OPINION: Squamish needs gathering space

With Squamish expanding in every direction, the town risks morphing into an assembly of far-flung settlements, instead of a cohesive community. And that spells trouble.

Newly elected Coun. Jenna Stoner put it this way on her campaign website: “As our population continues to grow and evolve, we need to provide infrastructure that supports community gatherings, learning, and social services. This is important for fostering a sense of belonging and community resilience.”

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The development application showcase map on the District’s website reveals the extent to which Squamish is being stretched from one end of the valley to the other. In addition to Newport Beach, Newport Landing and the massive Cheekye subdivision in Brackendale have been green-lighted. Up in the Garibaldi Highlands, the Cheema lands will eventually be developed and just below that enclave Garibaldi Springs will soon have spades in the ground. The massive Garibaldi at Squamish all season resort on Brohm Ridge, whose proponents are in the process of submitting a Resort Master Plan, could become an independent entity, or take shelter under the DOS administrative umbrella.

All in all, a strategy to connect those scattered neighbourhoods should be a priority. Squamish no longer has a movie theatre and there is no specific dedicated meeting location, except for the Brennan Park complex, which is designated as a recreational facility. Sites like the Squamish Farmers Market are seasonal ventures with a specific commercial focus.

Transforming Cleveland Avenue into a car-free pedestrian zone with entrainment and events during certain weeks in the summer serves a similar purpose. But that arrangement is too seasonally dependent and has been divisive because some downtown merchants see it as an encroachment on their business space.

Five years ago, one of the key recommendations in the Squamish Branding, Development and Marketing Action Plan was the establishment of a public venue where people can connect, and events can be held regularly. The report suggested a fixed year-round facility that could double as a conference, trade show, and exhibition space. Its mandate would be to operate at least four days a week, well into the evening hours. It could include a centre stage for presentations, music and entertainment and a flex space, for trade shows, job fairs, wellness retreats, fitness camps, and other brand-specific events.

The glaring need for greater connectivity has not gone unnoticed in the recently tabled Squamish Council Strategic Plan. It lists several major objectives, including increasing the area of publicly accessible parks and gathering/pedestrian spaces and expanding year-round utilization of our multipurpose space assets. It also recommends progressing to the shovel-ready or beyond stage on three priority District facilities identified in the Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan and connecting citizens through facilities and programs to create community.

Everything considered, although a designated communal hub by itself will not solve the problem of community fragmentation, it will certainly be a major step towards that goal.

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