People who read this blog are, I presume, more interested than most on how the City of New Westminster operates. Unless you are here to correct my grammar (note this sentence fragment), or out of some sense of obligation (Hi Mom!). Since I got elected, there isn’t even that “What crazy thing is he going to say next?!” aspect, and I hardly even swear anymore. So unless you are just stockpiling my comments to undermine my political future, I am thinking you care a little more about the City we know and love than the rest of the masses.
Since you care so much, I also presume you want to help make things better, or at least shape aspects of the City into something more to your liking. According to some guy named Ipsos, New Westminster residents are a pretty contented lot (except when stuck in traffic), but if we don’t strive for improvement, stagnation sets in, and we and up like Eddie Murphy zipping up a fat suit, wondering where the it all went wrong. So here are three things you can do in the next couple of weeks to make this City better, with increasing levels of commitment.
The Survey: The City is currently running an on-line survey around Public Engagement. We are asking people how they interact with City Hall, and how they want to. This includes the full range of “engagement”, from informing residents and businesses about what the City is doing all the way to collaborative decision making, where we assure that stakeholders in the community are truly listened to in making plans and forming policy. Hit that link above, and give 5 minutes of your time to answer some simple anonymous questions, it is the least you can do, so do it now!
The Workshop: The City’s “Our City” Official Community Plan update project is ongoing, and we are now at a point where we need to have a conversation with the community about housing types. Currently, 95% of the housing units in New Westminster are either apartments or Single Family Detached houses. We have a distinct paucity of the “in between homes” – townhouses, row homes, du-, tri- and quad-plexes, or carriage/laneway homes. The new OCP will hopefully open more opportunities for these types of housing options.
I live in a Single Family Detached in the Brow of the Hill, one of the more affordable parts of New Westminster. When we bought it something like 8 years ago, I joked “it’s a little old, in a slightly sketchy location, but we can almost afford it”. Truth be told, it has turned out to be a sold house causing us very few problems, and I absolutely love my location halfway between Uptown and Downtown, with a 5-minute walk to the SkyTrain (alas, the walk home is 10-minutes – can’t do much about the hills in this town), and have great neighbours. Recently, however, three relatively modest 1930’s vintage homes on my block, ones you would have traditionally considered “starter homes” for young families or “fixer-uppers” have sold for more than $800,000. The ongoing regional housing affordability crisis keeps creeping up into higher and higher income brackets, and New West is not immune.
One approach to help young families grow in our community is to provide a rich diversity of housing types, those “in between” types that balance affordability with a large enough living space for kids and their accoutrement, and maybe just a small patch of grass or garden, without the bells and whistles (and costs) of a single family detached.
However, the process of fitting these housing types into our exiting single family neighbourhoods is concerning to many people who already have their Single Family Detached dream. They worry about parking, about green space, about visual intrusion and proximity, and about the oft-cited but difficult to define “character” of residential neighbourhoods. This is the conversation we need to have right now.
It should be a good conversation on November 7th, whether you are a young family looking to move out of the two-bedroom apartment and into something roomier, or you are a family in a Single Family Detached wondering what carriage homes or duplexes would mean to your block, you should come out and help the City understand your needs and concerns. It is free, you will get fed, but you need to register to take part. Do it now.
The Committee. Finally, if a 5-minute survey or a 6-hour workshop (with lunch!) isn’t enough for you, the City is currently doing its annual call-out for Advisory Committee volunteers. There are no less that 22 separate Advisory Committees, Boards, or Panels where you can serve the City by showing up to anywhere from a few to a dozen meetings per year (depending on the committee, see the 2015 schedule here to get a sense of the workload). You get to give us advice on specific policy ideas or other happenings in the City, and can really influence how decisions are made, mostly by having closer contact with the people (staff and elected) who are making the decisions about how our City runs.
Go to that list above, check out the Terms of Reference for the Committees, and see what might pique your interest. You can serve on more than one, and as competition for some of the Committees is pretty fierce, you might want to apply for several.
So if you are tired of sitting on your front deck, shaking your fist at the passing clouds, and writing angry letters to the editor, start making the City yours by taking part in shaping it. You will feel much better, learn a bit more about how the City works, and maybe meet some new , interesting, like-minded people.
UPDATE: I was told that this Saturday’s Our City event is completely booked full, which fills me with joy. That so many people are willing to spend their Saturday talking “Urban Planning” and helping inform the future of the City reinforces my love for this community and its desire to engage! If you didn’t book, don’t panic, because after the Workshop, the show is going on the road. The dates are:
Nov. 10, 1:00–4:00pm Century House
Nov. 12, 5:00–8:00pm Sapperton Pensioners Hall
Nov. 14, 1:00–4:00pm New Westminster Public Library
Nov. 18, 5:00–8:00pm Unity in Action Church
Nov. 21, 9:00am–12:00pm Sapperton Pensioners Hall
Nov. 28, 9:00am–12:00pm Connaught Heights School