The Kamloops Food Policy Council has launched a series on food and the city to explore a number of deeper civic discussions leading up to our municipal election. As the late urban planner and Canadian food advocate Wayne Roberts wrote, “food is a lever.” Food is how we connect to the land, our communities, and our traditions. And because food is so impactful in all our lives, it is a useful lever through which we can create transformative changes in other areas. Strong local food systems can help us get to more affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, stronger local economies, spaces for safety and belonging, and more.
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Public Spaces in Kamloops: Reinvesting in the Commons for an Abundant Life for All
*Portions of this post were published in the Kamloops This Week Connector Article. The condensed version of this article can be found here.
Are You Feeling the Pinch?
When I go to the grocery store these days, I’ve noticed that I’m paying close attention to the prices and being a lot more selective. The cost of groceries has always been a struggle for low income families but increasingly, even middle income households need to be careful with their food budgets.
According to the latest Consumer Price Index, “The cost of food climbed 9.1% from July of 2021.The prices for groceries purchased from stores (+10.1%) and meals purchased from restaurants (+6.5%) both increased when compared to the previous year. Within the food category, there was a year-over-year increase in price for all items.The largest increases in price were for fresh vegetables (+12.8%), bakery & other cereal products (+12.3%), and coffee & tea (+12.0%)” (BC Stats, July 2022).
It’s not just food prices that are skyrocketing – gas and transportation costs are up, housing affordability is in a major crisis, and other household needs like recreation, education, and health and personal care costs are up too.
We’re struggling to make ends meet, and when so many of us are having the same experience, it makes sense to look to the community we live in to see if we can discover shared solutions.
Investing in the Commons
Public amenities, public goods, or the commons are different ways to refer to the public facilities, green spaces, and services that are available to everyone in our community free of barriers or costs.
Investments in these shared resources can be a huge help to costs at the level of individual households. Imagine what your household budget would look like if you could:
- Access free, convenient, reliable public transit instead of paying for the annual costs of owning a car.
- Access free, reliable wifi services in all common public spaces instead of increasing your data plan again.
- Access fresh, healthy food from fruit and nut trees and berry bushes in public parks to help stretch your grocery budget further.
- Visit welcoming parks, plazas, free music and cultural events, and lively neighbourhood gatherings instead of paying for yet another monthly streaming service.
- Use walking, hiking and biking trails, public pools and splash pads, and accessible playgrounds to reduce personal health costs.
Imagine what those benefits would do not only for your household, but for students struggling to juggle a full course load and two part time jobs, or new immigrants getting settled in new jobs while getting acquainted with a new culture, or a single mom working to get her family back on its feet after leaving a violent domestic relationship. Our whole community is made stronger by access to shared resources.
The Butler Urban Farm is an incredible example of a food commons. Located at the corner of Wilson and Clapperton, the BUF is a vibrant, productive farm that produces thousands of pounds of healthy produce each year, using permaculture and regenerative agriculture principles to build healthy soil. The farm is managed by the Kamloops Food Policy Council as a food commons, meaning that no one who shows up looking for free produce is turned away empty-handed. There are no fences and nothing to prevent people from helping themselves, and for the most part, people only take what they need and leave the rest to share.
One of the concerns people have with investment in public resources is that these investments cost money, and municipal budgets are already stretched thin. However, investment in the commons pays off for a few different reasons:
- Municipalities are already spending money on common resources. For example, building, maintaining and clearing snow from our roads is a large expense towards a common resource. If we invested in a public transit system that was truly efficient, convenient and accessible, we could repurpose our investment in our expensive car-centric, road-centric system – and save money in the long run (research shows that subsidizing public transit is cheaper than the total social cost and externalities of using cars).
- Research has shown that investments in public amenities and quality of life improvements are the most effective way to grow healthy local economies – investing our municipal budget in these initiatives will help us attract more local businesses and new residents, increasing our municipal tax base.
- When families are stretched thin on their monthly budgets, they are less likely to spend money at local businesses and circulate dollars in the local economy. A robust network of small local businesses makes a more resilient community!
The commons and public spaces aren’t just about costs though: they’re also a huge contributor to our feelings of connectedness and belonging. These are things that can help families struggling to make ends meet while at the same time, help us feel like life in Kamloops is abundant and thriving.
Community Growing Pains & Disconnectedness
Kamloops is growing at a significant rate. With a population growth rate around 8.4 percent over the past five years – well above both the B.C. and National averages – Kamloops is rapidly attracting new residents. Yet, businesses are struggling to remain viable along our commercial corridors, and there is a persistent discussion of safety in the most central parts of our city. Our city is in a precarious situation–one where growing pains could see the city fragmented by a relentless drive for development if we lack a vision for a future that includes us all.
