We have done the work, hired the experts, and drawn up the plans; now it’s time to do what we said we would. It’s time to build tomorrow.

Transit and the Big Picture


Here is one area that our community has struggled with; why pay if it doesn't work? Would it work better if we paid more? Maybe we don't pay for service? Maybe we don't need a service?

Some interesting ideas were floated this week by Councillor Patricia Heintzman in her blog and then opened for discussion on the ever growing Squamish Speaks. What really caught my eye the idea of a fareless system, that transit can be so much more then just moving people around. The idea that our approach needs to consider the larger implications in the community - the cost of carbon, the cost of road and parking infrastructure to sustain a car centric community, cost, cost, cost...  

Now, I chewed on this one; on one hand, transit is heavily subsidized, so the increase in spending to cover fares is not that severe at these service levels. On the other hand, what is the motivation to be efficient and responsive as a transit service?

Which direction would be in the best interest of our community?

Thankfully, Squamish has an incredible regional transit advocate in Murray Gamble who pointed out a very important fact: The District has already bought and paid for a comprehensive transit plan!

Real data, real analysis, and no gut feel.

This plan demonstrates the needs of tour transit system going forward, and places a spotlight on 2 glaring issues:

1. Squamish is under serviced by transit.

2. Transit is under serviced by Squamish.

So the solution should be easy - throw money at it? Not so fast...

I think that these recommendations are a great place to start, and should form the minimum standard for the transit service in Squamish proper, but I don’t think we have properly explored the impact transit could have on both the revitalization of downtown, and the economic development of our entire community.

When designing a transit system, we must consider how transit design can move commerce, and give people places to travel on our system.

Downtown should be the urban centre of our community, with transit options supporting evening shopping, arts, dining, and nightlife. Our citizens need to be able to access our urban core from all areas, with predictable scheduling and efficient routes.

Our growing education sector needs to be properly served so they can fully engage in our community fabric.

Our recreation needs to be connected to our accommodation.

The list could go on, but the point is:

Transit is central to the success of our community as a whole, and needs to be approached as infrastructure, no different than the other municipal services.

Instead of costs alone, we should consider the value of transit for building and supporting our whole community, making it accessible for everyone, and driving commerce.

You have questions? I have answers!

There is a Facebook group in in our community called Squamish Speaks, and in it one of our fine citizens posted some questions for the council candidates.

Being a candidate myself I thought I would answer them, because the only way to build tomorrow is to start the conversation today.

Here we go...

1) What is your vision for Squamish over the next 3 years, 10 years, and onwards?

The vision - 3 years and beyond

I envision a Squamish with a strong arms length  Economic Development office with clear, measurable goals, and enough resources to not just meet, but exceed the expectations of Council and the community. I hope we are a community that cheers about opportunity and finds innovative ways to make those opportunities successful for Squamish as a whole.

I picture an oceanfront that is taking shape, with a waterfront park buzzing with families, artisans, and a healthy dose of water sports enthusiasts. Beyond the kites and sandcastles on our new beach, I hope to see a community being built that will have something for everyone. From low income earners to those slowing down, people from all walks of life should believe in a new oceanfront community that will define the new Squamish, and should embody the aspirations of this community.

A vibrant downtown should stand at the gateway of our new oceanfront, with culture, food and merchandise that reflects the diversity and youthfulness that is Squamish today. It would be great to see vacant land and empty storefronts being put to civic use as farms, markets, and places for the public to enjoy art and performance. Downtown Squamish should be our urban space, the center for arts, entertainment and night life.

Our neighborhoods should start to see some changes as our urban parks are transformed into community gathering places, with public art, places to play, to think, and be together. Small markets and festivals to promote and support the character in each of our neighborhoods.

To bring all these components together, I believe we need to come up with viable options for leaving the car at home when we head out to enjoy our community. We need a universally accessible trail network that links the neighborhoods together, augmented by a municipal transit network that is predictable, responsive to the needs of Squamish, and most importantly, economically responsible to the taxpayer.

There is plenty of information and recommendations bought and paid for by the DOS, and I think it is time to put that information to work instead of hitting reset every 3 years.

2) What would you do to improve the economic progress and evolution of Squamish and its residents? Would you be open to non-traditional development and jobs?

To help create good paying jobs, I believe we need to be ahead of schedule as per the District of Squamish Outline for Economic Development Activities. I think the DOS needs to be aggressive with the time lines, and should aim to cut the length of this initiative down by at least 1 year. If this requires more resources for economic development, then those needs should be funded.

