UBCM 2018

Apologies to regular readers (Hi Mom!) that I have not been putting a lot of content on this blog recently. The campaign is in full swing, we are still doing our regular City Council stuff, and I have another job that keeps me occupied. Hopefully back to regular programming in later October. In the meantime, I am talking more about campaign stuff on my campaign Facebook page, and on the my campaign website and trying to keep this page about City stuff that isn’t campaigning.

However, I thought it apropos to provide a quick update on the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting. I was not able to attend this year, mostly due to work and Council commitments. I did go up there on September 10th (disclosure: on the City’s dime) to attend the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council quarterly meeting, and the Minister’s breakfast that is hosted by that Council (of which I am a member). It was a productive meeting, and we were able to discuss the BCMCLC’s response to the Province’s Clean Growth Intentions Paper, which was both supportive of the work the province wants to do, and suggestive of some further steps the province could take to support local governments in reaching the aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals that are required to meet Canada’s Paris targets.

I then returned to Whistler on Wednesday (not on the City’s dime this time) to attend the Lower Mainland LGA meeting (I am a vice president) and to present the annual Community Energy Association awards to communities taking exceptional efforts to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In my role as Chair of the CEA, it was my honour to share the awarding duties with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. I also had the opportunity to give one of the awards to the Mayor of Nelson for their Solar Garden project –and let her know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, demonstrated by New Westminster copying their model for our own Solar Garden project.

The good news coming out the UBCM is that some resolutions we sent to be debated were passed by the membership of UBCM. These were:

B-8: Alert Ready Emergency Alert System

… be it resolved that UBCM works with the Province of British Columbia to provide access to the Alert Ready (emergency alert) system to local governments in order to allow them to broadcast critical and potentially life threatening alerts to residents of their respective communities using the framework of the Alert Ready System.

B-54: Cannabis and Harmonizing Smoking Regulations

… be it resolved that UBCM urge the Provincial Government of British Columbia to extend the prescribed distance from a doorway, window, or air intake in which a person must not smoke tobacco, hold lighted tobacco, use an e-cigarette or hold an activated e-cigarette from 6 meters to 7.5 meters and prohibit smoking in all public parks by amending the Tobacco and Vapour Control Regulations and by ensuring the corresponding distances prescribed in the Cannabis Control and Licensing Regulations are the same.

And:
B-102: Updating the BC Motor Vehicle Act to Improve Safety for All Road Users

… be it resolved that the provincial government be requested to support modernization of the Motor Vehicle Act, addressing the recommendations in the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC Position Paper entitled “Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act” to enhance safety for all road users.

I have to admit, I’m pretty chuffed about that last one.

The Booth

People who follow my exploits (Hi Mom!) know I have been running this webpage for several years, and not too long after I first got elected as a City Councillor, I added an “Ask Pat” button to it. Through this, people can send me questions about the City, and I try my best to answer them. Recognizing that not everyone reads my Blog, I decided to take Ask Pat analogue a little while ago; hence the Lucy Booth.

(Credit where credit is due: Hayley Sinclair is convinced this was her idea, but I am pretty sure the original inspiration was JJ Lee’s “Sartorial Advice” booth from a few years ago, it just took me a long time to put this into action).

Having set this up in various places around town over the last few months, the response is pretty fun. However, last weekend’s Pride Street Fest was the most active booth location yet, with more than 100 questions being asked, most of them answerable, some even by me. Examples? (shortened in both question and answer for the sake of brevity)

Q: What is the long-term plan for the QtoQ Ferry?
A: We will see how the ridership on this year’s Pilot goes, and will work with senior partners to help close a funding gap. I hope we can continue to run it, because it is an important transportation link!

Q: Is the rental building at *00 block of *th street turning into Condos?
A: No. We do not permit the conversion of residential rental to condo in the City, and we would hear about it if that was happening.

Q: What is the smallest thing?
A: The Planck Length (*turns out I was only kinda right here, as is to be expected whenever anyone involves quantum physics).

Q: Is the City developing Glenbrook Ravine?
A: No. The Ravine is one of the few natural areas left in the city, and is an important park and habitat asset. A large part of it was preserved permanently as part of the Victoria Hill agreement. No-one has proposed buildings in the ravine to Council, and I cannot imagine Council ever agreeing to do this.