When I first moved to Kamloops I was struck by a common observation among many people who move here – everyone is so friendly here! Lately I feel that Kamloops is losing a bit of that magic. The City deciding to mute Facebook comments on their page tells you something about the state of civic discourse right now; many of us have become defensive and combative towards anyone and anything we don’t understand. If the comments on social media are any indication of how we might discuss the very real, complex issues we need to face together – where is our future heading?.
Thriving Public Spaces
This is where our public spaces come into play. Anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy a warm evening in Riverside Park, sprawled out near the bandshell to enjoy some free live music with your fellow city dwellers, has experienced the value of great public spaces. Anyone who has spent a Saturday morning perusing our farmer’s market, or a leisurely ride around Mac Island when it seems like every person on the North Shore has come out for a stroll, or a ride, or to pause for a moment and catch a bit of a baseball game, has felt the joyous sense of enjoying our city together.
Our public spaces don’t mean anything on their own. A plaza is granted its significance and power by people gathering in it, a park is granted its beauty and serenity by people enjoying it, just as a city street gains its excitement and ambiance when people use it. Public spaces flatten the divides we put up between ourselves. They belong to us all, and they call each of us to a higher common responsibility to make our city a great, vibrant, and accepting place to be.
Thriving public spaces have also been proven to benefit business, improve quality of life, and increase safety in cities.
We’ve already seen what can happen when we think about public spaces creatively here in Kamloops. KCBIA Executive Director Howie Reimer remarked to the City Council that the activation of public spaces through events such as Hoops in the Loops and the Santa Claus parade were a boost to local businesses, helping with many issues local owners had been struggling with. The patios that began popping up on Victoria Street during the past few years are now bustling, the best seats in the house for most restaurants and cafes. The Chamber of Commerce reclaimed a single parking space in front of their offices for a parklet, and now the space is used every day by folks taking the time to stop and enjoy a serene place to sit in the middle of downtown. We’ve seen what great public space can look and feel like, and we’ve seen what it can do.
Later this summer, the Kamloops Food Policy Council will open a public parklet in front of our new local food hub, The Stir, on the North Shore, right off the Tranquille corridor. This space will be for anyone and everyone– featuring a community pantry, seating, planters filled with native species, and wheelchair accessible garden beds. We believe everyone deserves great public space, and we want to show our commitment to making that a reality for our community. Our hope is to join other leaders in our community in advocating for more public space, and in doing so encourage a city that is better for business, more compassionate and diverse, and safer for everyone who lives here. We know when we invest in public spaces, we give the opportunity for community members to use those spaces to help others, and hold space for culture to shine through.
KFPC Policy Recommendations for Reinvesting in the Commons
So our challenge as a city is this– let’s support initiatives to make our public spaces better, let’s support new, bold ideas that might seem outlandish at first. Let’s practice compassion and understanding, and use our public spaces to advocate for better lives for every single person in Kamloops. We can continue to be a friendly place for those new to our community. Kamloops is growing, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose sight of what it means to be a great community– and if we lead with great public spaces, we won’t.
Here is our list of proposed recommendations to support more public spaces and reinvigorate the commons in Kamloops:
- Invest in public transit by eliminating fares and increasing the coverage and frequency of service.
- Invest in transit infrastructure to make bus shelters more usable, friendly, and convenient
- Provide reliable public wifi in more public spaces, especially in areas where it will be accessed by community members who are struggling to afford private internet costs.
- Create more public spaces, including public plazas, parklets, parks and natural amenities and passive recreation opportunities.
- Require or incentivize developers to include accessible public spaces and community amenities in new developments.
- Support the Performing Arts Centre
- Invest in free, no barrier public events
- Continue to support Music in the Park
- Provide support and incentives for neighbourhood associations and community organizations to host public movie nights, block parties and community gatherings.
- Increase the availability of food commons in the community.
- Prioritize fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and other perennial, edible landscaping in City parks and boulevards.
- Provide support through service agreements for non-profit organizations operating community farms, gardens and pantries.
- Expand the network of community garden spaces to provide residents with the opportunity to grow their own food as our city grows and densifies with greater numbers of apartments and condos
- Continue to invest in active transportation paths that encourage us all to get outside, enjoy the landscape, and engage with our neighbours
- This includes bike lanes, walking trails, and multi-use paths
For the full list of Food & the City topics and recommendations, check out our webpage.