All ED activities should be consolidated within the DOS ED office. The other organizations that have supported ED activities (the Chamber, tourism Squamish, volunteer committee's, etc.) should return to their core competencies, but remain engaged to the process as stakeholders.

We should also aim to have at least one focused business incubator operating, and should operate as a joint venture between government and industry. An educational partner should also be pursued to foster innovation within the incubator, and to help bridge the gap between innovation and product commercialization.

3) Do you think that the environment is important? If so, what would you do to protect and integrate the environment and biodiversity into the economic and social framework of Squamish?  

Absolutely! I have always been a believer in the idea that environmentalism needs to be driven by economics. To achieve this, the case needs to be made that being more sustainable in our practices is not just better for the environment, but better for our pocket books as well. It`s a big jump to make, and to lead the way, the DOS must put into practice the same philosophy, and that all new DOS buildings should be LEED certified.

The District should use the development of the oceanfront as an opportunity to design and incorporate higher environmental standards to our building regulations and permitting process. The city of Boulder CO has developed a green points program that give flexibility to builders and developers as to which sustainable technologies are applied to new construction, and provides a great example of how flexible regulations can be put in place to support the over all goal of a more sustainable community. 

Sustainable practices can also be encouraged in new development by having development cost charges that take into account the actual impact on municipal services, with the status quo being at full rate, and reductions as the impact to municipal services is lessened.

4) Do you intend to keep a balanced budget, without compensation increases for staff and Council members, and with reduced property taxes for all (given the recently declared DoS surplus)?

Balanced budgets are required by law and borrowing for municipalities is quite limited. Compensation should reflect the value and of what is contributed to the community, and increases for staff should reflect those same principals, as well as being indexed to inflation. Any surplus should be applied to outstanding DOS debt.

As for property taxes, I believe the District should hold taxes where they are for residential, and should see targeted reductions to commercial and industrial rates as a function of our economic development strategies. The district is facing some large expenditures in the years ahead in terms of municipal infrastructure replacement, and we need to start saving today to reduce the amount of borrowing and related debt servicing in the future. To do nothing now will just waste taxpayer money later, and while it may not be this councils watch, we have an obligation as leaders to ensure we don`t just pass the buck.

5) What new mechanisms would you put in place to ensure affordable, decent and appropriate housing for seniors and the most vulnerable residents of Squamish?

I believe all new development should offer a range of choices and densities so neighborhoods become mixed economically and socially. Small lot single family, townhouse and apartment should be intermixed, and when needed, non market rental should be encouraged through reductions in development cost charges, or in the case of strata corporations, as a share of a residential tax credit.

We should also allow for a controlled densification of our existing neighborhoods to encourage rental units, carriage houses, small lot subdivision, and cohousing development as a means to accommodate all life situations.

6) What would you do to improve the overall safety of residents in case of floods, earthquakes, slides, etc.? Do you think Squamish is adequately prepared to deal with such emergencies right now?

We need to ensure that essential district facilities, such as fire halls,  are able to survive and be effective should there be a disaster in Squamish. Our municipal flood protection system must remain properly maintained, and where necessary, improved.

As for personal safety and protection of community amenities, I believe all urban parks should have hardened low voltage lights installed to both increase security and make these inviting and usable community spaces in the evenings.

7) How would you make the District more accountable and transparent in every respect of its operations and finances to its residents, as well as provide better, more professional and courteous service?

The newly proposed Municipal Auditor General is a concept I support, and I believe that this function should be embraced, and the DOS should regularly conduct external audits to ensure that all district assets are properly accounted for.

Superior customer service provided through all DOS Operations begins with the example set by council and senior staff, and superior service needs to become the culture within our organization. Our community programming needs to respond to the changing needs of our community, with options for the families with and without commuting in their daily schedules. We need to be innovative in the way we plan and execute our business, and every person in this organization needs to be empowered to create change, drive efficiency and be accountable to the Squamish taxpayer and our visitors.

8) What do you think would make downtown Squamish more inviting, engaging, interesting, prettier or funkier, with better service and outreach to residents and visitors?

I believe downtown needs to be our urban center, with all the trappings; shopping, entertainment, art, dining and nightlife. It needs to scream Live! Work! Play!
We need to ensure that no space is left behind, empty lots should be beautified with sculpture or markets, empty store fronts should become displays for local artisans, and our downtown parks should be the gathering place for Squamish to celebrate, reflect and remember.