Vision for downtown Sidney challenged

Innovation needs a champion outside of local politics, says U.S. developer

Sidney will need a champion — someone outside of local politics — to foster real innovation in its downtown core and help lead the community into a new era of prosperity.

So said Mark Edlen, CEO of Gerding Edlen a Portland-Oregon-based development firm in a presentation at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre April 16. The talk was attended by local politicians, business owners and community members, eager to hear about Edlen’s success in socially-responsible and innovative real estate investment.

While the talk did not give specific advice on how Sidney can change or grow, Edlen did outline what it takes to develop green buildings and help create vibrant communities, built around such structures. He spoke about what his firm calls 20-minute living, or having communities where residents live within 20 minutes of where they work and play. That involves incorporating housing, transit and employment options in relatively close proximity.

It’s an issue being played out on the Saanich Peninsula, as local industrial employers have been lobbying policy-makers for attainable workforce housing in the region.

Edlen’s presentation showed some of the real estate project his company has been involved in, including green buildings that use less energy, recycle waste and contribute to community sustainability. While most of those examples were on a large scale and centred in major U.S. cities, some of the concepts can be applied to smaller places, like Sidney.

Mayor Larry Cross, who attended the presentation, says the current council is trying to welcome innovative developments.

“There are some sites in Sidney that are ideal for that,” he said. “Our goal here is to densify the downtown, attract younger employees to live here, enhance the local economy and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Cross said the council itself is open to innovation in new construction, especially if it benefits local residents. A barrier to that, as Edlen noted, was how traditionally easy it is for tried and true projects to win approval, while innovations such as green roofs, bio-solid recycling, in-house power generation and more can face long delays.

An audience member challenged people’s notion of their community, stating she found Sidney devoid of visionary development and lacking in investment in what she terms as “a kind of cardboard business area”. She wondered how places like Sidney could take advantage of Edlen’s ideas.

“You need to find somebody who is here, a leader who has a sense of responsibility,” Edlen said. “Find them, support then and encourage them.”

A champion of innovation, he continued, will help draw in others who want to design and build projects that will give people reasons to cross the street.

“Young people are looking to come to a community that is authentic, “Edlen said. “I think people are looking for a wider, better experience where they live.”

Cross said Sidney does have good bones, a lot of character on which to build and the potential on which the community can grow.