planning builds trust and trust is what the city needs

Whitehorse residents should get out more. We suggest Vancouver. They should walk around the city for a few hours, look around and drink the place…

Whitehorse residents should get out more.

We suggest Vancouver.

They should walk around the city for a few hours, look around and drink the place in.

Try to end the tour at Lost Lagoon, a popular freshwater lake at the gateway to Stanley Park. Yeah, the one with the big fountain in the middle of it.

A couple of weeks ago, ducklings paddled around in its murky water. Swans glided around, as did Canada Geese.

It was peaceful and pleasant, a nice place to think.

Old ladies and men, people in wheelchairs, joggers, bikers — a healthy cross-section of society use the paths that circle the place.

It’s a manmade construct, and it represents the destruction of an ecosystem.

The lagoon was the site of an important native shellfish industry.

A local aboriginal poet dubbed it Lost Lagoon, a reference to the fact the beloved and beautiful lagoon vanished when tides were exceptionally low, or so local lore tells us.

About 100 years ago the city built a parkway across the seaward side, which cut the lagoon off from the ocean.

And destroyed it.

It became a freshwater lake and its shellfish vanished.

So the city plunked a fountain in the middle of it. And, very rarely, it gets cold enough for people to skate on it.

All right, but what does this have to do with Whitehorse?

Well, the creation of Lost Lagoon represented development. A shellfish fishery was lost, but a popular park was eventually established.

Was it a good trade? There are probably strong arguments on both sides.

But a decision was made. The city changed, and progressed — and some good came of it.

Vancouver has made some terrible planning decisions. It paved over the wealth of salmon-bearing streams that cut through the city.

But it also set aside wide tracks of greenspace, commissioned a lot of innovative city-sponsored artwork and preserved public access to its waterfront.

And, all things considered, it is still ahead on the planning bell curve. The city works.

And that’s a goal Whitehorse residents must focus on.

Our city is stifled.

Nobody can suggest a park bench without someone arguing for the preservation of a nearby ant colony.

Takhini residents’ recent objection to a three-storey housing development is a case in point.

They were fighting the developer over 2.5 metres — forcing him to elaborately map out the shadows cast by his relatively small project.

Their concerns are ridiculous and small-minded.

City council was right to approve the project. And life will go on — housing values will rise and a few more people will have a roof over their heads.

But resident opposition has its roots in the city’s poor planning record.

Historically, city staff and politicians have done a poor job of planning the community.

Its small population, frontier attitude and wealth of surrounding wilderness allowed things to get sloppy.

Today, things are different.

Population pressure is mounting in the city, and development must proceed.

But, to smooth the process, it’s clear the city must bolster its planning department.

It has to guarantee fair and transparent access to land within city boundaries.

It has to guarantee protection of abundant boreal forest within the city, expand its trail system (this has already begun and the results are impressive) and design and maintain imaginative parks — something better than a patch of grass cut by an asphalt walkway and adorned with a play structure.

It has to enact stronger building bylaws, to ensure new construction is more appealing.

And it has to enforce existing bylaws so rogue businesses and developers can’t sully existing neighbourhoods.

And, in exchange, residents must allow more development in the city — because constant expansion into the forests skirting Whitehorse should not be the preferred option — it’s expensive and it erodes the city’s wilderness appeal.

Vancouver is packed with stuff — you can even see light industrial areas near thriving residential subdivisions and businesses.

But they are usually clean and well maintained — because the city demands it.

It can work.

But it depends on city officials passing bylaws to set standards, and then enforcing them.

That builds trust.

With it, the city can expand.

And expand it must. (RM)