The month of July saw Creston, British Columbia decorated with bright blue lawn and window signs. They appeared at street corners and parks, businesses and community facilities, and where they showed up, area residents could be found, too. Each of the 32 signs was a station in the Town of Creston’s Official Community Plan Challenge – an interactive scavenger hunt style survey that had the community weigh in on land use issues as complex as alternative development standards and municipal enterprise.
A Fresh Approach – Creston’s OCP Challenge was an experiment in community planning and in rural placemaking. The process used a mobile app, a website, and paper scavenger hunt maps to get citizens exploring community issues and the community itself. They were directed to locations around Creston where Challenge Stations invited targeted feedback on specific municipal issues.
Each station posed a specific question and invited general feedback. At the local Columbia Brewery, for instance, a Challenge Station gave participants the chance to help set priorities related to the character of industrial land use. At a downtown electric vehicle charging station, participants could offer input on preferred methods of meeting the targets in Creston’s Strategic Community Energy and Emissions Plan. Urban agriculture, outdoor public spaces, and residential streetscapes were among the other issues that residents were asked to consider. Every station conveyed some background information to help ensure well-informed input and shared a recent municipal success to foster confidence in local governance.
The Challenge was part two in a community engagement campaign designed to facilitate broad and deep consultation. “We deliberately took a two-phase approach to engaging the public,” says Project Lead, Laura Hannant. “Our first phase engaged hundreds of people of all ages in discussing and refining goals for future land use. Phase two, the OCP Challenge, was a chance to involve citizens in setting direction for actually pursuing those goals.”
This approach is part of Town of Creston Manager Lou Varela’s vision for a Plan that will be meaningfully implemented. “We have been focused on creating a Plan that is actionable,” explains Varela. “Helping to educate the community, taking direction from them, and giving them reason to feel invested in the Plan’s outcomes are all part of crafting an OCP that is worth following.”
Challenge Accepted – More than 250 people aged 14 to 80 took part in the Challenge. Their participation generated 3533 responses to the Challenge questions and almost 1000 other ideas for Creston’s future. The results suggest some clear directives to Creston’s Town Council.
The process also managed to do more than just gauge public opinion – it built community. Scheduled Challenge Walks and a facilitated event gathered neighbours to take the Challenge together. Community members also took their own initiative to make participation a social activity. One local parent organized an informal Challenge walk for a whole group of local teens. Families could be seen taking part – with parents talking to young Creston residents about community life.
“I took the Challenge with three girlfriends,” says participant, Betty Falk. “We did it on foot over two days and probably spent about 7 hours.” Falk’s motivation to take part may have been a common one. “I wanted to share my input for my children’s sake. They want to come back to Creston, so I do what I can to help see that this becomes a better place to raise a family.”
When Falk and her friends set out, they were unsure of what to expect. She says that she would repeat the effort without hesitation. “The experience was amazing. It was obvious how much thought had gone into getting the community in touch with local issues. I found myself waking up at night thinking about the questions. This whole thing has given me food for thought about what I can do to get more involved. It has also made curious about what other people want to see. ”
Challenge Accomplished – All told, the Town estimates that 1,193 area residents have contributed directly to the OCP Review so far. Participants have been as young as six (some outreach took part in local elementary schools) and older than 100 (outreach also took part in seniors homes). On average, a participant put 101 minutes into the process – a number that speaks to the depth of engagement achieved.
Now, many in the community are eager for the results, which are expected later this fall. In the meantime, next steps for the Town include working with the OCP consultant team to translate community input into a community vision statement, local land use principles, and sound policy.
“Council looks forward to learning more about what the community is asking for,” says Town of Creston Mayor Ron Toyota, “and we know we aren’t the only ones. Creston is full of individual active citizens, businesses, and organizations who feel a sense of responsibility for helping to achieve the vision for the future that this OCP Review has captured.”