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Students turned loose on Campbellton neighbourhood

There are myriad issues in Campbellton and the City of Campbell River is still reluctant to become fully involved
A typical street view of Campbellton with its clutter of hydro poles and overhead power lines.

In the winter of 2006 this same room was filled with angry Campbellton residents and business owners facing off against local police and politicians.

They had gathered at the White Tower Restaurant to voice their displeasure about ongoing criminal activity in their neighbourhoods, a lack of action by RCMP and the city’s reluctance to do anything meaningful about cleaning up or improving Campbell River’s oldest community.

A lot has changed in the last five years. Residents say the blatant drug-dealing and prostitution has subsided, and business is picking up too.

Things are starting to improve, and mapping out the future is the ad hoc Campbellton Neighbourhood Association described as an “association of residents and business working on positive change for Campbellton village.”

“We want to begin by taking a list of small actionable items to city council,” said businessman Brian Shaw, co-chair of the association.

In contrast to the hostile meeting of 2006, it was a very different atmosphere in the the White Tower last Friday morning. The dining room wasn’t filled, but there were about 15 eager students in the seats, all hoping to contribute to Campbellton’s future.

They’re third-year geography students from Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, who are also schooled in urban planning. Each year, the class takes on a community-based project where they document problem areas and then provide ideas and possible solutions.

“This is so beyond what they would learn in the classroom,” said course instructor Pamela Shaw. “I know you’ll be wildly impressed.”

It won’t be easy. There are myriad issues in Campbellton and the city is still reluctant to become fully involved.

Shaw says most of the money they’ve received to run the association has come from various grants, including $10,500 from the Real Estate Foundation to bring the students to Campbellton.

Shaw is grateful for the help of Ross Blackwell, the city’s land use manager, but mostly the association is on its own.

Blackwell has been assisting the association. He describes Campbellton as a community that “has it all.” By that he means a diverse mix of commercial industry, business storefronts, homes and a heavy influx of traffic coming into the neighbourhood from converging highways.

He also sees the opportunity with low-cost housing and lots, and great access to river trails and other recreation areas.

“It’s super-affordable,” he told the students.

Shaw, too, sees the potential and moved his business to Campbellton a few years ago. He grew up in Montreal and watched as the run-down villages of the city were transformed into vibrant neighbourhoods.

One of the first steps, said Shaw, should be to improve the entrances which leave an unfavourable impression on first-time visitors. Former city councillor Morgan Ostler whole-heartedly agreed.

“It’s a very negative entrance to one of the most beautiful places to live – a gateway to see all sorts of great things,” she said, “but it’s a rather shabby entrance.”