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Langford gains national attention as 18th best community after years of progress

#1 Best Community in BC | #18 Best Community in Canada (Maclean's Magazine poll)

Saturday April 17, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC

ANALYSIS | by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

A tsunami of impressively-titled recognitions have rolled in for the City of Langford in the last couple of months.

These acknowledgements are, overall, a result of several years of work on building various aspects of the city that together have created a supportive mesh for future enhancements. And some are also around additional efforts taken to support some key aspects of the local economy and community during the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Receipt of most of these high-profile titles or awards is news that has already been promoted by the city in a range of TV and print media outlets this past winter and spring.

But the roundup at this time is highlighted by the latest 2021 recognition to roll in, that being #1 Best Community in BC and #18 Best Community in Canada as declared by Maclean’s Magazine in their annual poll. (Called a national publication, Maclean’s is Toronto-based and can sometimes be seen as having a Toronto and Ottawa lens on major news issues.)

For the Langford record:

Langford Mayor Stew Young, February 2020
Langford Mayor Stew Young [Island Social Trends – Feb 2020]

Meanwhile, here is Langford’s current proud list:

  • #1 Best Community in BC, and #18 Best Community in Canada by Maclean’s Magazine.
  • #1 Most Resilient City in BC, by BC Business Magazine
  • #1 City for Work in BC, by BC Business Magazine
  • Most Liveable City in Canada, by RATESDOTCA
  • Economic Resiliency and Recovery Award, population over 20,000 by the BC Economic Development Association (‘I AM Langford’ campaign to support local businesses)
  • National Christmas Lighting Award by Dekralite

Doesn’t happen overnight:

Discussing this goal of recognition in a national magazine with Island Social Trends (then West Shore Voice News) several years ago, we know that Langford Mayor Stew Young has been synthesizing the result of that idea for a while now. It’s yet another example of a long-range approach that the long-time mayor (28 years and counting) has taken to integrated municipal development.

A most evident example would be how his integration of city interests with the Sooke School District 62 (SD62) school district board has been long in the works. Interplay between the two is oftentimes a process of catch-up between housing development (which surges forward by an eager development community to meet growing demand) and school facility development (essentially forced into playing catch-up to accommodate sometimes as many as 400 new students per year). New facility growth by the school district also supports the local construction industry among which is a large chunk of the voter base for mayor and council.

Langford, van
The “I AM Langford” van was part of the classic car show in August 2020. [Island Social Trends]

Political support is also continually massaged within the retail, wholesale, hospitality and financial business communities. Those sectors were distinctly supported last year with the ‘I AM Langford’ campaign which used a business directory website to collect data about most of Langford’s businesses under one digital roof (a clever way to see who’s doing what), and smacking an ultra-bold round ‘I AM LANGFORD’ sticker on every business that bought in. There is a city van with the same logo and also LED billboard ads that are still up around town.

Being a national sports capital is also a stated goal for Langford’s mayor, with city roots deep now into all aspects of sports at the school level, community, amateur and professional. He’s been mayor since 1992, and the game plan has been long.

Sticking with what works:

Stew Young’s council has been comprised of pretty much the same six people for many terms; until October 2018 when Norma Stewart was elected for a first term, Roger Wade had been the ‘newest’ of the bunch. The current council serving with Mayor Young are Councillors Denise Blackwell, Matt Sahlstrom, Lanny Seaton, Norma Stewart, Lilllian Szpak, and Roger Wade.

They operate as a block from the top down. Blackwell takes a strong lead with affordable housing (and also chairs the Capital Regional Hospital District Board), Sahlstrom with administration and finance, Seaton with parks and recreation, Stewart with planning and zoning, Szpak with protective services (fire and police), and Wade with transportation and public works.

Langford councillors, Matt Sahlstrom, Roger Wade, Norma Stewart, March 19 2020
Langford Councillors (from left) Matt Sahlstrom, Roger Wade and Norma Stewart at the March 19, 2020 Special Meeting of Langford Council held outdoors during COVID, in the back parking lot. [Island Social Trends]

Common goals produce results:

This past week Councillor Roger Wade put it this way in a chat with Island Social Trends: “Council and staff are very uniform with the mayor, we’re all in synch with each other. We have a common goal to make Langford as great as it can be.”

That cohesiveness is seen year after year in the way the City of Langford council and committee meetings are handled. Most of what gets recommended by committees gets readily approved by council, in a way that often seems like rubber stamping (something there’s been a bit of a public groundswell about in the last year or so).

But as developer Les Bjola of Turner Lane Development Corporation put it last month during a lengthy public input process on a local property development, there is a lot of work done ahead of time by staff to ensure that what gets to council is appropriate for full consideration. That’s just smart business. Keeping staff happy also pays off; most seem to stick around for a long time, though sometimes moved around to different levels of responsibility to keep it all in the family, so to speak.

