Following on my previous post, the good news/bad news dichotomy of 2013 fails (as all false dichotomies do) on several of the biggest stories of the year, as I find them blending good and bad news.
The Pattullo Bridge: This story started off as bad news, as TransLink appeared dead-set on sticking a 6-lane bridge where it doesn’t belong while offering little in the way of public consultation. However, vocal concerns related to this project from the public and the City of New Westminster lead TransLink to engage in a more comprehensive consultation process. The ‘default” mode of replacing a piece of aging infrastructure with a bigger, more expensive piece was re-evaluated, and a more holistic look at the needs of the community and the role of the transportation system was taken. Looking at the “problem set” agreed to by all stakeholders, there no longer seemed any way to justify a bridge larger than the one there now. Fittingly, a more comprehensive list of options was presented, and it looked like a more reasoned approach to TransLink’s “aging bridge problem” was in the offing.
That said, there are signs the positive feeling we were getting in 2013 might be short lived. TransLink is coming back to the community to consult on the next phase of planning in the next month of two, and the early reports are that the 6-lane bridge is back on the front burner. This time, they appear to be adding a strange bauble meant to appease some concerned about Trucks on Royal Ave., but will in fact make the rat-running and other negative traffic impacts on our City worse. I can’t say too much more at this point, except that this will be the biggest issue in New Westminster in the spring of 2014, and will create a strange local dynamic in the upcoming municipal election and TransLink referendum. Watch this spot!
School District 40: This story is another of the endlessly-long variety, with many twists and turns in 2013. At the beginning of the year, it was all bad news. The budget deficit went from terrible to critical, this as the Treasurer of the district resigned, which threw more chaos into the mix. With lay-offs and equipment shortages, all was bad news. However, as 2013 drew to a close, there were signs of a turn-around. The brutal austerity measures appear to be leading to a more stable budget, there is new leadership on the Board, and while one of the long-awaited new schools is taking shape, another is creeping closer to reality.
However, the austerity will be brutal, and there are signs that the new leadership will not automatically end the partisan bickering that we all know and love around the Trustee Table. Turning a ship as big as School District 40 doesn’t happen quickly, but it is easier to do if the ship is not taking on water. With all the bad news, there are at least a few reasons to be positive about the direction the district is moving as we get into the 2014 Election Year.
The Waterfront: There were a lot of little stories relating to New Westminster’s waterfront that, individually didn’t get much press, but put together, draw a picture of a great future for the City. The success of the Pier Park and the resurgence of the River Market are carry-overs from 2012, but they are part of the positive momentum that is forming down there. The announcements that the City is ready to start thinking post-parkade planning, and the recent announcement that a new, more human-scale proposal for the Larco Property point to a bright future for this important part of the City. I won’t go on length, as I recently did just that, but this is a bigger story for the decade ahead than the amount of media it received would lead you to think.
Of course, I am being a little coy about the two *biggest stories* of 2013, as so much has already been said about them, but there were two events for which 2013 will be remembered in New Westminster.
The fire; Was easily the most terrible news of the year. The City lost some beautiful heritage buildings, and several important downtown businesses (not the least being my favourite Pho place!). The resulting gap in the retail streetscape which, even in the best of circumstances, will linger for more than a year or two, is a step backwards in the momentum we were seeing downtown. I hope this isn’t a nail in the coffin for the Antique Row on Front Street.
But out of the bad news, we managed to find positive in the community. The heroic work of the firefighters from New Westminster and the neighbouring communities to stop the spread of the fire in challenging conditions, the rallying of citizens, businesses, and the City in providing whatever the businesses needed – whatever could be found, from leasable space to cash – to maintain business continuity as much as possible and help those impacted move on. It is still going on with a fundraiser next week at De Dutch, the Shopping bag program, and more. The Fire also brought us all out to think about what buildings and heritage are, taught us how diverse our downtown business community is (there were 20 businesses in just those buildings!?), and reminded us that what we need to value what we have, as it can be lost.
Hyack: Many column inches were spent on this issue, an internal dispute that spun out into the public and shone some (perhaps unwelcome?) light on an organization that we all know about, most of us love, but many of us hardly think about. With this story still developing, and an AGM scheduled for early 2014, it is hard to say what surprise comes next, but there is no doubt that Hyack needs to think about how it will re-build the parts of its reputation that have been tarnished, if they are given the opportunity. The latest shot in the letters section (one from deep inside, apparently) doesn’t help smooth the waves, though.
Again, this “bad news” story overshadowed the good news of the City’s festival spirit. With or without Hyack, the opportunities for sharing and enjoying our City have increased in recent years. Newer events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival compliment the ongoing success of events like the monumentally-attended Show & Shine, Sapperton Day, Riverfest, and yes, the Parade and other events around the Hyack Festival. Pride Week Events were also great this year, and friends involved in the organization tell me the response they are getting is so good that they are looking at serious expansion of that event over the next few years.
So at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, 2014 is looking positive: Everything is coming up New West!