If you live in Nelson and have a Facebook account, there’s a good chance you’ve seen John Paolozzi’s work. The former CBC Radio 3 web producer, who moved to the Kootenays two years ago with his wife and kids, is the administrator for both the unofficial Nelson, BC and Keep Nelson Weird Facebook pages.
On August 28, Paolozzi went one step further in his community involvement and announced his candidacy for city council in the upcoming municipal election.
“What it comes down to is Nelson is a great place. It’s basically, in my view, the best place to live in Canada. Me and my wife both knew when we were moving here we wanted to get involved,” he said.
Paolozzi is the third non-incumbent to declare intentions of running, after Charles Jeanes and Michael Dailly announced earlier this summer. Donna Macdonald, Candace Batycki and Paula Kiss have all decided not to run again, while Mayor John Dooley and councillor Deb Kozak have yet to share their election plans with the Star.
There have yet to be any female candidates for city council this year.
Paolozzi first took over the Nelson Facebook page after he noticed the current administrator was no longer posting. He said it was a natural transition after his work with the CBC. This has given Paolozzi the opportunity to connect with and support a variety of local initiatives, whether or not he’s technically involved.
“It means even though I’m not involved with Kootenay Pride, I can promote their events and support them. Or Nelson SPCA. Or you name it.”
Paolozzi has been a part of the City of Nelson’s cultural development committee, the advisory planning commission, as well as the marketing committee for the Civic Theatre and the communications committee for Kootenay Co-op Radio. But he said it’s still not enough.
“It’s fun to be involved. I’ve been dabbling in a lot of things. It’s kind of snowballing,” he said.
Paolozzi said his primary concerns going into this election are affordable housing, the local economy, sustainable development and community engagement.
But affordable housing trumps all others, he said.
“Nelson thinks that’s the most pressing issue right now. That’s a simple survey. Most people call affordable housing the biggest issue we’re facing,” he said.
And though he doesn’t claim to have any easy answers, he has some ideas for exploration.
“There’s options we need to examine that haven’t been examined. There’s a model that’s being used in places like Whistler, Canmore, Ucluelet called perpetual housing affordability. Essentially a new developer will have to build a certain amount of this sort of housing, where the house is not going to go up in price according to the market. It will go up according to an equation,” he said.
Paolozzi said he’s not entirely sure whether an approach like this would be able to ameliorate the issue but the city should at least be trying to find alternatives to the current system.
“You have to examine every barrier we throw up in the way of people developing these things,” he said.
Paolozzi noted that he took a significant pay cut to move to the Kootenays, which added economic hardship to their move. He feels he’s not alone in this respect.
“Affordable housing is not just a homelessness problem. It reaches right up into the middle class,” he said. “Everything here is about a hundred grand more expensive than it should be.”
Paolozzi said community engagement is important to him, as less than 35 per cent of the population participated in the last municipal election.
“We’ve developed such a cynicism about politics. People disengage. If you’re feeling cynical, that’s when you should be getting involved in politics. Try to step up and get involved. I’d like to increase engagement and involve more people in the conversation of governance,” he said.
Ultimately, he would like to retain the essential culture of the town he’s come to love.
“Nelson is weird. And by weird I mean extremely unusual, and I like that aspect. I like that can-do attitude that seems to prevail here. I think that’s what keeps us afloat with every single economic challenge, like the closing of the mine or the mill,” he said.
And though Paolozzi said some may feel uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating the weirdness of Nelson, he feels its important.
“The arts community here is so strong, which is important to me. Now that I have small kids I’m pretty much a homebody, so I don’t go to many shows. But I could, and that’s great,” he said.
“People are down on hipsters. But hipsters and artists are a good bellwether for measuring the health of a community. If you’ve got them, it means you probably have some good bars, good cafes, there’s something going on that’s making it an appealing place. And Nelson is no exception.”