Community, Jan 24, 2020

OK, so maybe I already missed the mark on my soft promise of weekly updates on my council-related community activities, but let’s call them almost-weekly, and if we can keep ahead of fortnightly (although I love the term), and we can call this a success. It is going to depend on how many things I have going on, and how much time I have to write about them. Whish will result in this strange curve, because eventually I get to busy to write about them at all. And how much time I spend trying to use MSPaint to draw curves of phenomenon in my life:

Since my last of these community updates, we ran into snowpocalypse or snowmageddon or whatever, so a few events were cancelled. Most notably, I made it to the Queensborough Residents’ Association meeting just as the power outage caused a cancellation, and the New West Collective (a peer-to-peer support and networking group for local small businesses) wisely chose to delay their quarterly-or-so gathering until proper spring weather arrives.

Many may not know I am a member of the board of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is an area association representing 33 local governments (municipalities and regional districts) from Hope to Vancouver to Pemberton. We had an executive meeting last week which was spent mostly on organizing our AGM and convention in Whistler. It looks like a great program is shaping up, and I look forward to reporting out on it in May.

We held the last meeting of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee last Friday. This committee operated for about a decade, and provided some valuable guidance to Council and staff on the Intelligent New West initiative. As Council re-organized the committee structures in 2019, this was one whose role was re-evaluated, as INW is now operational, the City has a Strategic Plan for INW and there are staff responsible for all three “pillars” of INW. The “council advisory” role under INW will now be part of the Economic Development and Advisory Committee’s mandate, but there are aspect of the INW program that will also fall under Public Realm, Public Engagement / Inclusion, and the Electrical Utility Commission. There were a few members of that Committee not happy with this direction, and Council will be reviewing how to assure that the INW Strategic Plan is measured and reported out. More importantly, the City needs to recognize that there is a real braintrust of people who understand the digital economy and how information technology is evolving regionally (and globally) as the Internet of things and 5G networks become our reality. New West has some unique advantages here, we need to be vigilant to make sure those opportunities are not lost.

Last week, the members of City Council and a few senior staff members attended a special training session as part of our ongoing Truth and Reconciliation work. We had Brad Marsden lead us in a workshop around improving our understanding of the history of Residential Schools and Colonization, and its impact on Indigenous and Urban Indigenous Peoples. This was a powerful and emotionally draining session, and I understand New West is the first “Mayor and Council” to take part.

This week I was also fortunate to be able to attend the first in a three-part public conversation about changing the conversation around social housing. Led by the Douglas College philosophy department, this series seeks to explore how we can have better public conversations about social and supportive housing in our communities:

The first session put the conversation in context with an introduction by Elliot Rossiter (who wrote this great opinion in the Record recently), followed by short presentations that talked about the history of housing in New West and Canada, from the criminalization of “vagrancy” in the City’s early days through the complex social programs that virtually eliminated homelessness as we know it in the decades after WW2, to the neoliberal shift and commodification of shelter that made “unhousing” of people a common occurrence for the first time. This was followed by a panel (including Councillor Nakagawa) talking about how we can improve the community conversation about providing housing, and move past the stigmatization of people who are victims of the complex systemic and societal failure that is poverty in Canada.

Sorry, Phil, but the “neolibralism” count I got from the panel was 7. All on mark, from people who actually understand the meaning of the term.

There will be two more talks in this series that are more about exploring potential solutions than naming the problems. If you care about justice, about local governance, or even about how your neighbourhood can have better conversations about housing, you should come out! It’s free!

Finally, in the last week I had a Canada Games Pool Task Force meeting, an Electrical Commission meeting, and a less formal meeting with one of the guiding lights in the New Westminster Environmental Partners, to talk about how they view our current recycling situation, and some great initiatives they are hoping to lead around raising the profile of the Brunette River as an ecological asset in New West.

Community – Jan 12, 2020

I hope to get back in to the practice of posting weekly (or so) on the things I have done that are Council-job-related and happenings-around-town aside from the Exciting! Monday! Night! Meetings! you all watch at home. This is because people have often asked questions along the theme of “how much time does it take?”, or “What does the job involve?”. I had always hoped to use my little pulpit here to open that part of the job up a bit, and then I got busy and it fell by the wayside, but I’ll try again.

