When you hear the word ‘diversity’ where does your mind go? More often than not we are drawn to think of marginalized people, skin colour, minority groups or those that visually appear ‘different’. Really, the word itself has a broader meaning – diversity is essentially a range of different things or a state of variety.

My view was shifted when I had the opportunity to participate in the City of Kelowna’s public engagement for the 2040 Official Community Plan with a diverse group of residents. As the city prepares to welcome 50,000 more residents by the year 2040 we have to find a way to grow. My position is that we have to do this in a responsible, sustainable way. It must incorporate both the needs of our current and future community members, adapt to future business needs while most importantly respecting and enhancing our natural environment. There are numerous ways this can be achieved through varying scenarios however; it was the feedback of folks within my group that I found most interesting.

The path of public engagement was paved with numerous questions relating to personal views and values pertaining to how we live our lives – this ranged from work commutes, environmental concerns, housing preferences and more. Our group was comprised of long time Okanagan residents, immigrant agriculture specialists and also a couple who recently moved from Toronto. As we meandered through the maze of questions we discussed each point in detail. The insights and perspectives gained from each person expanded my own personal views of growth and the pros and cons to be considered for each.

There were a few points of view equally shared amongst everyone in our group. The first was to never lose the beauty of our natural environment both visually and sustainably. We must foster development that allows all residents to enjoy our natural surroundings and promotes sustainable lifestyle choices. Second is to be diverse and deliberate with how our communities are developed and built. Keeping in mind that based on the most recent citizen’s survey managing Kelowna’s growth and development ranked number 3 on the priority list.

Some of the conversation got quite heated, as some expressed their steadfast views on what they like and didn’t like in terms of living conditions based on past experience. To me, these varying views are a demonstration of a shared passion for wanting to live in and maintain one of Canada’s gems – our community.

The best part of my journey during campaign season is the learning and reflection that is gained from every meeting that I have. There isn’t one answer to any situation that is the ‘fix all’ and we know that it is virtually impossible to make everyone happy. So much of this particular experience was led by each participant’s gut feeling – which is essentially what best suits their lives.

Diversity doesn’t just encompass skin colour or culture. Complete diversity also incorporates different mindsets and values. Simply put, one new-comer, Caucasian man from Vancouver and one long-time, Caucasian man from Kelowna can bring varying mindsets and values that can be diverse in outcomes. It demonstrates that there are so many possible solutions we can examine.

Sustainability and diversity go hand in hand – any city that is open to diversity will also be sustainable. What I’ve learned is that through diversity as a whole, we have the ability to accept new ideas and mindsets that, when integrated together, have the ability to achieve sustainability.