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City/residents/college partner to design Castlegar's Happily Ever After

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
March 19th, 2013

How is a college student going to help you, personally, determine the course of your community’s future?

Be at the Community Forum beside City Hall this Thursday (March 21) at 5 p.m. to see for yourself as 12 Selkirk students roll their sleeves up with community members to create action plans for implementing the city’s Official Community Plan (OCP).

City planning technician Shannon Marshall said 12 Integrated Environmental Planning students will be on hand with action plans and recommendations which you – that’s right, you – can help develop and hone on subjects ranging from local food production and waste management to urban design and downtown revitalization.

“It’s not to create the OCP – that’s already done,” Marshall said. “But the OCP paints a picture in very broad strokes.

“The students have identified specific actions to achieve the objectives and goals set forth in the OCP,” he said, explaining each student has chosen an area of interest that resonates for them, has researched it (including best practices in other communities) and come up with a list of recommendations to discuss with residents. “They’re developing very detailed plans on how to make the OCP policies and objectives a reality.”

So is the public, by attending, merely helping college students finish their homework? Not a bit of it, Marshall says – he said the city engaged with Selkirk on a similar project four or five years ago, and received some quality work they used as a reference in moving forward with city projects.

“We might not implement 100-per-cent of their ideas wholesale, but we definitely consider the input.”

The instructor overseeing the project, Peter Holton, said the whole community benefits from a) the free consulting services (which would cost thousands if contracted out to professional consultants); b) the intelligence, ideas and knowledge-base of the students and, perhaps most importantly; c) the intelligence, ideas and knowledge-base of the residents, who often have the clearest understanding of what’s been done in the past and what will, or will not, work moving forward.

“We’ve been doing this for about 10 years – in Rossland, Nelson, with the RDCK, etc.” Holton said. “It’s a model called community-based learning. It provides an important service to the city, adds relevance to the students’ work, and solidifies the relationship between Selkirk College and the community.”

He said an added advantage, beyond the tangible work product, is that it gets residents talking about the day-to-day issues that really impact their lives, and thinking about solutions, innovations and opportunities that may not have otherwise crossed their minds.

And, as icing on the cake, because the students aren’t concerned (as would be a professional) about securing future consulting jobs, they may be able to raise some of the more politically-dicey questions that a pro might hesitate to bring up.

“We’ve had some real successes,” Holton said.

All are welcome to attend the open house between 5 and 8 p.m. at the Community Forum on March 21. For more information, contact Holton at 250-354-3559.

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