Of course, “Council work” includes a bunch of reading of reports, independent research, and countless e-mails and conversations on the street with residents, business owners, and others. Lots of times, you wake up in the morning thinking about it, and go to sleep at night thinking about it. You sit in the pub and chat about recycling, friends corner you at the curling rink and ask you about dog parks, the barber fills you in with the latest happenings during your trim. I’m a social guy, and I love to talk, so I don’t want that to come across as a complaint, but his makes it hard to “count the hours” of the job. Is it full time or part time? The only answer is that it is a job that expands to the time available to it.

Still , here are some of the things I have been up to:

The funnest event in my week was going to the New Media Gallery to see the Cartooney show currently going on. I am embarrassingly late getting to this show (I usually try to get to the openings of new NMG shows), and I need another visit. You really should book out a full hour for this show so you can enjoy the full cycle of Andy Holden’s “Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape” because it is hilarious and insightful. The other 5 pieces are also worth taking the time to chew on, so get there before February 9th when the show closes!

This week we held a Capital Budget workshop where a few dozen residents and stakeholders in the community came to look at the work done so far by staff and council on the 2020-2024 budget. This evening workshop outlines council’s strategic plans and the goals of the Climate Action strategy, and then gave details about the capital expenditures the City is looking at making over the next 5 years, hoping that residents can provide feedback about priorities. There were spreadsheets of numbers, and some pretty intense discussions:

This was, by far, the most public engagement in our budgeting process has ever had, and I don’t know of any other City in the lower mainland doing anywhere near this much outreach. some even seen to disdain this type of public participation. If you were not able to attend, there is still an on-line survey you can do, and of course you can come to Council for open delegation and tell us what you think.

This is a bit of an experiment, putting all of the data out there early in hopes that people will read what is pretty detailed data bout the City’s finances, and provide informed and meaningful feedback. If you are reading this blog, you probably care about this stuff, so please take some time to read the info, and provide us some feedback. It not only makes it easier for us to make better decisions, it shows that this kind of engagement is valued by the community.

I had two informal meetings this week, one with a member of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee to talk about the future of that file as the ICAC’s work gets rolled into the Economic Development Advisory Committee’s workplan (as part of the overall consolidation of advisory committee work). I also met with representatives of the Queensborough Residents’ Association executive, as I have been assigned to act as Council liaison to the QRA, and I wanted to get their idea about how they think this will work best. This liaison-to-RAs is a new thing, and I am really cognizant that RAs belong to the residents, not to Council, so I am putting a bit of a burden on them to define the bounds of my participation, and to make sure that communication works in a way that serves their needs.

This happened…

I was lucky to be able to join Jagmeet Singh on a small group bike ride around downtown Vancouver yesterday, as part of his whistle-stop on the west coast going into next week’s NDP leadership vote.

Although many Canadians only know Singh from the strange racist thing that happened at one of his campaign events last week*, I have been aware of his work as one of the brightest lights in Ontario politics for a couple of years, but recognized his national potential (admittedly late to the story) after his appearance on Sook-Yin Lee’s podcast last year.

My take-away from the ride is that Singh, in person, did not disappoint or surprise. He was affable, sincere, and charming. He seemed to be balancing the strangeness of being suddenly-recognizable in a City he hardly knew. It was fun during the bike ride to watch as pedestrians and other cyclists did the double-take and smiled or pointed when they recognized him (or to quote one woman I rode by slowly:”Oh My God, is that him!?”). The ride participants talked to him about very Vancouver issues – the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the decade-of-BCLiberal-rule-crisis – and he seemed to know the right questions to ask, which in his current position and given the setting, is much better than acting like he has all the answers. He was clearly enjoying the conversations, pausing only occasionally to look out from the Sea Wall and remark at how much beauty there was in this City (jaded Vancouverites: “Meh”).

And, for the record: nice three piece suit, tie, polished shoes, and an upright Brompton with a well-worn Brooks. He hardly broke a sweat.

