I’m back from a long vacation, where I saw many things, learned many things, and caught up on about 11 months of sleep deprivation. Among my adventures was visiting a Museum to Urban Planning – yes, I am that kind of geek. More on that later.
I haven’t done a “Year in Review” thing yet, and I guess as some of us like to pretend a Blog is a form of “media”, I am required to by some sort of law or code or something. However, the end of 2013 was so busy right up to the day I left for vacation, It just never happened. So a few days late, here is my New Year post.
Actually, I’ll make it two posts, because I’m busy and lazy and want to get twice the number of hits for the same amount of effort on my part. That’s apparently the key to Social Media success, don’t you know!
I’m going to start with New Westminster’s Good News stories of 2013:
New CAO: The announcement that Lisa Spitale was hired to be the new CAO for the City of New Westminster. In her time running the City’s Planning Department, Lisa was always approachable, honest, visionary, and hopeful. Her role in the positive direction the City has taken in the last decade is often overshadowed by the elected officials who cut the ribbons she has set up for them, but such is the life of the government staffer. I have had the opportunity to chat with Lisa at various consultations and open houses, and she has always struck me as someone who understands the bigger vision and the smaller details in municipal planning, while leaving the politics (and the ensuing battles) to the politicians, so she can just quietly get her job done. She specifically told me once she “doesn’t read the Blogs”, so I am pretty sure she won’t read this, but I am excited to see what stamp her personality puts on the City now that she is in the big chair.
Good things for Queensborough: The completion (on budget!) and opening (on schedule!) of the expanded Queensborough Community Centre, the development of a renewed Community Plan, regained momentum on the Q2Q pedestrian crossing: things are definitely moving in New Westminster’s “other borough”. As a “mainlander”, I am as guilty as most in sometimes paying less attention to the east end of Lulu Island as it deserves, but there is a real community over there, and it is growing fast. I delegated for the NWEP at the Council Meeting held at the new QCC, and it was great to see it so well attended – people in the ‘Burough are as proud of their neighbourhood as any other in New West- and for good reasons. The waterfront trail system and Port Royal neighbourhoods are real jewels the entire City should be proud of, as is the much more rural and relaxed central parts of Queensborough, where large lots and farmers fields still exist.
There are pressures, however. Some of the densification may be higher than ideal, especially considering the recent clawing back of transit service by TransLink. The re-imagining of Ewen Ave as a “Great Street” is long overdue, and not moving along quickly enough, which might be slowing the retail growth south of the Freeway. The long-term livability impacts of Port Metro Vancouver’s uncontrolled and unaccountable truck-oriented development along the waterfront are also a looming concern. However, Queensborough is no longer being ignored (if it ever was), and has some of the best views in the City for a walk-around.
New MLA: The 2013 election was, locally, a great campaign. Faces familiar and new stepped up and put their ideas to the test, and the totally predictable outcome still resulted in a surprising winner. Yes, we knew Judy Darcy was the odds-on favourite in this town of orange, but what surprised me about Judy was how different she was from the way her critics tried to paint her. Although a life-long labour activist, and relatively new to New West (that last point a characteristic she actually shared with her closest opponent), she did not come across at all like a parachute candidate. She has already established deep roots in the community, and in conversation, the immediate impression was not a polished politician, but a genuine person who has happened to work her whole life on social justice issues. She is a pleasure to talk to, asks the right questions, admits when she doesn’t have an answer, and has an infectious laugh that comes from deep down. She is going to be (and already is) a great MLA.
Given a high-profile shadow cabinet position, she has already become a strong voice for long-promised but not-really-budgeted Royal Columbian, Burnaby, and other hospital expansions, even pressing Health Minister Terry Lake to say, in effect, that those promises were only for election purposes, and were not to be taken seriously: a “quick win” for a rookie MLA against an established cabinet minister. If we ever actually have a legislative sitting, Judy will do us proud.
2013 wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There were some Bad News stories in New West in 2013:
Traffic Troubles: Some would say it is hard to believe traffic could get worse in New West, but people who actually pay attention to things like sustainable transportation management were not surprised. Now we have the situation where New Westminster’s most staunch BC Liberal Party supporter is on the cover of the local newspaper complaining that truck traffic caused by the bad transportation infrastructure decisions of the BC Government of the last decade is hurting his community. The measureable increase in truck traffic was a predictable result of the expansion of the SFPR, the expansion of the Lougheed from Coquitlam through to Maple Ridge, and the expansion of Highway 1 and subsequent tolling of the Port Mann Bridge. One of the results is an end to a decade-long trend of reduced traffic across the Pattullo. Watch for this sudden “surprising” increase to be used as an excuse to expand the roads we have, which will somehow make sense to people who are otherwise smart enough to realize that the cure for drunkenness is not found in more booze. I’ll talk more about this in my next post, and I suspect the entire City will be talking about this a lot in 2014.
Port Problems: The second ongoing bad news story that bubbled to the surface in New West this year is the Fraser Surrey Docks plan to begin bulk shipments of thermal coal. There are way too many aspects of this story to cover in detail in a reasonable-length post: the Port’s complete lack of accountability to the public or the community it serves as it rushes to develop real estate for profit against the opposition of every surrounding municipality; the fact that regional health officers (whose job it is, after all, to protect the community’s health) can be overruled by a business plan; the fact that business plan is somehow seen as critically important to the Port, although it offers so few actual jobs; the continued disregard for the fact that mining and burning thermal coal is a deeply unethical thing to do, on par with the export of asbestos. This proposal is just one current plan on Port lands, and there will be more ethically questionable, environmentally risky, and economically precarious ones coming down the pike, from Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and the local LNG facilities (that no-one is talking about yet), as we transition to a full-on PetroState – the only one in the world without state control of its Petroleum.
Ugh. Now I’m all depressed.
Next, I’ll post the other part of my year in review, the stories that transitioned from good to bad, or vice-versa, or contained a healthy dose of both, and will include a look ahead to the stories that will be important in the beginning of 2014. Hopefully, I’ll finish that one with a more positive feeling.