Q: (from a ~9 year old girl) Why does my big brother always bug me?
A: Probably because he is jealous of you! That’s why I bugged my big sister! But don’t worry, I grew out of it.

Q: Do you agree with a 10-lane pool?
A: Yes, and we are working on a grants to help pay for it and the increased deck space and other additions to the base plan for the CGP replacement that Hyack Swim Club asked for – Contact your MLA and MP to put in a good word for the pool, and help us secure those grants!

Q: What is going to happen with Marijuana Dispensaries in October?
A: The City will permit cannabis retail in a limited way as soon as the federal laws are in place, I suspect it will be limited to a few locations in the short term, and probably won’t arrive until Christmas at the earliest, mostly because of the complicated process we need to go through with Zoning and Business License regulations. It’s coming, and we are going to be ready.

Etc., etc.

Both serious and funny questions aside, there was one theme I heard a few times that was, frankly, the hardest question to answer:

Q: What are you doing about housing?
It is hard because I know any truthful answer I provide is not going to help. I can talk about the City investing in several affordable housing projects (it isn’t enough), about us working to bring in more purpose built rental (it is increasingly unaffordable), about our protecting the affordable rental we have by preventing demovictions (but are hand-tied somewhat when it comes to renovictions). I can say, honestly, we are doing all we can, and are doing arguably more than any other municipality in BC; but it is still not enough to fix the problem. We are advocating to senior governments for help, and it is starting to trickle in, but after 15+ years of inaction, it isn’t fast enough. This answer is hard, because I know the people asking me are scared and feel helpless, and I know my answers will not help them feel more secure. Empathy feels hollow when people are suffering, because it isn’t enough.

I’m working on a blog post right now that digs a little deeper into this topic.

Have questions? You can send them to Ask Pat, but recognize I am really busy these days with Campaign stuff, and it may take a while before you get an answer. It will be more immediate if you see a little red booth set up, and come and talk. If you ask a question, you may also get a button:

Innovation! Transportation!

Next week is Innovation Week in New West. It actually starts with an Opening Reception at City Hall this Friday night which should be off-the-hook (with free music and video presentations and a special Steel & Oak release!) If you are in the #NewWest #Twitterati, you probably know this already, but some of you may wonder: “What is Innovation Week? And what can it do for Me?”

Let. Me. Tell. You.

As part of New West’s Intelligent City initiatives, Innovation week is a showcase of how technology, innovation, and sharing information can make our City work better, can make us a stronger community, can make businesses more prosperous and residents happier. It is about strategically leveraging innovative ideas like the City’s award-winning Open Data portal with hardware like the BridgeNet fibre network to build a better and more equitable future.

Now I read that last paragraph, and it is all true, but it doesn’t really tell you what Innovation Week is, does it? Let me try again.

Innovation Week is a series of panel discussions, hands-on workshops, networking sessions, tours and activities all open to the public, and inclusive of all ages, experiences, and interests. There will be classes to teach kids about coding, a Hack-a-Thon for teams of coders to develop new tech, forum discussions about new ideas, chances for Tech start-ups and businesses of all sizes to connect with Private and Public funding sources to bring ideas to reality. All wrapped up in fun enough with arts and music to keep your mind fresh. Through the week, you will be given reasons to dream, and information and resources to make that dream work.

I will probably write again about more events (if I get time, or else I will live tweet from there!), but I want to call attention to two events in particular, as they are interesting (I think) to the entire region:

Metro Conversations is a talk series I have been helping to organize with council colleagues from other municipalities. Out Fifth Conversation will be on Tuesday the 27th in the evening on the topic of The Promise of Innovations in Transportation. But instead of just dreaming of autonomous vehicles and hyperloops and Tunnels, we are going to ask whether the technological promises addresses what we actually want from our Cities – safe streets, livable neighbourhoods, sustainable communities, social connections and equity. This will be a fast-paced hour-long conversation, free to attend, but you might want to register as we don’t have the biggest room.

As a bit of a primer: watch this video form 1958, and ask yourself, is this the community we want? And how does this differ from Elon Musk’s vision of tunnels and hyperloops “connecting” our community.

