In 1991, the Mayor of Oklahoma City, Ron Norick, lost a bid to make his city the home of a United Airlines maintenance facility. It was a big deal and Norick set about to learn what had gone wrong because by all reports the Oklahoma bid was hands down the best.
Norick’s first revelation came from the CEO of United Airlines who informed him that while the bid was indeed excellent, he just couldn’t ask his employees to live in Oklahoma City. Holy rejection, Batman.
In his bid to understand the failings of his community, Norick and his race car driver son toddled off to the city that won the bid – Indianapolis – for a look around. Norick spent a short time in the downtown area after which he said: “Shoot I know why they got that United plant. It was obvious to me. I know exactly why United located here rather than Oklahoma City.
“I mean this is a live city. I mean there are people on the streets. There were restaurants and hotels and a convention facility and all this stuff.
“It got to be a quality of life issue if you were the CEO of United Airlines and you wanted to have your people work in Oklahoma City or Indianapolis, it was a hands-down decision.”
The insight was revelatory and Norick set out to do something about it.
There is a lesson here, a big lesson even for a small community like Kitimat. Oh, we got the big contracts and the long term viability for our industry that came from having the old real estate mantra, ‘location, location, location’, playing itself out.
But the rest of the revelatory message espoused by Mr. Norick is pretty much accurate. Kitimat isn’t exactly brimming over with the kind of bubbling life that makes for a vibrant and lively burg.
We have a lot of what should be good stuff for a community, i.e. people.
People of diverse cultural backgrounds and talents: writers, artists, musicians, historians, athletes, naturalists, fishers, hobbyists and craftspeople of all stripes.
Okay, but where are all these souls? Where are the restaurants serving up cultural specialities, art galleries, photo studios, crafts stores and hobby centres? Where are the streets full of jostling citizens all heading somewhere for a good meal, a play, a concert or some shopping – even window shopping. Hmmm.
The original plan for Kitimat was a work of art – it separated industry from residential areas.
It provided green spaces galore and pathways that allowed not only for recreation and safe passage for children heading for school, but were intended to become common ground for people to commune with each other.
The front yards bordered the walkways and the back yards faced the streets. Someone may correct me, but I believe at one time ‘front yard fences’ were required to be very low to facilitate community interaction along the walkways. Today the walkways – while still a lovely community feature – are a far cry from community meeting grounds. Indeed, some with narrow verges are the antithesis of a space for coming together.
What Kitimat does have in abundance are recreational facilities.
For a town our size we are amply blessed with a plethora of playing fields and parks, two skating rinks, a beautiful pool, a gym, golf course, curling rink and easy access to an amazing natural environment.
Yet, for all its blessings in recreation and the rich potential of cultural diversity, Kitimat has little sense of identity and certainly hasn’t exploited the riches with which we are endowed. The recreation is wonderful, but it is just one dimension of a healthy community.
Perhaps the community was too well planned, too structured, too organized and too inflexible to ever develop a sense of character and identity. We ‘build stuff’, but without any strong sense of how that ‘stuff’ reflects who we are.
We have rigid rules about most any kind of development, but none of them seem to promote a vision of the community. Nothing is cohesive and we are left with a confusing mishmash that lacks focus.
There is, however, another dimension to a healthy community, one that Kitimat lacks. It gives short shrift to the arts and that might be the root of our identity issues. Kitimat does not adequately celebrate the rich arts community that is here.
Neither does it value its unique history. Despite being a community of fewer than 70 years, with neighbours who have occupied this territory for some 10,000 years, neither community celebrates those histories. Our museum is appallingly small and inadequate and possesses neither sufficient display area, nor preservation space.
We have published authors, talented artists, carvers, accomplished photographers, weavers, dancers, and artisans, but not a single gallery or craft store.
Our Concert Association struggles to fill the 511 seats in our theatre despite their bringing world-class talent to our stage. The library is excellent and does its best to showcase authors, but that is a small piece of the rich mosaic of Kitimat arts talent.
Norick developed a plan for Oklahoma and it would behoove the political and planning Lords and Ladies of Kitimat to re-imagine what it takes to create a vibrant and healthy community here.
That said, we citizens need to do the same, to ask ourselves what we want our community to be, for after all is said and done it is up to us.