Truck Routes – Disappointing, not surprising.

I suppose the refusal by TransLink to remove various New Westminster streets from the designated truck route network is not surprising, but the wholesale dismissal of the concerns with a paucity of supporting arguments is definitely a disappointment. I hope this is not the end of this discussion, but the beginning of a conversation about the specific routes, and just a small setback to eventual progress*.

I don’t think anyone really thought Royal Ave would be removed from the designated routes at this time, not at least until there is a significant change in how the Pattullo Bridge connects on the north side of the River. However, there is no reason for keeping East Columbia through the Sapperton business area as a truck route, and a re-evaluation of the East 8th Ave connections are definitely in order.

Part of the frustration is the TransLink news release itself. Apparently released to a few news outlets, there is nothing on the TransLink media page, and the reasoning behind the decision is not made clear. The City of New Westminster provided rationale, alternate routing proposals, and justifications, and TransLink essentially said “no” without addressing the specific points.

Of course, they “took feedback from… Port Metro Vancouver, BC Trucking Association, and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council” – that last agency essentially being the marriage of Port Metro Vancouver and the BC Trucking Association. It is unclear of they consulted with any of the residents being impacted by these trucks, by the PACs of the impacted schools, or by the businesses in Sapperton or elsewhere in the City that are meant to be serviced by these trucks. Nor are they reporting out on the feedback they received.

They basically asked kids if they want ice cream or Brussels sprouts, and got the predictable answer.

On the positive side, there is language in the news story about working with the impacted neighbourhoods to find solutions, so let’s hope this dismissing the proposed solution out of hand doesn’t set the City back too far, and we can start an expanded conversation about accommodating goods movement while protecting the livability of our City.

“No” isn’t an answer I want from any level of Government. I would rather hear: “That solution doesn’t work, but lets find one that does”.

There is an ongoing Facebook conversation about this topic in the Group “Rattled About Traffic In New West” with a variety of voices piping in, some more rational than others. The voice I find most interesting is that of Dave Tate, who is both a trucker, and cognizant of the impacts truckers have on neighbourhoods. He has been promoting the idea that a weight restriction on the Pattullo would increase safety, prolong the life of the bridge, and would remove much of the heaviest cohort of the truck traffic from Royal- those triple-axle container trucks that are typically the ones that rattle and bang down Royal, have the biggest impact on road wear and traffic, are typically the worst performers in the random roadside safety inspections, and are most likely to be using the Pattullo as the “toll free alternative” between two points that could easily be connected by an alternate route.

It is good to hear from a balanced group of people on this issue, as it is refreshing compared to the comments one might hear on the AM radio call-in shows. Yes, I’m looking at you Simi Sara.

If you listen to CKNW and (I cannot believe I am suggesting this) listen to the comments, you hear little but ill-informed people complaining that New Westminster is a progress-hating problem child, and has always been. There are a few major themes that are constantly repeated, so I thought I would touch on them as a point of retort:

“If New West keeps putting up barriers, I will avoid it, and will not shop there!”
If a significant proportion of the several hundred thousand cars that pass through New Westminster every day actually stopped to shop here, this would indeed be a strong argument to use, but unfortunately, this is just not the case. In actuality, it is the massive number of through-commuters and heavy truck traffic that makes it harder for people from around the region (and our own residents!) to access our business storefronts. It also makes our retail areas less attractive to spend time wandering around in. Removing trucks from East Columbia would improve, not worsen, conditions for businesses in Sapperton.

“Without all these trucks, your store shelves will be empty!”
Admittedly, New West does have a resounding number of Save-on-Foods outlets, but I doubt they require the 3,500 trucks a day crossing the Pattullo, with similar numbers coming in from Brunette and across the Queensborough to keep the lettuce shelves stocked. Besides, these truck route changes would not impact at all local delivery or pick-up of goods, because trucks are permitted on non-truck-route roads when actually having business on that road.These closures would only effect through-traffic trucks with no business in New Westminster, the ones that we just spent $5 Billion on new bridges and highways to accommodate.

