LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “People who live, work and play on the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw people are committed to this community, this place and each other,” stated the City of Nanaimo’s Bill Sims, General Manager of Engineering & Public Works

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series vision. The edition published on November 1, 2022 is the story behind the story of how fixing a traffic problem at a major intersection morphed into a signature environmental and economic development project. This happened because the City of Nanaimo has a culture of commitment to community, risk-taking and innovation.

The leveraging effect of respect and good governance on willingness to take risks within local government

“There is another piece to the story of the Midtown Gateway project,” says Bill Sims. “I am a big subscriber of start with the end in mind. But when we started with this project, we did not have this end in mind. Long story short, doing what is right opened up a number of opportunities.”

PART ONE: Midtown Gateway Project exemplifies risk-taking in practice

“The project started as a how do we fix the traffic problems that we have at Bowen and Northfield. The traditional engineering solution is build more lanes. But the intersection is constrained for a variety of reasons.”

“Over time, the concept evolved to extend a connector road parallel to Bowen, bypass the problem intersection and create a new one further to the north. But the alignment went right through a former wetland that had been filled with coal mining waste, construction debris, and all kinds of nasty stuff.”

“The question was, how do we improve this property so that the city can use it for traffic as well as create some good in the world?”

Why we are doing this project

“The corporation has this underlying culture of commitment to its community and innovation. When we have good governance at the Council level, that seems to allow staff a sense of freedom to live up to their responsibility, with creativity. In other words, take risks, although not in a financial sense; rather, risk-taking in thinking creatively,” Bill Sims emphasizes.

“And so, what is the right thing to do? In this case, it was recognizing that the legacy industrial wasteland was not going to be redeveloped any time soon. The land value would not justify private investment. And we had our own challenges with traffic. Let’s think outside the box, we said.”

“It was an expensive piece of property to purchase and remediate. But it still is the right thing to do. Nobody else was going to go to this level of remediation and create a wetland. And nobody else was going to put this into the overall mobility context.”

“Public investment in this area unlocked so much good – between improved transportation for all modes, restitution of a brownfield, immediate private investment in surrounding lands along with future potential.”

“This is a case of a number of staff coming together and saying how do we do this, and how do we do it right?”

PART TWO: City Council empowered commitment to the community, enabling staff creativity and innovation to emerge 

“The City of Nanaimo has a culture of commitment to community and innovation. But you really see the effect of good governance on the willingness to take risks,” reflected Bill Sims.

“In situations of poor governance, the momentum of the organization grinds to a halt. It is discouraging. However, the people who stay retain their sense of commitment. My experience is that the organizational culture transcends the people who are here. It is powerful.”

A sense of purpose is powerful motivation: 

“There is something within the culture of the City of Nanaimo that says I care about the people I work with; I care about my community; I care about doing the right thing. It is a sense of higher purpose that most of the staff seem to carry with them. During times of good governance, creativity re-emerges, and the momentum of the organization accelerates.”

“When Council is very careful to be respectful of staff, and always to be respectful in their own debates, it is startling how positive the effect is on the organization. Two things are in play. One is the corporate culture that seems to transcend the people who work for the city at any given time. And the other is the leveraging effect of governance on that culture,” concludes Bill Sims.


To read the complete story published on November 1st, 2022, download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: A sense of purpose is powerful motivation.