The second event I with broad regional appeal for people like me who care about Sustainable Transportation and how it interacts with City Planning will be the Transportation Forums on March 1st. I’d suggest you book the time off work and enjoy the entire day, but you really don’t want to miss the evening event, as Mobility Pricing is sure to be the hottest political topic in the Lower Mainland through the fall elections and into 2019.

The evening forum will feature the Chair of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, one of the most respected and outspoken Urban Planners in Canada, and an Economist who can unpack the idea of what “fairness” is when it comes to paying for our regional transportation infrastructure. The Mayor of New Westminster will moderate the discussion, and it is free to attend.

If you are like me, you may be interested but apprehensive about Mobility Pricing. I have engaged in TransLink’s “Its Time” consultations, and understand how Mobility Pricing works in Singpore and London and Helsinki, but am cognizant of the challenge we have in Vancouver setting up a system that fits our region, and can be politically supported by the broad interests of the region. I’m hoping this forum will answer some of the questions I have, and allow me to better engage with the proponents and critics of road pricing.

There is a tonne of other great stuff happening between February 23 and March 3. Please come out and support these events, and thanks the many sponsors who help lead these conversations in New West. That link again.

Green City?

Long-time readers (Hi Mom!) will remember that I got involved in this entire blog thing through an environmental lens. When I moved my constant beaking off onto the internet back in 2010, I had been involved with groups in New West and regionally who were trying to promote sustainability and environmental protection, in my profession, in the community, and in politics.

At the time, New West Council was making significant shifts towards better environmental policy. A few of the newer members of Council, led by some young whippersnapper named Cote, were putting environmental issues on the agenda. The City was adopting environmental policies, hired an Environmental Coordinator, and was moving into developing a sustainability framework that would become Envision2032.

The City of New West considers itself a leader in environmental initiatives, however I have yet to see a local government that doesn’t consider itself a leader on this front. That may sound critical, but it is really more a reflection of the sometimes poorly-defined and always evolving concept of environmental sustainability. Local governments (like most organizations, and most people for that matter) emphasize the good things they are doing and progress they are making, but are commonly blind to the things they are not doing. When it comes to something like environmental sustainability, consistent re-evaluation of goals and metrics is the only way to avoid comfortable smugness.

Recognizing this, the City is inviting you to help us move forward on environmental policy. Council has asked staff to review what we are doing, and what we can do better – both a gap analysis and reality check. And we are asking you to help.

This week (October 25th!) there will be a Public Event called Royal City / Green City, where we are going to get people into a room to talk about where our environmental policies are, and where they need to be. We are bringing together some subject matter experts to provide inspiration, and perhaps to push us in uncomfortable directions. We will also be asking all attendees to react to what they hear, and push the City. It is completely free and open to everyone, whether you work, live, study or play in New West. We do ask that you register ahead of time so we can properly plan for the numbers who will arrive, because this will be an interactive event. You can register here:

Maybe to get the creative juices flowing, I want to challenge the three- (or increasingly four-) pillar idea model of sustainability. This has become the standard model of suggesting sustainability is a balance between three competing forces – protection of the environment, growth of the economy, and maintenance of societal standards. Diagrammatically, it usually looks like this (copied from Envision2032):

This has always caused me to itch, because I have never felt it accurately reflects the interdependence between the three pillars. Without a sustained environment, we cannot have an economy or a society. Take that one pillar away, the other two disappear. Similarly, our economy exists within, and is defined by, the structures of our society. It cannot exist without a societal structure, which is, in turn, defined by the environment in which we live. In my mind (and I’m not the only person to suggest this) the three pillars should be drawn like this:Actions, technologies, and organizations impact our economy, which in turn shape our society, which in turn impact the greater natural environment. When we shape policies, when we evaluate the worth of technology or price individual actions, we are using economic tools to adjust the shape of our society. If that re-shaping supports the protection of the natural environment in a way that doesn’t constrain future societies from access to natural resources, then we can call those actions “sustainable”.

Clearly, I’m not a philosopher, so come out on October 25th and tell me how I am wrong!

UBCM17 – Day 0

The annual UBCM Conference was in Vancouver last week, and I attended for only the second time in my term as a City Councillor. I reported here, here, and here on my impressions from last year, but I was among those going into this year with different expectations, what with a fresh new provincial government, and one that has emphasized the importance of working with Local Governments. Indeed, I expect many local government types had expectations going in they were unrealistically high, but let’s see where this went.