“New Westminster needs to get with the program and build roads around the perimeter!”
Problem is, there is no perimeter, unless you define perimeter as “where someone else lives”. The roads at the perimeter of our City run right through the heart (and other vital organs) of our community, and right past people’s homes. 10th Ave is residential west of Kingsway, and residential and way too steep for trucks east of McBride. 8th Ave is residential most of it’s length. Columbia is both residential and home to a lot of ground-based retail, and is the heart of two of our most historic neighbourhoods. One can argue Brunette is a perimeter, but it only connects to non-perimeter roads to the west. Front Street cuts through our resurgent waterfront area – downtown will only succeed if Front Street succeeds as human space that connects downtown to the River. McBride, Royal, 12th Street, 8th Street – these are urban streets in the middle of bustling neighbourhoods surrounded with parks, residences, and commercial districts. Where is this mythical “perimeter” where you want to put all the trucks?

“How many of those New West people commute through surrounding Cities – they’re just being selfish!”
The short answer to the rhetorical question: fewer than any neighbouring community. New Westminstergenerates fewer car trips per capita than any Municipality in Metro Vancouver excepting Vancouverproper. Our “alternative mode share” (people who use their feet or transit for their daily commute instead of their car) is the second highest in the region. If the Northeast Sector (~82% of trips in a car) and South of Fraser region (~82% of trips by car) [data available here] had New Westminster’s mode share (~65% of trips by car) or took steps towards reaching the goal New Westminster is reaching for in the new Master Transportation Plan (~50% of trips by car), that would be a huge step towards addressing the traffic problems in New West, and a huge step forward for the region and the Province.

  

This all brings me to the real point here: New Westminster is not the selfish, parochial, progress-impeding “speed bump” in the regional transportation system and we need desperately to get past that narrative. New Westminster is a leader in moving towards meeting its regional commitments to a more sustainable transportation network. It has lead by building a more compact City, investing in mixed-use developments near transit hubs, but taking a SkyTrain station that Coquitlam refused, and by holding the line on mega-freeway development while suggesting increased transit investment might be preferable if the region hopes to meet its Sustainable Region goals. New Westminster has been demonstrating transportation leadership, both in words and in action, and we should not be shy talking about it.

*Since someone asked:  Progress, by my definition, is moving towards an efficient transportation system that serves the community, not a community that serves the least efficient transportation systems. “Building more lanes” has not represented progress in traffic management circles since the late 1970s; where providing affordable, efficient alternatives is how the 21st Century sees progress in Transportation planning.

Announcement

Yes, it is true. I have decided to run for City Council in New Westminster in the upcoming November election.

I think many of my regular readers suspected this, and it was funny at the PechaKuchaNW event this past weekend, pretty much every second person asked me if I was running. My standard answer was something along the lines of “not yet”, but playing coy starts to get stale. That is why I am announcing a little earlier that usual. Once I was sure I was actually going to do this thing, I wanted to announce as soon as I could get a press release together.

There is another reason for announcing now. I like to talk, and I like to listen. I like to have conversations with people about issues in the City and hear what people think. I even like talking to people I disagree with, because that is where the learning opportunity lives. So I plan to spend the summer talking to people. I’m going to knock on doors and attend City events, and I have a few fun and creative ideas to better connect with people. I want to get outside of my usual “bubble” and talk to people not in my Twitter-sphere, people who don’t read this blog, and people who aren’t in the various groups I volunteer with in the City. For all of those people in New Westminster who I don’t already know, saying “Hi, I’m running for Council” is a natural conversation starter.

I will be doing the typical roll-out-the-platform activities in early September. I have some ideas, some themes, and some goals, but for the summer, I want to listen more than talk.

Naturally, there are going to be some changes around here, mostly in the frequency of my blogging, as I just won’t have as much time to write. However, I do plan to keep blogging here, and @NWimby will continue on Twitter. For the purposes of the campaign, there will be a new website (patrickjohnstone.ca), there will be a campaign-only Twitter account (@PJNewWest), and a campaign-oriented Facebook Page. I encourage you to go to those places and link, like, tweet, comment, vote, volunteer, donate, or pretty much hit any other button you are presented with.

One commitment I will make right up front: I am not going to stop communicating during the campaign, nor will I stop communicating once elected in November. The way I see it, my success as a Councillor will be in remaining the outspoken, opinionated, honest, and talkative guy who wrote more than 400 blog posts over the last few years.

So things are going to be weird around here for the next few months, but hang in there, and it should be fun.

When Pipelines come home

I apologise once again for not posting as often as I would like here. There are many things afoot, bringing a completely different meaning to what I call “free time”. I am also working on a major project related to my pledge (a little more than a year ago) to take a risk – more details on that will be released really soon.

However, this issue has piqued my interest and I had to stay up late to write about it, because these hydrocarbon pipeline projects people keep talking about in other regions of the Province have come home to New Westminster.

