BY TYLER BROWN
OK, Nanaimo. Where do we go from here?
We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has exposed how fragile our globalized world is. A virus measured in nanometres has brought the world we knew, the status quo, to a halt. As some of the acute pressure eases, the calls for a return to the old normal are becoming louder. But what was that normal really?
Even before the novel coronavirus hit, more than 400 people were experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo. Home ownership was out of reach for many. We were in a public health emergency due to the opioid crisis.
Since 2013, there was an observed increase in local crime and, as a consequence, people felt unsafe in their neighbourhoods. Hundreds of seniors were on social housing wait lists. There were far too many kindergarten students considered vulnerable and over 12 per cent of Nanaimo residents were in the bottom 10 per cent of Canada’s income distribution.
Our economy was overly reliant on service industries. Local food and nutrition insecurity was a known issue even if it was not easily quantified. And, on a global scale, we were causing staggering biodiversity loss and climate change.
It’s time to move forward, not return to normal.
What does forward look like? That is not a question one person can answer but it starts with being honest about the problems we are facing.
I’ve dedicated my professional life to making our cities more lively and equitable places. I’ve come to realize that the cities we build are a reflection of our collective values. All over North America we have built cities and economies where social isolation is the norm, not the exception. We have divided people up economically and disconnected them socially. Our business decisions and our consumer behaviors have focused on individual cost and consumption, rather than collective value and fulfillment.
Yet, in the midst of this pandemic I’ve glimpsed what moving forward may look like. I’ve seen it in friendly interactions walking on the street and the hundreds of people that signed up to Beacon Buddies mutual aid network to assist people they have never met. I’ve observed greater efforts to support local business and I’ve received the calls demanding we build our city and streets differently.
I was proud when I read about a local service group providing significant funds to a charity that is expanding locally grown food capacity. And I was proud again reading about garden soil being provided at no cost to assist people with growing their own food. These local efforts rebuild community and should be celebrated, cultivated and expanded.
The way forward is together. That is the real insight revealed by the pandemic.
While individuals cannot answer what moving forward looks like, communities can. As Jane Jacobs put it, “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Moving forward starts at the community level. The ideas and small interactions that happen in neighbourhoods ripple outwards.
People know their own community the best and that is why I believe every single person in this city can contribute to our shared future. Let’s build a strong network of neighbourhood associations, community groups and business associations to build the city we want and deserve: a city that reaches beyond normal for something bolder and greater.
Only together, can we build a Nanaimo that is strong and resilient. A place where everyone has a home and feels safe in their neighbourhood. We can build a city where people of all ages and cultures care for one another, provide for one another and interact in a built form that promotes connectivity.
Another world is possible, and together, we can build it.
Tyler Brown is a City of Nanaimo councillor and a member of the mayor’s task force on recovery and resilience.