The Vancouver City Council’s six-year Strategic Plan is sprawling and ambitious. In other words, it is exactly what is needed to guide the city in the coming years.
To be sure, it is not perfect; grand ideas rarely are. But in adopting a road map for the city, councilors have laid out the architecture for a region that is poised for growth and the development of the community’s individuality. As The Huffington Post wrote about the factors that make for a great city: “Quality city building is primarily about quality team building, as well as staying conscious of the people you intend to serve.”
That consciousness has city leaders focusing on creating a connectedness that is at once essential yet nebulous. Most important, City Manager Eric Holmes said, is the recognition that any short-term plan will have a long-term impact and that “Vancouver is in the forever business.”
Among the goals is to promote and develop a transportation system that will meet the needs of future generations. While public transportation is important for a thriving city, Vancouver leaders would be wise to place more attention on the city’s crumbling roads and less attention on securing light rail for the area. With Vancouver having significantly less population density than other metro-area cities such as Portland, Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Gresham in Oregon, now is not the time to kick off the political football that is light rail in Clark County.
That being said, the Strategic Plan is filled with the kind of grandiose thinking that transforms an area from a small city into a thriving community. In addition to focusing upon the basics such as effective, reliable emergency services and high-quality parks and trails, the goals include the development of an arts and cultural community, as well as “20-minute neighborhoods” that provide easy access to amenities. As The Columbian has reported in the past, the benefits of a creative economy are well-documented: “National studies show jobs are created and economies stimulated by supporting the arts and a creative workforce.” And the creation of strong, inclusive local neighborhoods can enhance residents’ sense of belonging in a city, a factor that is essential to an area’s zeitgeist.
Of course, Vancouver has some natural advantages by accident of geography. As The Huffington Post story about great cities noted: “Do you actually want to get out in your city? . . . Are there spectacular views or architecture?” Vancouver’s answer to that is yes — at least regarding the views — and it provides one of the factors that gives the city vast potential. Given the inherent natural beauty of the Northwest, it is no accident that 13 cities in Washington or Oregon make Livability.com’s list of the nation’s 100 best small or midsize cities in which to live.
While such rankings can be subjective and open to debate, they also provide something to which Vancouver can aspire. Holmes highlighted three items from the Strategic Plan as being particularly important: Connect the city locally and regionally in terms of transportation, government, and neighborhoods; build and maintain exceptional parks, trails, and recreation opportunities; and enhance preparedness and resilience, in regards to both emergency services and infrastructure.
Such goals are important and at the same time difficult to achieve. Yet the most important aspect might be that city leaders have set out a clearly defined vision for the community and a well-considered blueprint for the future. That is the first step in turning ambition into reality.