Holding onto developers:

Keeping developers happy also seems to work for the Langford long-term plan, even though Mayor Young often brags to taxpayers that he gets developers to pay for amenities like sidewalks and recreational amenities. And yet they stick around for the long-game even as the complexity of housing development is ever-increasing (cost factors, public resistance, etc). Langford years ago streamlined their building permit process out of respect for the cost of borrowing money and to not hold up development proposals unduly.

Belmont Residences East
Now about 90% sold at Belmont Residences East in Langford.

Housing prices & pandemic push:

One should remember that developers end up including the cost of city amenity contributions into their residential and commercial projects, which actually contributes to higher housing costs over time. In that respect, Langford is fighting an uphill battle in terms of housing affordability.

new housing, Langford, January 2021
New housing is being developed around the west shore, particularly in Langford where around 2,000 new residents arrive each year. [Island Social Trends / Mary Brooke]

Victoria Real Estate Board (VREB) stats show that the real average sale price (not data-adjusted) of single family homes was pushed hard by over a quarter of a million dollars up to $1,014,349 in Langford in March 2021: by yearly comparison, that’s up from an average sale price of $723,450 in March 2018, $732,097 in March 2019, and $797,752 in March 2020.

However, the recent surge has been mostly pandemic-related as people seek larger more spacious homes for public health reasons (by January of this year Langford’s housing market was experiencing ‘pandemic push’ with an average single family home sale price of $911,147). Housing investors (who buy in order to rent out) have been enjoying this upward growth market but in so doing have also caused a lot of forced evictions in order to accomplish their financial goals.

Pleasing the hospitality sector:

Seeing the impact of the pandemic on local businesses — particularly those in the restaurant sector — Langford tried to “get ahead of the curve”, said Wade. “Langford does a lot of that.” Last year Langford was quick to authorize use of patio and sidewalk space for restaurants and coffee shops to expand their operating footprint during the physical distancing requirements required by public health order. And this year Langford took the initiative to extend those permissions for another three years.

COVID signage, Langford, wear a mask
The City of Langford invested in a COVID-reminder campaign as a local overlay on provincial public health orders. [Island Social Trends – Dec 2020]

Sometimes the insightful innovation taken by Langford leadership seems intrusive to other levels of government (such as when the city put up its own COVID protocol reminder signage around town last year, which seemed to annoy Island Health and the public health leadership), but things like that are almost always done with the good of the overall community in mind.

Protecting one’s own seems the natural thing to do in Langford. Though sometimes that can have unintended consequences — such as the ‘I AM Langford’ campaign sucking the air out of some local businesses that sell advertising or promote help businesses with their marketing needs, in that Langford’s initiative offered those services for free or supplied or indirectly redirected work to some agencies and not others.

Pretty lights:

Some Langford initiatives for the community are just about cheering people up (though always with economic spinoffs). The annual Christmas lighting along Goldstream Avenue for example was spruced up even more for Christmas 2020, to help boost people’s sense of enjoyment during the pandemic and to encourage people to come to the downtown retail core. That’s what led to the National Christmas Lighting Award for Langford, as awarded by a lighting supplier.

Criteria putting Langford at the top:

best communities
Langford came in as Best Community #1 in BC, and Best Community #18 across Canada. [Maclean’s Magazine]

Some of the other recognition — like the “Most Resilient City” status in the BC Business Magazine listing (as announced in February this year), saw Langford as one of “four new cities that were brought into the 2021 list” that were “more generously defined” as bedroom communities (with people working from home during the pandemic). In fact all four of the newly listed towns or cities which have strong business or political connections for Langford leadership.

Best Community, criteria
The criteria for ‘best community’ were voted on by online participants as part of a Maclean’s Magazine poll.

Even BC Business Magazine itself said the four new cities “coincidentally” were in the top 10: Langford (No. 1), Sooke (No. 5), West Kelowna (No. 8) and Central Saanich (No. 9). Those areas also happen to have more spacious or flexible housing types (and/or the political will to allow for housing innovation) which open up greater possibilities for working from home (a trend that’s likely to stick even after the peak of the pandemic, as community immunity to the COVID virus is likely to go in annual cycles similar to influenza).

The Maclean’s Magazine winning status ranked 415 communities based on quantifiable metrics including affordability, population growth, taxes, crime, amenities, health, community, weather, and internet access. The Most Resilient City ranking was achieved by people contributing their votes online; who could vote and how many times is not readily evident.

Due to the pandemic, some key criteria were *not* included in the 2021 Maclean’s poll, which probably helped Langford move up the ranks: incomes and unemployment rates (since remote workers don’t need to look for a local job); distance to post-secondary institutions (remote education was expanded and refined during the pandemic); and commuting methods.

Though on the point of commuting, Langford will likely earn some new brownie points in future polls for having opened now the first BC Government office in the west shore (outside of the downtown core).

Working from home & housing affordability:

The Maclean’s results also factored in those communities where residents could work and study from home. While Langford has taken action on all those fronts in recent years (including ‘weather’, by building parks and trails to take advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity), it could be argued that last months’ average house sale price of over $1 million in Langford is not really affordable.