I will drag this out across a few blog posts, as it was a jammed week. I’ll try to keep it concise, though this may get pretty wonkish for some regular readers. There was a lot to learn this year, and since the citizens of New Westminster pay my registration, I think it is important to report out so you know what you got for that money.


Monday is a bit of a pre-conference day, as the conference in earnest begins on Tuesday, but I attended two education sessions on Monday, and am glad I did.

The morning session was on Cannabis Regulations from a Local Government Perspective. There were presentations from the new Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and Sukhbir Manhas, a Lawyer specializing in Municipal Law who put the legal framework in perspective. This was followed by a Panel Discussion with four Mayors from around the Province and a bit of a Q & A session.

It is clear that marijuana for recreational consumption will be legal federally in July of 2018. We also know that the federal government will be responsible for the regulation of production of marijuana, and the provinces will be responsible for regulating wholesale and retail distribution of product, regulating consumption, and for enforcement. It is not clear what role Local Governments will play, except in that we are “Creatures of the Province”, and will be given our roles either through direct regulation or by a local desire to fill a regulatory gap left by provincial action.

It was an interesting session, with a lot of topics discussed, but short version is that the Minister made the commitment to open public consultation and to engaging Local Governments in a constructive way to address our concerns. There will clearly be economic impacts of any regulation. But the Minister was warned by other jurisdictions with which he has been consulting (including Washington State and Colorado) that revenue generation cannot be the driver of regulation, or the important public policy implications can fall by the wayside while short-term costs of setting up the regulatory regime are often underestimated. There will be revenue, but perhaps the message is that we shouldn’t be in a rush to spend it until we understand its character.

Dr. Kendall gave us some interesting perspectives about the public health implications of different policy directions – what age is the right age to permit cannabis use? What to do about public smoking rules, and what to do with multi-unit buildings? How to manage edibles? How do we provide the right price-quality-convenience balance that we effectively cut organized crime out of the supply chain? Legislation must balance these out if we wish to have the best public health outcomes. He presented this compelling graph:

link to source.

In short, if your interest is in managing public health impacts, a well-regulated market is better than a completely unregulated market (like cigarettes used to be) or blanket prohibition (like Cannabis is now) – but finding that middle is the delicate balance we need to strive for. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have provided some pretty good guidelines, and research in existing and potential policy tools, but we have yet to see what advice the federal government will be taking.

Mr. Minhas and the Mayors’ Panel both discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for local governments coming out of this, and the importance of us coordinating with the province prior to next July. We need to be ready for the inevitable change that is coming, if only so we are ready to address the inevitable community concerns in areas that Local Governments have jurisdiction – land use, business regulation, and nuisance management. Our tools are limited, but are most effective if we get ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, there is lots of evidence, especially from the Q&A session, that this is an area where many local government attitudes lag far behind the progressive public policy work of other jurisdictions and even public perception. From the lame Cheech & Chong joke that opened the session to one long-serving Mayor of an certain agriculture-intensive Lower Mainland Municipality expressing fear that her City will become the “Pot Capital of BC” (causing me to question if she would feel that worried if it became the Craft Brewing Capital of BC, or the Winery Capital of BC?), it is clear that attitudes about cannabis will not change as quickly as the regulation of it will – which suggests some difficult conversations ahead.


My second session on Monday was on Green Innovation and new Environmental Policies. We had a presentations from Jonathan Wilkinson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and from George Heyman, the new provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. They talked mostly of senior governments’ commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement goals to reduce emissions, and both acknowledged the role local governments will need to play to meet those goals.

A statistic oft repeated during UBCM was that local governments in Canada are responsible for about 66% of infrastructure, create about 50% of all emissions, but only receive about 6% of all tax revenue. This results in some pretty obvious math: if we want to reduce emissions, we need to update that infrastructure, which is going to cost money.

Which brought us to the topic of grants. There were some details on the Federal Build Canada Infrastructure Fund, and the process being developed through the Provincial Government to make these funds available to local governments. These funds may be applicable to help us fund a few projects in New Westminster where we are planning to reduce the emissions by updating our infrastructure (Canada Games Pool is our single largest emission source) or wish to shift the community to lower-carbon energy sources (The proposed District Energy Utility for Sapperton would replace gas-fired boilers for and expanded RCH and could provide ample carbon-free baseload heat for dozens of high-density residential and commercial developments).

