Formality can be so off-putting. The diction and dress, the protocol and pretension, the yawning tedium - formal affairs can be to the flow of ideas what dams are to the flow of water.
Jasmine Henczel would like to free up the babble in the brook that is Squamish's Oceanfront development process. Up to recently, the initiative has been somewhat dammed by lacklustre public engagement, a fact noted by Director of Planning Cameron Chalmers in a recent council meeting.
Also noted was the breakneck speed at which the renewed process is moving: A draft policy statement is due out before summer, and the time for public engagement is ticking to a close.
The Oceanfront represents a massive development for Squamish. The build-out, which could take decades, will result in a significant, permanent alteration to the character of the town, one that has implications to downtown vitality, general economic development, environmental sustainability and sound population management. Though launched a number of times over the years, the process is now supposed to be district-led, with council acting at the behest of residents.
Knowing this, Henczel is preparing her second public meeting. Like the first, Oceanfront 101, which drew a crowd to the Brew Pub in mid-January, the next meeting will go down independent from the formalities of the District of Squamish. This time, the agenda will focus on brainstorming, whether land uses, job opportunities, neighbourhood feel or sustainability.
"I don't want it to be rigid," she says, her eager, brown eyes framed by her glasses, which in turn are reflecting lights from the ceiling of the Adventure Centre. "I don't want it to be formal. To have a good brainstorming session, you don't want it to be rigid. You don't want it to be formal."
The previous meeting has been termed a success, both by Henczel and representatives from the district, including Chalmers. It produced a slew of ideas, little things like setting up binocular stations, to bigger propositions, like requiring residential buildings to include daycare spaces, thus fulfilling a community need while generating jobs.
A real estate agent by profession, Henzcel comes into regular contact with Squamish's newest arrivals, mostly young people who weren't around for the district's first efforts at planning the Oceanfront.
"It's shocking to me the amount of people who don't know what's going on with the Oceanfront," she says. "And people who did, didn't know the facts or the details. It's very important that people get out there."
The brainstorming session is planned for March or April. Land use will necessarily play a key role in ideation. Typically, the paradigm calls for residential, commercial and civic in equal parts. For her part, Henczel imagines a stylish boardwalk lush with restaurants and cafes. While some people have been calling for a Granville Island or Dockside Green, Henczel has a harder time drawing parallels with existing waterfronts.
"There are so many outdoor activities here that make us different," she says, rattling off features like the spit, the Chief and the town's infinite, volunteer-maintained mountain bike trails. "I don't think there is a prefect comparison. Squamish is so unique."
It's nearly impossible to discuss the Oceanfront without bumping up against the area's heavy industrial past. The sceptre of more heavy industry in the future is forever lurking between the lines of today's dialogue.
"I'd like to see a nice balance of park versus residential and business," says Henczel. "I'd like to avoid the heavy industry, in my mind. It's important to bring jobs to the community. Having said that, I think maybe some light industry would work, like a marina."
Another idea is small crafts boat building. There's also a rec tech potential at work, which would fit lockstep with the district's knowledge-based industry strategy. Part of that strategy envisions Squamish as a place to design, manufacture and test sporting equipment. A sea kayaking operation, for example, could take comfortable root on the Oceanfront.
Part of Henczel's outreach strategy involves building a mailing list. People are encouraged to reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She's also fired up a Facebook page, as has the district. In a sense, many of Henczel's outreach strategies are a lot like those of local government. It's just that she's been able to reach beyond the typical core of the population that shows up to public meetings.
"I don't think there's any fault in what they've been doing," she says. "But I think sometimes it's easier to have a casual conversation about ideas."