The City of Port Alberni has won a planning award for its Uptown District Revitalization Strategy.
The Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC) announced the winners of this year’s Awards for Excellence in Planning during a planning conference from July 5-8. This was the first in-person conference and awards presentation held since 2019, as the past two ceremonies were virtual and held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More so than ever, we are seeing and experiencing first-hand how inclusive, thoughtful, and innovative planning can significantly help communities, and the people who live and work in them, thrive,” said Emilie Adin, chair of the awards committee, in a press release. “This year, it is our pleasure to recognize, in-person, the exceptional work and achievements of registered professional planners, their teams and project partners.”
Port Alberni received a Gold Award for Excellence in Planning Practice (Small Town & Rural Areas) for its Uptown Revitalization Strategy. Vancouver Island University (VIU) and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (based out of VIU) were also included in the award for their work on the strategy.
Scott Smith, Port Alberni’s director of development services, said the city has worked with VIU a number of times on different projects.
“To my knowledge, this is the largest study we’ve done with them,” said Smith. “It’s great experience for their students, and it brings new energy and experience for local governments as well.”
The Uptown District Revitalization Strategy began in 2020, thanks to a grant from the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and the provincial government. The project was started by former manager of planning Katelyn McDougall, until her departure from the city in March 2021. After this, development planner Brian McLoughlin took on primary lead of the project.
It hit a number of snags along the way, including the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions.
“The city and VIU adjusted for that new reality, but we pivoted well,” explained Smith. “Some portions went to online Zoom engagement, instead of in-person. For the time, we did a really excellent job of pivoting and still engaging with the public to try and come up with these strategies.”
The completed report, which is available on the city’s website, identifies a number of strategies and targets for Port Alberni’s Uptown, under the themes of crime prevention, poverty reduction and economic development.
The report says that the goal of the Uptown District is to be a vibrant waterfront neighbourhood, but acknowledges that it is not always perceived as safe by residents and visitors.
Smith said the city was already starting to move towards some of the strategies identified in the report. An example of this is the city’s Community Safety Building, which is currently under construction on Third Avenue. The building will house the city’s bylaw services department and community policing volunteers, with a goal of making the area safer and more welcoming.
Smith says the report is also one of the background documents helping to inform the city’s updated Official Community Plan, which is currently underway.
But it’s not necessarily limited to the OCP, he added. The document will likely inform a number of future city policies as the city continues to grow and adapt over the coming years.