This was followed by Panels on actions that some Local Governments are taking to reduce emissions or modernize their energy supply – from embedding energy sustainability in their OCP (done!) to helping strata complexes bring electric vehicle charging on-line, to implementing the Step Code to promote more energy efficient buildings.

Actually, there was a lot of talk about electricity and the transportation sector, from private cars to transit to heavy trucks. Some question whether the advances in vehicles are too fast compared to our ability to provide the infrastructure to support the shift. According to BC Hydro, if all of the 2.4 Million light-duty vehicles in British Columbia could be replaced with EVs today, and it would only result in a 19% increase in base load. As EV charging predominantly happens when other loads on the system are not high, (i.e. at night), this is less of a problem at the generation end than some may have you believe. On a per-year basis, the average Tesla uses about half the electricity as the average hot tub. Let that sink in for a bit.

The reality is we cannot build the plugs for all these vehicles fast enough for it to become a problem in the short term.

I also learned this:
EV or PEV or ZEV or CEV = PHEV + BEV.
In the electric car world, that’s a funny joke.

Finally, I want to note that today’s two sessions were informative, but I couldn’t help but notice I saw 23 presenters and panelists over the two sessions. Five of them were female, while two others were visible minorities.

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.

The Grand Prix

The New West Grand Prix happened last week. Our City joined Vancouver, White Rock, Delta, Port Coquitlam, and Burnaby in hosting a BC Superweek professional bike race. And what a show it was. You can read the good news stories here, here, and (especially) here. But this is my Blog, so I’m going to take my time to (space?) to thank the many people who need to be thanked for making this project work. At least, I will try to thank as many of them as I can think of. An event like this is a partnership between many groups, and I’m going to risk missing a few important people here…

1

First and foremost, we had an army of volunteers making this happen, some who gave a few hours on the day, some who spent month ahead of time putting vital pieces in place. Community member Ron Cann provided great leadership and savvy guidance as the Chair of our organizing committee, Diane Perry organized the kids’ races and events, Bill DeGroot shook the bushes of the community for volunteers, and he and Jennifer Wolowic made sure the volunteer efforts were as organized as could be. Jennifer was also a star on Race Day, bringing her knowledge of high-level cycle racing to do any of a thousand small tasks that needed to be done. Mario Bartel helped put the Grand Prix on the social- and traditional-media map, and did what he does best by capturing stories through his camera lens. Ross “Mr. Jen” Arbo helped find a bunch of places for visiting racers to billet here in New West. This was the command structure of a volunteer army.

Add to this core group more than 100 volunteers who did everything from set up and tear down fences to standing at crosswalks for hours keeping people safe and many other tasks you didn’t even see being done. Here is where the greater New West community stepped up. We had teams from the local HUB Cycling chapter, The Queens Park Running Club, and from the Fraser River Fuggitivi road riding group. We had corporate teams, Youth Ambassadors, and a team from Last Door who were particularly adept at large-fence-panel moving, and scores f individuals who just wanted to help out. I don’t know where Bill found all of these people, but the first time I felt confident about this event working was the day of the Volunteer Dinner, a week before the event, when more than 100 people showed up eager to help make race day work. Thank you to everyone!

I want to thank some City staff who really stood up, but I don’t want to name them (I am, in some weird sense, their employer, and privacy rights and all…) I think they know who they are, and I’ve tried to thank them personally. An event like this pushes them past what is normally “just their job” and takes a passion and effort that is out of scale with their everyday, and so much of this work occurs of the side of the desk along with their everyday busy schedules. Council put a little extra stress on our staff because we (frankly) started a little late on this project. This meant we had to rush some parts of the program, it also meant we weren’t able to do a few of the things that would have made the program bigger or more exciting (many learnings in the can for next year!). However, staff coordinated with the volunteers and those running the bigger BC Superweek program and answered a thousand phone calls and e-mails about every aspect of the event, then showed up on event day to do a thousand tasks, big and small. Kudos all around.

This event relies on sponsors to pay a huge portion of the bills. Again, we were a little late to get started in 2017, but it is incredible how many sponsors stepped up to contribute. Bosa Developments, Domus Homes, I4 Property Group, and Skyllen Pacific were all major partners with the City on this community-building adventure. Strongside Conditioning and Billard Architecture were two local businesses that had their front door access impacted by the event, but turned that into a reason to get involved as major sponsors.

Of course Gordon from Cap’s Original Bike Shop got involved, providing prizes for the kids race, a great draw prize for the volunteers, and the professional “pit services” for the race. Boston Pizza made sure VIPs and volunteers got fed, S&O partnered to keep folks otherwise refreshed, and the Record and Global BC helped get the word out. Champion Systems, Gateway Casinos and Alpine Credits also pitched in, and Old Crow Coffee hosted our volunteer corral. Next time you visit one of these sponsors, thank them for taking part and helping to bring this event to New West. We really couldn’t do it without them, and they are making your City more fun to live in.

Similarly, we got a lot of support from downtown New Westminster. Both the Downtown BIA and Tourism New West came on board with support, but the merchants and residents of downtown also made adjustments to their day to allow us to have one of the large road closures in recent New West history. Can’t have a road bike race without a road.

Finally*, the fans and racers. The show was great, a kicking of butt by the Woman’s winner, and a late break almost caught by the sprint in the Men’s race… there were no spills but many thrills, and a marriage proposal to cap it off. The crowd was above expectations for our first year, and seemed really enthused by the event. It was a good evening. So whether you volunteered, sponsored, raced, spectated, were inconvenienced by the traffic, or just wandered by and asked “What tha heck?”, then decided to watch for a bit – thanks! I love when this town shows up!

*postscript: Thanks to Councillor Trentadue for invoking Rule #5 at the best possible time. You were right.

Regional Vision(s)

With a busy schedule at the city, and so much election-related angst and chatter and tension and fluff, I found a way to be inspired and challenged in the most positive way on Thursday.

The City Program at Simon Fraser University and the SFU Centre for Dialogue hosted a constructive dialogue on the topic of the Regional Plan, or more on the very topic of regional planning in a Metro Vancouver context. The guiding questions for a compelling 4 hour conversation were:

Is this vision of “Cities in a Sea of Green” still appropriate? Will it sustain us for the next half century? What are the issues our vision must address if it is going to continue to serve the region?

In the room were about two dozen regional leaders from academia, activists and community conversation leaders, planners new and old, and a couple of elected types, both new and old. I would love to list resumes, and attribute quotes (there were many great quotable moments), but the program was run under Chatham House Rule, in order to facilitate freer dialogue. There will be reporting out via the City Program, but what that looks like probably depends on where this new dialogue leads.

In as short a summary as I can muster, my read of the feeling in the room was that the vision and the resultant Regional Plans have served the region well, even as the populations rise, the economy boomed and busted, our economic drivers shifted, and public transit replaced freeways as the ideal connector between city centres. However, there are many flaws in its applicaiton, and many of the current crises challenging the region (affordability, transportation, increasing social alienation) have at least partial connections to the vision itself. The consideration of keeping this vision or developing a new one needs to be measured against its ability to adress our new pressures. There was a broad consensus that this is the time for the Region to be having this conversation, as the pressures right now feel large enough to shift the region in pretty fundamantal ways. I was driven to think about our beautiful, admired, and unique region as being on a precipice.

Instead of trying to summarize the entire diverse conversation here, I would like to touch on just a few points that really hit me.

The conversation we prefaced by a report by a small group of grad students from SFU that looked at the history of regional planning in Greater Vancouver, and the pressures on the current plan:

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The historic timeline was interesting. A few burgeoning communities collaborating on water and sewer systems in the first half of the last century prefaced an initial dabbling in regional landuse planning driven by the disastrous flood of 1948, but the first comprehensive regional growth strategy emerged in 1966 (where the vision “Cities in a Sea of Green” was first codified). This vision was still of town centers (Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Langley, etc. separated by greenspace and agricultural lands, tied together by freeways, as was the ethos of the day.

The complex history since this time has involved complex relationships between the province and the local government leaders – and there were great forward moves (The 1973 establishment of the ALR, formation of the GVRD, the 1975 Livable Region Plan and 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan, the 1998 formation of TransLink) and equally important slips backwards (Bill 9 in 1983, which abolished the regional planning function, the 2007 stripping of local governance of TransLink). Tried as I might, I couldn’t correlate the emphasis on regional planning with anything (resource industry boom-bust cycles, global economic shifts, housing prices, Canucks playoff runs) except with the name of the party forming government in Victoria.

That is part of a larger theme that became common: any plans made by the region for the region exists in a larger context of federal and provincial politics and how larger forces look at the purpose of our region.

It was noted that when Simon Fraser introduced the idea of the river that bears his name to the European colonist social media, there were more than 20,000 people living along its banks between Musqueam and Kwantlen. In a very literal sense, he was the first Gateway project planner. His goal was to push a route for hinterland commerce through to the coast, occasionally stopping to seek the permission of the people living there, but not overly concerned with whether that permission was granted. Two hundred years later, the Gateway has other leaders, but the mandate is little changed. As such, the story of the region can be told as a long series of carpet-baggers pushing past the locals for profit. The livability of the region, the ecology that supports it, the local food web and cultural values of the residents are no more important now to the National Enterprise of getting hinterland resources to tidewater than they were in 1808.

It would be ridiculous to equate our current planning frictions the centuries of cultural genocide that took place in North America; the point is only that the fundamental pressures have had similar vectors for a couple of centuries, even at massively shifting scales. There is no reason to asume that founding narrative will change now, and the best laid local and regional plans will fail if the important decisions that shape the region (Port Mann and Massey Bridges spring immediately to mind) are driven by different people working on a completely different plan.

In the end, the strongest feeling I had coming out of this event was (I sure hope @MsNWimby isn’t reading this) a desire to go back to school. To be sitting in a dialogue with people much smarter than me, bringing disciplines together and sharing compelling ideas that force me to shift my own assumptions about a topic so close to my heart was the most fun I have had in a few years.

Why can’t Facebook be like this?

RED Talks 2017

A few of us from New Westminster attended the RED Talks event in Vancouver last week, and I was pleasantly surprised by the content of the evening. Red Talks are a local rip riff off of the Ted Talks format, put on by the local development community – RED stands for Real Estate Development. However, it wasn’t developers touting their projects or contributions, it was a conversation about building better cities.

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The organizers were cheeky enough to create a bit of a faux-protest motif for the event, whose theme was “Confronting Consensus”, but the talks actually brought a nuanced conversation about development, housing, and the role of consultation as a discussion between the public and decision-makers. There were probably an equal number of jibes at the Real Estate industry as there was at elected officials, and everyone seemed to acknowledge that the current housing situation in Greater Vancouver isn’t sustainable, or even desirable in the shorter term.

I wished that the folks from Yes in New West were there to be inspired by two of the speakers in particular.

Seth Rogen’s academic brother?
Seth Rogen’s academic brother?

Paul Kershaw has his Generation Squeeze pitch down solidly, and has criticism for pretty much everyone involved in creating a housing market where an entire generation is feeling completely squeezed out. His economic stats were pretty compelling, demonstrating how today’s young professionals are in an entirely different economic universe than their parents, with home ownership being well out of reach for even the most responsible savers.

His call to action is pretty simple: Generation Squeeze has got to get organized, then get active, not just to demand better, but to give decision makers (elected officials, for the most part) the information and vocal support they need to make the sometimes difficult policy decisions that are required to shift our land use.

A perfect example of this call to action was personified in Sonja Trauss of BARF (Bay Area Renters Federation), who is taking a pretty active approach in San Francisco:20170330_192115
San Francisco has, arguably, a bigger housing affordability issue than Vancouver, and faces serious challenges increasing housing stock because of resident push-back against any form of density. The simple truth Trauss realized is that traditional public consultation, when it comes to housing development, completely misses the target. People who will live in new housing never go to the public hearings to support that housing, so the only voice heard at public meetings is that of the people who already have housing near the site of the development. In what other instance do we ask the only cohort who do not want a product to comment on the form of the product?

Her organization tries to break this cycle in San Francisco by organizing active feedback by renters and underhoused people to pretty much every development project in the Bay Area, arguing that rapid increases in regional housing supply is much more important than the (inevitable) parochial concerns.

The talks were rounded out by Nick Buettner of the Blue Zones Project and Steven Levitt, the Freakonomics guy.

The Blue Zones idea is familiar to most urban planning geeks – there are places in the world where combinations of built form and behavior results in longer lifespans and higher quality of life. It is intriguing to learn what lifestyle commonalities may be behind the gerontology anomalies of Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda, California.

