Community Input in the Sustainability Planning Process

The following is a summary of the key topics of discussion at the focus group tables in the Castlegar Integrated Sustainability Planning Session last month. This is a long post, but I do summarize my thoughts on the process at the end.

Transportation and Connectivity – ensuring a strong pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular connection, particularly along Columbia Avenue between the downtown and the highway commercial area. Groups noted a desire for frequent shuttle service (i.e. a trolley, bus or train), and a safe bicycle route. Also, several groups mentioned that a bridge between Selkirk College and the downtown would further improve connectivity.

Embracing the River – capitalizing on the recreation and tourist opportunities presented by the Columbia River. The Millennium Walkway and Twin Rivers Park were identified as a focal point for the river that the community can build upon.

Local Sustainability – particularly ensuring Castlegar is self-sufficient so that residents can live, work and buy locally. This includes a wide range of local employment opportunities, locally grown and sold food and other products.

Retaining and Attracting People – providing jobs, services, facilities, and housing that encourage a wide range of people, including families and young adults, to build a life in Castlegar.

The Importance of Selkirk College – students, professors, and college programs bring a lot of value to the community. This relationship could be strengthened by developing a physical and social link between to the College and the rest of the City, engaging students and professors in community life, and ensuring local employment opportunities for graduating students.

Regional Partnerships – working with adjacent communities towards common sustainability goals, and providing complementary services and facilities.

Diversifying the Economy – encouraging a range of employment sectors to form a broad base for the long-term economic sustainability of Castlegar, while also ensuring adaptability in changing circumstances.

This is a pretty good reflection of the general discussion that developed through the afternoon. More detailed notes of the focus groups and community input sessions can be downloaded in this zip file of pdfs – focus group meeting 1 – notes.Looking through the individual group notes, you can see the influence of individuals and their passions, that is why these people were selected to be part of the focus groups, but it is an interesting observation anyway. From the community input session, the focus is a lot less on the uniquely social or environmental needs, but seem to be more general regarding the livability of the City as a whole. I am seriously impressed by the level of discussion and knowledge from the residents that came out to participate and be engaged in this process.

These are some of the points written down during the community input session in response to the question:

What are we not doing well – what concerns you – in Castlegar?

Group 1:

  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of public engagement
  • Public not leaving the comfort zone
  • Provision of healthy food to community
  • AD HOC zoning / Land use (eg. Airport)
  • Age community disconnect
  • More dialogue & engagement with youth
  • Lack of active lobby for marginalized citizens
  • Lack of value & support our more vulnerable
  • Status of derelict buildings
  • Lack of local food
  • Support of local abattoir’s

Group 2:

  • Acknowledging limitations of topography / linear community
  • Transportation
  • Exclusion of East side of Columbia River from Community
  • Lack of access to corporate(?) area
  • Poor run-off management
  • Air quality
  • Airport access / flying in/out
  • Economy diversification
  • Attracting new residents
  • Blue box / boxes(?) recycling separation

Group 3:

  • Empty downtown core – moving to new buildings and not using existing buildings
  • Entrance to Castlegar does not exist. Do not entice people to access ‘backdoor’
  • entrances and highway overpasses. Fragmented community.
  • Community pride needed to help drive change
  • ‘Transportation Corridor’ as opposed to centre
  • Using North American model of unbridled expansion
  • Big box stores driving community expansion
  • Transportation services not conclusive to wide accepted use – inconvenient schedules
  • Economic sustainability – large industry is focus of jobs and single industry issue can
  • have a large impact
  • Attracting younger population to keep taxes & services available for aging population
  • Talking to one another is another issue – people are not engaging each other – building
  • sense of community
  • Do not celebrate river / water quality
  • No regional feel – separation of communities – Trail/Castlegar/Nelson

Group 4:

  • Engaging a wider range of citizens – seniors, students, families
  • Proactively seeing feedback – going to be who are less mobile
  • Transportation needs improvement!!!
  • Limiting urban sprawl
  • Protecting agricultural land
  • Community gathering places
  • City lacks a core
  • Downtown is in decay
  • Creating neighbourhoods that have amenities on a smaller level
  • Connecting the community and college
  • Walkability
  • Accessibility for aging population
  • More green spaces that attract families & young people – sheltered space for outdoor
  • performance venues & outdoor sports facilities – a place for people to gather
  • Promoting ourselves to tourism
  • Not enough sidewalks
  • Connecting upper & lower city – disconnected

This list of suggestions should act as a pretty clear filter to council in the lead up to the creation of new policies and a revised Official Community Plan. I didn’t participate in these groups, so I can honestly say that my influence on the comments is negligible!


I’m hoping that council and the consultant, Urban Systems will see that the concerns of the residents do not revolve around traditional town planning issues of where to put new people and how to get the cars moving around, but seem more focused on community, revitalization, localization and simple transportation. People were not decrying the lack of strip malls, big box stores, parking lagoons, car yards, casinos or fast-food restaurants in Castlegar. I don’t want to see development scenarios as the next step for this process – as has been suggested by the consultant, instead let’s draw out some of the details and feasibility of the ideas and solutions presented during this valuable community input session – and work toward a localized resilient future.

Council should realize that the value from the consultants facilitating the afternoon and evening sessions is excellent, but the value of the community’s time and energy should not be underestimated. The City had two hours of quality time with about 20 members of the focus groups and about the same with the community as well – lets call it 160 manhours of input from some of the smartest people in the community, who spent the afternoon visioning and pondering the future of the City because they care about the people and the future of Castlegar and the Region.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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