I’m looking forward to putting his name on my ballot next week.

*a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were lamenting the NDP leadership race wasn’t getting the media attention the Conservative one did. It was suggested (half-jokingly) that this is because the race lacked the batshit racist craziness of the CPC race. Is that irony?

Volunteers

As I noted a little earlier, this summer has been pretty active in New West. This last weekend the trend continued with the annual Pride Street Party. There were community groups booths, three stages with entertainment, an active kid’s area, beer gardens, food trucks, and local restaurants and beer gardens were filled to overflowing. While other parts of the City and the world were having confrontations about inclusiveness and diversity, thousands of people filled Columbia Street to celebrate victories won for inclusion and understanding, and had fun on a sunny afternoon.

It was a great day in New West, and one that would not have been possible without an army of volunteers.

New West Pride Society is a volunteer-run society that organizes and executes the entire event. The City helps with a grant through our festival grant program, and many sponsors step up to pay for everything from volunteer t-shirts to stage rental and advertising. However all of the actual work, the organization, the year of planning, the hundreds of tasks on event day, everything is done by volunteers.

It isn’t just Pride. The New West Farmers Market, the New West Cultural Crawl, The New West Grand Prix, the Hyack International Parade,  Pecha Kucha NW, the New West Film Fest, the events that make the City come alive, are run largely on the backs of volunteer labour. Lots of Volunteer labour.

No surprising point to this, just a short post to give an extra “Thanks” to the volunteers that make this City so full of great activity – from the Presidents of Societies that work all year long, to the folks who show up on game day to sell tickets or pick up litter. I hope that everyone who enjoyed an event this year will think about volunteering for next year’s version of whatever event they enjoyed (and it doesn’t have to be just one). It doesn’t take much time (many hands make light work), you might get a T-shirt (see banner), and it makes the event even more enjoyable for you. You can say “I helped make this happen”, you will help create more opportunities to enjoy the summer with your friends, and you will more likely than not make new friends.

Friday on Front

Yikes. That was a crowd.

I had a slight sense that our little Grand Opening on the Front Street Mews was going to have a big turnout. It had all the elements – a new public space, nice weather, music, and a Beer Truck. Still, I think the turnout was about 5x planning estimates. Which is a good problem to have, I guess, although I was among those who spent a lot of time in the beer line up…

Fortunately, most people were happy to see the crowd and the space, the open liquor licence model didn’t seem to cause any problems, and the spill-over meant it was hard to find an empty restaurant or pub seat in Downtown. Which I guess is the ultimate goal.

Again, there are many people to thank for making this event happen – Kendra and her Downtown BIA team, City staff who helped organize, the Arts Council and NW Farmers Market for the boothy goodness, and all the Happy New Westies who showed, once again, that we can have fun outside, show up in numbers, and not create problems.

I cannot believe this used to be three levels of parking.
I cannot believe this used to be three levels of parking.

Music by the River

The City tried a bit of an experiment on Thursday Night. We permitted the Arts Council to offer a few hours of free music at the Pier Park, set up a few artisan booths, and (gasp) offer beer and wine for sale in an open-licence model that allows families to sit together and responsibly enjoy a drink without the hassles or unnecessary barriers of the traditional “Beer Garden” area.

Hanging out with three happy EDs who do so much to make New West the place to be!
Hanging out with three happy EDs who do so much to make New West the place to be!

And whattya know? Hundreds of people showed up. Several of them politely stood in lines a little longer than expected to buy a glass of beer or wine and waited longer than expected for a hotdog or burger while most just enjoyed the sunny weather, the cool vibe, and their community. The music was electronic and new pop, but the crowd was a remarkably diverse mix of young and old. Many thanks to Stephen and his Arts Council crew for putting this on, to Alex at Superb Real Estate Group for pitching in some sponsorship, and to New West for once again showing up to prove we are ready to enjoy our public space.

Music by the River will happen every Thursday in July.

Rent Bank Launch

It was a great day today for the official launch of the New Westminster Rent Bank.

