“Mission has an image problem that bears little relationship to reality”. These are the words of Community Futures North Fraser Executive Director Allan Main, describing the need for a community re-branding in the Summer 2014 edition of BIZ eNews. And at the kick-off event to begin the process, held in Mission’s Clarke Theatre on September 25, speaker after speaker verified this view.
A panel consisting of four community activists, planners and historians, all of whom live and work outside of Mission, gave their first impressions. “I knew nothing about Mission”, admitted Vancouver real estate marketer Bob Rennie, “So I googled you. The results don’t do you any favours – you apparently have benches of poor quality farmland, you used to be the berry capital, but not anymore, and you were home for a while to the province’s largest marijuana grow-op. This image does not portray the thriving city I saw this afternoon while driving here”.
Bob Rennie is in the business of creating places where people want to live and work. “You don’t need any data in order to be negative”, he told his audience. “But if you want to be positive, you better have lots of data. And don’t be afraid to be different. In the end, it will be your differences that define you”.
Rennie went on to note that a community cannot afford to leave its branding up to developers. “That creates mixed messages”, he warned. “Mission has way too many messages, and they compete. Trust your instincts and figure out who and what you are”.
The other panel members were former Vancouver city councillor, writer and Director of SFU’s City Program Gordon Price, UFV Campus Planning Director Craig Toews, and retired municipal planner Terry Lyster. All offered expert opinion on Mission’s future, and the urgent need to counter some erroneous impressions. “For example”, Gordon Price told us. “I had never been to Mission before, so I asked people how long it would take me to drive out here. It’s a long way, I was told. And Google maps said it would take me an hour and sixteen minutes. Well, you know something? It often takes me an hour and sixteen minutes to get from my office to UBC, and that’s not a long way in my mind. Mission is not a long way from Vancouver. People like me just think it is”.
Following up on Bob Rennie’s theme of creating “energy centres’ where people will want to congregate, Price praised the need for really good urban planning that minimizes the need for cars. “To keep your small town feel you have to think like a big city”, he said. “Cars don’t buy ice cream – pedestrians do. So capitalize on your compact downtown and do your best to avoid urban sprawl”.
The audience was then invited to participate in several break out workshop sessions, and participants were encouraged to leave their ideas for future consideration. Allan Main has been happy with the community response, and says that input is still being received.
Nevertheless the kick-off event is over, and the attendees are on to other things. So where does this initiative go from here?
“It’s a slow process”, admits Allan Main. “But we are forming a committee, and have had lots of interest from the community”.
He goes on to explain that the job of the committee will be to identify key areas that define the character of the city, and then look at what can be improved to make these areas relevant and important. “For example”, he says, “sturgeon and salmon fishing has been put forward as a key identifier of what we are. But to go fishing, you need to go down to the river, where you find poor parking facilities and the river bank overgrown with blackberries. So if fishing becomes our brand, then we have a lot of improvements to make”.
So far, input from the community has identified three more areas to consider other than fishing. These are outdoor recreation (our hiking trails, lakes and recreational attractions), arts and culture and First Nations heritage. “We’re just starting the process”, says Allan, “and we have a long way to go. Branding is a lot more than a catchy tag line. It’s actually making positive changes to your community that will enhance the image you are trying to project”.