by Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on Thursday May 25 2023
The city needs to preserve, enhance and experiment with its public spaces in order to create the social infrastructure Nelson deserves, according to a recently released report one year in the making.
Called Public Spaces, the Nelson at its Best-authored report drew on three phases — a video presentation launch event, 10 park bench conversations and an online survey with 571 respondents — to compile the information contained in the report, presented to city council in chambers at its May 23 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
“The community conversations and survey revealed that while Nelson's open spaces are heavily used and appreciated, there is potential for significant improvement in the streets, sidewalks, and other connecting areas,” the report’s executive summary began.
The project — in collaboration with the Nelson Public Library and with the participation of the Civic Theatre — was aimed at gathering feedback from the community on public spaces in Nelson.
“Public spaces are crucial for healthy communities as they serve the public good, promote social cohesion, and are accessible to all citizens,” said Chandler.
The feedback was categorized into three themes: connectivity; accessibility; and pedestrian- centered downtown.
“In addition to maintaining and improving our existing public spaces, people expressed interest in a more experimental approach to enhancing and advancing public space,” said Chandler. “To enhance public space we encourage city council, city staff and business owners to adopt a more experimental approach with smaller, cheaper, quicker projects and initiatives that can be piloted and evaluated for their impacts.”
He suggested that a pedestrian-centred downtown was one of the central themes in all discussions, and one that will need to be revisited. Chandler hoped the information would be used for the renewal of Nelson’s Official Community Plan and Nelson Next’s climate action plan
Coun. Rik Logtenberg said he would like to see a pilot staged in some selected neighbourhoods of Nelson on some of the ideas.
“In part, I think, what we need to move to — in terms of getting this experiment with our public spaces and finding the best and highest use of these public spaces — is also recognizing the connectivity of everything,” he said.
“So, if we are building an effective and pedestrian-friendly-first community, we recognize that the connections have to be there, you can’t have only part of a connection to understand if it is really going to work, or not, overall, since it is an integrated system.
“I think it is going to take some open-mindedness, some open communication, certainly a regular and consistent partnership with Nelson at its Best and other public groups.”
What is public space
By definition, public spaces are open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of income and personal circumstances.
They are owned by the public, serve the public good, and promote social cohesion. They can be a pivotal platform for building a sense of community. Well maintained public spaces are key social infrastructures for a healthy community.
Simply put, public space is a non-private area created and maintained for all citizens. It can be helpful to see public space through three broad lenses:
• Open spaces including the parks, trails, beaches, playgrounds and sports fields, as well as the natural spaces (where we can also appreciate the other forms of life who share nature with us);
• Streets and sidewalks, including alleys and boulevards (how we move through the city); and
• Civic buildings and venues the public uses and where it gathers.
Source: Nelson at its Best
Some of the findings and comments:
• connect Rosemont, Uphill, downtown, lakefront and Fairview, with clear signage indicating walking and cycling paths;
• walkways and cycling paths connecting Railtown to John's Walk;
• amenity areas for rest or meeting others;
• little neighbourhood cafes/pubs/wine bars dotted throughout Uphill, Rosemont and Fairview;
• the idea of connected outdoor spaces, safe walking and biking paths between;
• a public shuttle into downtown with less cars there;
• people could walk as much of the hill as they wanted/could, but could still get downtown or to the waterfront comfortably;
• sidewalks, steps and staircases in winter need to be kept cleared and sanded; and
• a no fee hop-on hop-off bus …would promote more walking versus driving which would contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
Source: Nelson at its Best
Why it began
Nelson at its Best felt that the lack of discussion around public space was a community gap, and that it would be healthy for citizens from a variety of backgrounds to weigh in, perhaps setting the stage for broader and ongoing public discussion and consultation.
As the city plans an update to the Nelson Official Community Plan (OCP), it is a good time to acknowledge, address and improve shortcomings, said Nelson at its Best member Sean Ryan.
“The role of Nelson at is Best in this project has been primarily to initiate and facilitate the conversation, gather feedback, and report on that feedback,” he said in his report to city council.
From the community conversations it found that Nelsonites strongly appreciated and heavily used the city’s open spaces and they have lots of constructive ideas on how to make them even better.
“We also learned that the greatest capacity to really improve our public space may lie in the streets, sidewalks, intersections, alleys and boulevards that connect us,” he said.
Those thoughts came out in the online survey responses, said Nelson at its Best member Annie Holtby.
“It is clear that people value Lakeside Park, access to the waterfront, and Nelson’s downtown core,” she said in the report. “What makes Nelsons special is it has the feel that is built around nature, and not competing with it but accentuating it.”
Source: Nelson at its Best
There will be a community re-engagement at the Nelson Public Library on May 29 (7 p.m.).