Members of City Council met at the Purpose Society with the organizers and financial backers of this program. The City’s role was to help with logistics and provide a modest grant to help with administration costs, but the real leaders of this initiative are the 6 community Credit Unions in New Westminster who agreed to provide funding for loans, and the two women here who made it happen:
20170706_153512Judy Darcy saw the need for temporary support to prevent homelessness for a number of working poor in our community, and Nadine Nakagawa did so much of the work required to identify partners, get a team together, and push this project forward. Without their energy, and their passion for making New Westminster a more inclusive, sustainable community, this initiative wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

This is not *the* solution to homelessness, but it is one measure that can make a huge difference in preventing homelessness at a very low cost to the City and the funding partners. Kudos to everyone inolved.

Keeping Busy

My New Year’s goal of writing more frequent blog posts – even just short ones – is being challenged by my schedule. So as part of ongoing lemonade-making efforts, I will make a blog post out of my too-busy-to-write-anything-useful day today.

I attended a meeting this morning where the lead researchers of the Southwest BC Bioregion Food System Design Project reported out results of the first phases of their ongoing study. There is a lot to digest (pun!) here, and the actual reports are going to be made publicly available in a couple of weeks, so I will wait until then to have a longer discussion about what this research project means, to the region and to a City like New Westminster (we were one of 8 Local Governments that provided a little funding to help bring this research to life).

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Long version short – we are challenged to supply all of our food locally in this rapidly growing region, and without significant change in how and what we eat, the region will never be self-sustaining no matter how much ALR we protect. However, there are some significant economic and other advantages to encouraging increased use of ALR land for local food crops, and less reliance on food imports. There are also (somewhat paradoxically) some potential environmental/ecological disadvantages to this approach. It is a complex problem, as might be expected from an analysis of so many interweaving complex systems.

After this meeting, I took my first ever trip on the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam City Hall to meet with members of Coquitlam Council and staff to continue our discussion of the Brunette Overpass project. Nothing exciting to announce yet here, except for continued progress in finding common ground on the principles and challenges of the project. I remain positive about this file.

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It may be telling about our biases that the New Westminster contingent (Council members and Staff) rode the Evergreen together to and from the meeting, reducing at least by one or two the number of vehicles trying to get through the constricted interchange that connects our City. Its almost as if there are alternatives to more lanes…

Finally, this evening members of the New Westminster Advisory Committee on Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians, and the Parks and Recreation Committee had a joint meeting to talk about potential design and functional elements of a waterfront connection between the Pier Park and Sapperton Landing.

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We are *really early* in this process, and although making a connection here is a Council priority, we have a lot of jurisdictional, engineering, and budget issues to work through. However, some high-level understanding of what people would want or expect from the connection is useful in setting some terms and developing concepts.

These are all projects I hope to be able to write more about soon. I’d love to hear your opinions about any of them.

NW Station glass

After several months of disruption, it is with little fanfare that the New Westminster Skytrain station was fully re-opened after renovation. Immediately noticeable in the new station is the mural stretching up the staircase to the eastbound platform.

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In a nice understated nod to local history, the glass mural is an amalgam of images from New Westminster history, some familiar, some not. The photos were drawn form New West Archives and the Vancouver Public Library collection, and collaged with colour effects by artist Sean Alward.

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The overall effect down the staircase is to mimic the flow of the Fraser River itself, with various pictures of “nature” juxtaposed with “resources” that we have created from nature through a 150+ year history of New Westminster’s development. And the people are more shadows, impressions imposed on the background. A really nice piece. And what’s with the blimp?

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Meeting with Coquitlam

Members of New Westminster and Coquitlam Councils, with staff support on both sides, had a great meeting yesterday to discuss the Brunette Interchange project.

The meeting included a tour of important locations on both sides of Highway 1. Both Councils took the opportunity to share ideas and issues, and have a better understanding of the many concerns with the current traffic through this corridor and with the potential solutions offered by the Ministry of Transportation.

I still have serious concerns with this project, but was really pleased with yesterday’s discussions between the two Councils. The meeting was positive, respectful, and informing, and I am looking forward to the discussions ahead.