Opinion: Beauty Isn’t Everything: The Problem Under Victoria’s Gorgeous Exterior

Victoria is stunning, there is no doubt about that, but the price we pay in housing to live in such a beautiful city is simply too steep for too many.

Victoria’s Undeniable Good Looks

Victoria is a shining destination — a tourism triple-threat of heritage architecture, natural landscapes and vibrant culture. And that trifecta was a powerful influencer in the rebrand of our city that Tourism Victoria (now Destination Greater Victoria) launched on September 12.

But pull back the tourism curtain and not everything is brand-beautiful, because Victoria is fast becoming known for another triple threat: our critical lack of attainable housing, even for people with good incomes; our desperate need for childcare solutions; and our overwhelming and systemic street issues.

Let’s get real: it’s brutally hard to find places to rent here, and buying a home has become a dream so many people, including young families, never expect to realize. A lack of affordable childcare (or almost any childcare) is putting enormous strain on parents, and then there’s the situation on our streets, with open drug use, epidemic ODs and people, young and old, sleeping rough.

It’s simply unacceptable that in Canada’s most beautiful city, people are seeking shelter in dumpsters, and even those earning good salaries are struggling to make ends meet.

It’s easy to say these are the growing pains of a growing city, but the writing has been on the wall here for a long time. Now we’ve got a crisis that is causing more and more people to relocate to cities that may be less beautiful than Victoria, but are far more affordable.

Why This Matters

Why does all of this relate to Greater Victoria’s rebrand? Because a cardinal rule of branding is that a compelling, authentic brand isn’t just about convincing external customers that a product or service or destination is great — it’s about getting buy-in from internal customers, the people who need to embody the spirit of the brand and share that message. In Victoria’s case, that means the people who live and work here.

It’s not on Destination Greater Victoria to solve social issues. They’re here to market us to the world and they do that well. But it is on governments to solve the issues, and although significant changes are underway, we need all levels of government to move with greater urgency.

If the City of Victoria can build a significant cycling lane infrastructure (which I support) in less than four years, it’s certainly a sign major momentum is possible. The same goes for the federal government, which has managed to legalize cannabis (which I also support) in less than three years.

The Power to Change

Things can happen mightily fast if the political will — and pressure from voters — is there. So with municipal elections are coming up on October 20, ask your candidates about their priorities and plans to encourage more local affordable housing. On a provincial level, tell the B.C. government to fast-track creation of long-term addiction treatment and recovery facilities, and emphasize the need for universal childcare. And for the icing on it all, put pressure on the feds to dramatically and speedily increase support and funding in these areas.

Tourists love Greater Victoria, but while we are showcasing its beauty to the world, let’s ensure the people who live here feel the love too. Victoria needs to be a great place to live, not just to visit.

This article is from the October/November 2018 issue of Douglas