Finally, I may have been the last person on earth to have read Freakonomics, which I did over the Christmas break while on vacation. I found Leavitt in person very much like I found the book: Interesting, but slightly frustrating. Leavitt has a bewildering combination of pattern-seeking insight and intellectual laziness. He finds new ways to pull insight out of noisy data, but then seems to lose interest in the complex interactions that may underlie these patterns – he seems to rush from correlation to causation with reckless abandon, which rubs us in the non-dismal sciences the wrong way. Worse, he response when being called out on this tenancy is essentially to say “Meh”.

All in all, an interesting evening that had me buzzing with OCP energy:

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Sunday

This is the latest in my continuing series on how inept I am at continuing my series on the things I am up to in the community outside of the regular Council Meeting schedule. However, there was so much happening on Sunday, it is worth trying to post.

June 12 is Philippine Independence Day. In 2016 that means 118 years since the Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines free of Spanish rule and for the first time unfurled the Flag of the Philippines. It would be another 48 years before the Treaty of Manila was signed, making the Philippines truly independent, but the June 12th anniversary is marked as the one where the Filipino people themselves declared their “inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence”.

This day is celebrated in New Westminster in honour of our third largest (and fastest growing) ethnic group in the City. We were honoured to have a representative of the Consular General and other dignitaries from the Filipino community, and we raised the flag of the Philippines over Friendship Gardens, with all of the appropriate speeches from people of importance.sunday1

Some of us had to rush off from that event to Sapperton Day on East Columbia Street.

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I made it just in time to take part in the annual tradition of the Red Tape race, where elected types and their proxies race tricycles for the honour, the glory, and a bag of kettle corn. You will have to read the sports pages to see who won… because it wouldn’t be classy for me to point it out. 😉

Important duties dispatched, I joined the crowds at Sapperton Day enjoying the sunny weather and great variety of events. I did all of those things a politician is meant to do:

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…and even had my bike handling skills tested by the good people at Caps and HUB.

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Then it was off to the New Westminster Lawn Bowling Club for the annual tradition of a Lawn Bowling Battle Royale between Team Mayor Cote and the New West Youth Ambassadors. It was a tightly fought competition where accuracy by far outweighed precision for both teams.

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This was a day of fun and games here in New Westminster, but as the clouds parted and the sun shone on our events, very dark news was unfolding. As the details of the horrific attack in Orlando trickled out, bad news became worse and more troubling as the day went on. Early in the afternoon, a few organizers from New West Pride put the word out that an impromptu vigil would be held at the Rainbow Crosswalk on Columbia Street. Social media news spread quickly, and scores of people showed up.

The President of NWPride, the Mayor and MLA Judy Darcy spoke, and several other members of the community said a few words about their personal experience or feelings. Candles were lit, silence ensued, and people shared a moment of being with other people, supporting one another, as a community is meant to do. There is a lot that people much smarter and more profound than I have said about the violence in Orlando, and I was left struggling for words for the day.

To me, and I think many others in our community, Pride in New West has been a celebration of inclusivity and acceptance. I’ve met so many great, engaged, interesting people through the organization and have enjoyed so many events they have brought to or supported in our City. So it is easy for a vanilla straight, male, cis, person like me to forget that Pride is also about a struggle for acceptance, and that the struggle is not over, even here despite how “accepting” we think our community is.

It is banal to talk about gun violence in the States; it is a national sickness that I lament they will never have the courage to address. The dog-whistle racism of blaming this event (well, every negative news event for the last decade) on a poorly defined religious/cultural stereotype is equally trite. Unfortunately, those are also useful distractions for the media in an overhyped election year. However, at its core, this was an attack on gay men for no other reason than their being openly gay. Whether you are in Orlando or New Westminster, this attack is meant to make you feel less safe simply because of who you are. That is why it is important that we don’t just celebrate, but announce acceptance; sometimes through small acts like a rainbow crosswalk or lighting up the Anvil Centre with rainbow lights, because we need to demonstrate that there is a community here who believe in this struggle, and are ready to support that struggle, hoping we can make our world more just for our friends, and for ourselves.

So you want to do something local to help with the celebration, and the struggle?

Here is a link to how you can help Pride New West out.