At the beginning of 2021, we were in a pandemic. We were living with significant restrictions in terms of how and where we could spend our time and who we could spend it with. In the summer, restrictions eased up a bit – we even stopped wearing masks inside for a few weeks.
Our small businesses, which were hit so hard in the first year of the pandemic, started to see signs of light. The city released data in December that painted a promising picture. We saw a 27.7-per-cent increase in downtown pedestrian counts between February and October over the same months in 2020. There was an increase in building permits between August and October, to a number even greater than pre-pandemic levels. And, some businesses in downtown Victoria are reporting their best Decembers ever.
Yet now, at the end of the year, with Omicron upon us, it seems that we are back to where we started.
Except that we’re not. We know more about COVID-19 than we did at the beginning of the year. The Island Health region has some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. The global scientific community is working on a COVID-19 anti-viral. Booster shots are rolling out more quickly than planned.
When this pandemic ends, we’ll celebrate that we made it through. What’s important for 2022 is how we make it through and how we live well together, despite the challenges we face and the differences among us.
My word for 2022 is “co-exist.” It’s easy when people disagree with us, to paint them into a corner, paint ourselves into another corner, and end the conversation. Or name call. Or worse. We’ve seen this in the past year, locally and around the world.
The city has many key projects in 2022, from Missing Middle Housing, to rezoning for affordable housing, to finishing phase one of the bike network, work on equity, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation, planning the Arts and Innovation District, and much more. These topics will generate public attention and feedback. Some of them will generate controversy. And it’s an election year, which may make some of these issues feel like they’re in a pressure cooker.
What’s really important in 2022, is that as challenging issues face us and differences arise, we have those difficult conversations. We listen to each other. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we change our minds, but at the very least, we come to understand another person’s point of view more deeply.
After spending an hour in conversation with someone with whom I disagree – just listening to them, without trying to change their mind – I go away a little bit richer if only because my own perspective is broadened.
It makes me realize that co-existence is not only possible, but also necessary among people who disagree – especially if we are going to continue to nurture the community and the democracy that we need as we head into our third year living with the pandemic and with change afoot in the city and at city hall.
Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria.