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Doug Gilchrist: Meeting opportunities, facing challenges in Kelowna

Kelowna City Manager Doug Gilchrist describes his community as historically “kind of peaches and beaches,” a tourist town that had embraced the notion of being a retirement centre. That said, the reality today is one he said has changed dramatically.

Kelowna is now recognized as one of the largest metro areas between Calgary and Vancouver with a population of some 130,000 people. The city has grown “at a really quick pace” over the past decade – anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 percent per year. Still, Gilchrist recognizes that reality brings with it challenges.

Gilchrist talked about the challenges of growth, and how Kelowna is stepping up to meet emerging opportunities, when he sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner in Quebec City.

Community Conversations Spurs New City Vision

In the video, Gilchrist said the city’s upswing began with a community vision initiative called Imagine Kelowna

“Our visioning for the city – how we want to grow in the future – was a big component for that,” he said. “You match that up with best practices, professional standards. The information, you tell it to our planners, bring that all together to build your city.”

Gilchrist said, Kelowna has become “a much more dense, urban centre with taller buildings, more vibrancy,” over the past decade. This growth is reflected in the six towers in the city’s downtown under construction – anywhere from 22 to 36 storeys.

“Development is busy in Kelowna, which is always hot on council’s agenda. Their primary role it seems, is development approvals these days,” Gilchrist said. “We did nearly $1 billion in building permits last year, which was a record year for us. We could be on track for yet another.”

Prosperity Leads to Facing Potential Challenges

The results of all this, he adds, is that Kelowna is now attracting people accustomed to the sophistication, vibrancy, and events happening in larger communities without some of the negatives that come with those bigger centres.

Of course, Kelowna isn’t immune to the challenges that come from growth. This is especially true as the city is predicted to add about 50,000 people in the next 20 years.

“Those are all the good things, but certainly we’re not without our challenges. I think any city growing at the pace we are has affordable housing challenges. We’re the same,” Gilchrist said. “We have a council, certainly senior staff, that really believe in equitable housing being available to people of all areas on the economic spectrum. We’re working really hard to address that.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Innovation and leadership in Canada’s mid-sized cities. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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