Like any city centre, downtown Victoria is a place where people from different communities intersect; residential, visitor, business, service, cultural. Each community is diverse. Residents may be living in high-end condos or in short-term residence at Our Place. Visitors include tourists, local shoppers, and the transient homeless. Businesses range from big bank office to small, independent retailer. Services are a delivered by a mix of public, not-for-profit and private organizations. Culture includes the symphony and the sidewalk busker. And then there is the natural landscape, wildlife.
Recently, I met with Ken Kelly, General Manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA), for a conversation about connecting communities, at his office, downtown. He generously responded to my inquiries. I enjoyed our conversation.
Connecting communities, of all sorts
DVBA represents downtown businesses and property owners. In addition, Ken’s experience is that creating a welcoming, healthy, and vibrant downtown requires all communities, residential, business, service agencies, to work well together, and that’s the approach he takes.
Getting everyone on same page
There are 710 property owners, 1300 businesses, 24, 000 workers, 3100 residents, in downtown Victoria. How to get these diverse people, and communities that make up the downtown core, pulling together? Ken touches on some ways how, in this 3 minute video clip: (video not displaying? click here)
Including points mentioned in the video, here 11 ways to connect and develop downtown community, based on Ken’s observations and experiences:
- Vision; Imagine the future you want, generate, positive, forward-looking energy that leads you in that direction e.g., downtown as a showcase for the greater Victoria region, belief that its everybody’s downtown.
- Partnership; bring everyone to the table, e.g., businesses, police, service agencies, city officials and work together
- First things first; put all options on the table, then strategically decide, what’s best, what works (note: just like a mediator would/should do!)
- 3 P’s – persuasion, patience, (polite) persistence; allow time and space for ideas to be shared and take hold, silos broken down, common ground defined, build trust.
- Diverse and inclusive solutions; e.g., the DVBA Clean Team employs individuals on tough times, for a valued community service, in the downtown
- Respond appropriately to issues; e.g., if a small number of individuals are creating a disproportionate amount of damage (e.g., vandalism) in the downtown, a better long-term solution, for both individual and community, safety, stability might be found through community court vs. provincial court justice
- Keep things vital; keep growing by rolling out new initiatives being static is the kiss of death, last year, DVBA celebrated its 50th initiative, in partnership with the City
- Commitment; as an umbrella organization, DVBA needs to keep working with as many partners as we (currently) do, and achieve the targets set
- Ongoing dialogue/feedback; leads to timely action, healthy, longer-term relationships (= sustainability), and helps maintain the community balance
- Recognize that each community is not homogenous; DVBA provides material support to individual precincts, enabling businesses with common interests/needs to create joint solutions (I’ve written before about one such precinct, the Green Collective)
- Learn and build on success; if something worked, can it be replicated?
More about Ken
Ken grew up in Vancouver. He is an urban planner, in training and practice. He has worked from coast-to-coast, and been involved with numerous downtown renewal initiatives, while employed with Heritage Canada. In addition to working for all levels of government, he has taught at two universities, and worked in the private sector. Ken has been in his current role, with the DVBA, since its start-up, in 2005.
His ideas have been influenced by major projects in downtown city cores he’s been involved with; e.g., Winnipeg and Saint John, NB initiatives in which a collaborative, consensus-building approach led to successful outcomes. I’d be remiss to leave out that Ken feels his family has shaped, in many positive ways, his outlook on work and life.
What do you think?
The complexities and challenges of creating a healthy, vibrant downtown are common to almost all cities. What are your experiences and/or observations? What do you feel/think helps a diverse urban centre connect its communities, and move forward, together?