But the city has had an affordable housing component of their planning committee for years, always with an eye to providing housing opportunities that will provide options for people on limited incomes (though most of the ‘affordable housing’ requires application through social support systems of government, which still in some cases leaves out people who don’t fall into that category).

Nonetheless, the Maclean’s recognition for Langford as #1 Best Community in BC (and #18 Best Community in Canada) is what prompted this repeat look at awards that had already been announced. It somewhat tops the list.

Langford, Best City
Langford has ranked as the 18th Best Community in Canada in a 2021 poll by Maclean’s Magazine. Top three features: Internet service, population growth, and weather.

“This is a proud moment for the residents of Langford,” said Mayor Young in a statement to media. “Through strong partnerships with the business, recreation and development community, the City of Langford has been able to keep property taxes low, allowing residents an affordable and well-rounded quality of life.”

Indeed, ‘the little town that grew’ in Greater Victoria’s west shore area used to be not-so-nicely referred to in some circles as ‘Dogpatch’. One long-time resident at a recent property development public hearing said she can see that Langford has clearly grown past that label. Langford has become a hub for business, families and just having a spot to call home in one of the most desirable climate zones in the country.

Langford City Hall, film shoot
Projecting light into Langford Council Chambers, to mimic sunlight through the windows for an interior film shoot. [Island Social Trends – April 2019]

Arts & culture:

As to further directions: “We are now focusing on arts and culture projects,” says Stew Young. Apparently Langford is “still focused” on bringing a world-class theatre to Langford, with an announcement anticipated within the next few weeks. A previously announced Pacific Maritime Centre (in February 2020) included a performance theatre along with a new BC Maritime Museum (which recently backed out) and office tower.

Langford prides itself on attracting film production to the area where there are plenty of good locations for movie and TV productions.

Set back by the pandemic but probably still in the works is the idea of bringing concerts to the Westhills Stadium on Langford Parkway (currently in a process of being renamed as Starlight Stadium).

Interacting with schools:

SD62, administration building, January 2021
The SD62 Administration building is located on Jacklin Road in Langford. [Island Social Trends – January 2021]

There is also the continued cooperation bordering on integration with the local Sooke School District 62 (SD62). That’s because of the new schools continually being built to serve the many families with young children in the expanding Langford and west shore population (over 11,000 students expected in 2021-2022), and how those buildings are also coordinated in some fashion with use for city and community activities and services.

To that end, Langford Council recently approved a joint Langford/SD62 working group of the city’s Mayor (Stew Young) and CAO (Darren Kiedyk) to meet twice a year with SD62 Board Chair (Ravi Parmar) and Superintendent (Scott Stinson). That seems very much in keeping with the streamlined approach to doing business in Langford, but it does concentrate power at the top, with less input from full council or full board. Of note, in the current moment, SD62 is looking to cut back $556,000 of its operations budget for 2021-2022, though technically-speaking that is separate from the capital budget which is used for facility growth.

MapleLine Business Centre, digital marketing
Website content development — great words for great results.

Sports will be back:

And once the pandemic has passed, you can bet that an even higher sports sector profile will emerge in Langford in a multiplicity of ways. Not only are sports at all levels a primary passion of the long-time mayor, a considerable breadth and depth of infrastructure and investment has been built around all things sport.

flag stands, Langford Parkway, June 2020
Flag stands alongside Westhills Stadium left empty in Phase 2 of the economic Restart during the COVID pandemic in BC [June 20, 2020 ~ Island Social Trends]

The Langford-integrated Pacific FC enterprise is puttering along, waiting for pandemic public gathering orders to be eased or lifted and meanwhile keeps promoting their indoor Island Training Centre and last year got involved in providing soccer instruction to students within the SD62 Sports Academies system.

trails, Langford, Westhills
Trail improvements in a new section of woodland donated to the City of Langford by Westhills Land Development Corp. [Island Social Trends – March 2021]

A new indoor sports area at Westshore Parks & Recreation (WSPR) was opened just ahead of the pandemic; arena and sport floor areas (as well as a child care area) have been subject to further improvements during pandemic downtime. Langford is the largest part-owner of the WSPR facilities which are located in neighbouring Colwood.

Outdoor amenities:

Adding to the existing network of trails and outdoor spaces in the Langford area, the new Jordie Lunn Bike Park has been developed and celebrated in-house (with an opening in May), and a walking trail area within 38.5 acres donated by Westhills Land Development Corp (as announced in February) will offer more recreational opportunities.

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===== About the writer:

Mary Brooke, editor, West Shore Voice News
Mary P Brooke, Editor and Publisher, Island Social Trends

Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR is the editor and publisher of Island Social Trends (formerly West Shore Voice News, and previous to that Sooke Voice News and MapleLine Magazine). She has been following the trends in municipal news on the west shore since 2008 and the SD62 school district (Langford, Colwood & Sooke) since 2014. | Contact: editor@islandsocialtrends.com .