It was a fun evening, recognizing the emerging leaders of the “new” New Westminster, as selected by the Newsleader. My impression from the organizers is that the City does a very good job recognizing its tradition and history, and its long-serving community members, but we rarely acknowledge the up-and-coming generation of potential leaders. As a Citizen-of-the-Year nominee said to me last week (and I paraphrase): “It is nice someone is recognizing those with positive viewpoints and optimism, instead of always hearing from the City’s boo-birds!”
The result is an interesting collection of New Westminster residents: from an internationally-recognized author to a Sportscaster who takes time from reporting on the Olympics to coach the local High School football team, to some of the City’s biggest cheerleaders. There are volunteers, business owners, innovative thinkers, and other community-builders.
And one random blogovator.
The guest speaker was the most inspiring part of the event for me. Mark Brand of the Save-on-Meats social empire. If you don’t know his story, here is a story about his unique approach to community-based business. Or watch this bank commercial to see another look at his story:
I loved Mark’s talk, because he gave us just enough of his stunningly diverse upbringing to let us see into his motivations in building community, and because it always felt he was talking from the heart (I also admired that he wasn’t afraid to drop a well-applied f-bomb in front of the Acting Mayor!). However, Mark’s talk mostly got me thinking about risk, how different people measure the reward part of the risk-reward equation, and how we measure success.
The NextUP group included people like me, who do our thing (if you consider whinging on-line a “thing”), and people like Tej Kainth who do lots of things all the time, all for the building of community. But I have comfortable job and a comfortable life: not rich, but not worried about money, because I can afford to eat and I don’t spend much. I have the luxury of volunteer time and energy and ability (and recognize those are luxuries many cannot afford). But I don’t really take risks in my life. I rarely have. So coming out of the NextUP event, I wanted to acknowledge those people in our City who have taken and are taking risks.
I think about NextUP honouree Paul Minhas – who took a risk on Columbia Street almost a decade ago, when few others were forecasting the resurgence of the Golden Mile. He decided he could run a place that had good food, a friendly atmosphere, an artistic setting, and (here is the magic) live music every night! More than a jazz club, the Heritage Grill hosts open mic nights, poetry, LGBT events, bluegrass, rock-a-billy, flamenco, mariachi – you just don’t know what you might hear one night at the Heritage. But it is always live, and it is close-up and intimate, so you can have a beer with the artist between sets. I have met much of my New West Social Network indirectly through Paul, as his club was willing to host Green Drinks – an event where he surely sold more connections and conversations than actual drinks (aside: look for a return of Green Drinks New West edition in 2013). The point is, Paul was right, and his risk has paid off for the neighbourhood where there are now a half-dozen nice spots to get a beer (but still only one dedicated live-music venue!)
Or NextUP honouree Mark Shieh, who saw the empty husk of the Westminster Quay – almost derelict after 20 years of failure to find momentum – and took a risk. He risked his energy, his credit, his money. A Mechanical Engineer opening and running some sort of new-style urban shopping mall: Crazy. Mark is still taking that risk, as tenants are arriving, some prospering, some likely just waiting and hoping that their own risk will pay off. But look at the River Market on any given Saturday, and you can see that there is something being built here from which we are all benefiting.
I had friends visiting from Calgary/Toronto last weekend, and was proud to take them down to the Market for brunch, and show them the optimism of the Market, the beauty of the location, and the quality of the food! I didn’t feel like I had to take out-of-town guests down to Vancouver to “show off” my community. Between the River Market, the Pier Park, and Antique Alley, we had a great afternoon in New West.
What the two Marks and Paul have in common is that they took the risk, for which many more if us are receiving the reward. I think especially of Mark Brand, who seems to have taken a series of huge leaps, run several businesses, and seemingly never made much money. A guy with that kind of entrepreneurial spirit and relentless drive could be driving a Ferrari and choosing what shade of white shag would best suit his yacht. Instead, he is building a social enterprise – building a community. For his own benefit surely (we build the world we want to live in), but also for the benefit of untold future entrepreneurs using his “incubator” kitchen, and for the neighbours who for whatever reason haven’t had the opportunity to find success in our society.
I admire these risk-takers, from someone not nearly as brave. But you got me thinking: maybe its time for me to take a risk or two. There are a few things I would like to see happen in this City that will take a more hands-on approach. Maybe it’s time for me to take a chance.