After having attended last week’s NWEP meeting where Mark Allison from the City outlined the City’s approach to the project, and Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club came to talk about the Brunette River, I think it is time we in New West started talking about Kinder Morgan.

You probably have heard that Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based uber-pipeline company that purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2005, wants to “twin” thee pipeline. To quote directly from the project site:

“Trans Mountain is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The proposed expansion, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline that would increase the nominal capacity of the system from 300,000 barrels per day, to 890,000 barrels per day. At present, the Westridge Marine Terminal handles approximately five tankers per month. Should the proposed expansion be approved, the number of tankers loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase to approximately 34 per month.”

What we don’t know about this project could fill a blog post, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of this project here. There has been some excellent analysis of the project opportunities and risks prepared by CRED, which you can read here.

However, few people in New Westminster up to now realized that this project will likely be passing though our own backyard, and may have a significant impact on one of the few remaining local areas of high ecological value: the Brunette River. When first announced, it appeared that the pipeline was to be “expanded”, suggesting that it would follow the existing right-of-way through central Coquitlam and skirting along the south side of Burnaby Mountain. However, the proposal showed a different routing for the new pipe, which passed through south Coquitlam, and essentially paralleled the Lougheed Highway. Now, and “alternative route” has become the favoured one – and this one passes though the green spaces on the New Westminster – Burnaby border, immediately adjacent to the Brunette River.

This is where Elmer Rudolph comes in. For those who may not know him, Elmer is a real local hero and a legend amongst western Canada’s Streamkeeper groups. He and his group from the Sapperton F&G Club have spent 40 years pushing the envelope on salmon habitat restoration in urban streams, improving the world’s knowledge of salmon ecology, habitat recovery, and environmental protection in urban areas. He did this mostly through sheer persistence and elbow grease. When the Brunette was a “dead” river as recently as 1970, a lot of very smart people thought any attempt to bring salmon back to the River and its would be wasted time. It was only 15 years later that the River came alive again, and for 20 years since, Elmer and his volunteers have made slow, steady improvement in habitat and water quality along the river and throughout its massive basin.

The route along the Brunette is also part of the region’s best Greenway route, the Central Valley Greenway. That route is a green oasis paralleled by development, density, and traffic, a heavily-used place for pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers, and anyone wanting to escape the sun on these hot summer days and cool off along a bubbling salmon-bearing stream, right in the middle of our City. If you travel along the CVG, you see large areas of habitat enhancement – areas that were improved to improve water quality and habitat diversity – for the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion project only a year or two ago.

So I’m glad the City is getting involved in the project, and the idea of a Public Meeting in New Westminster to discuss the project and get the mood of the community about putting this project adjacent to the Brunette River (like the City did last year for the still-up-in-the-air Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal project) is a good idea.

More on District Energy

I wasn’t able to attend the City’s open house last month on the potential District Energy Utility (DEU) system, tentatively proposed for the Sapperton area (it was the same night as the Royal City Curling Club AGM, and two or three other events I would have like to have attended. I need a clone). I have read a lot about DEUs, and have toured systems in a few different places. I have previously written at length about the many benefits of DEUs, so I was really interested to see what direction New Westminster was planning to go with the idea.

Based on what I read in the consultation materials, I like what I see.

The basic idea behind a DEU is that thermal energy systems can be more efficient if they are built larger. This is why there is commonly a single boiler in a large commercial or residential building, instead of having little boilers in each apartment or office. If a single energy source could supply heat energy (hot water or steam) to multiple buildings, it can be run as a utility to those buildings: a DEU.

Many large cities have had systems like this for decades. Downtown Vancouver has a gas-fired steam system that ties multiple buildings together. However, the modern resurgence of DEUs is coming out of Europe, and is being driven by low- or zero-carbon energy supplies. In the last decade, DEUs of different size and design have popped up in Victoria, Vancouver, Richmond, and other cities.

Although DEUs can be retro-fitted into existing buildings, the most cost-effective application is one where the buildings are constructed with the DEU in mind, around a development hub. Having an institutional or industrial user in the core to provide cost-buffering “baseline demand” makes the business case even stronger. A well-designed DEU will sell energy to the customers at similar rates as other energy sources (while buffering the customers from the volatility of gas or oil prices), pay for the infrastructure costs, and even turn a small profit for the utility owner. When a low- or zero-carbon energy source is part of the plan, there are spin-off environmental benefits for the entire community.

The New Westminster situation has many of the elements that could make for a very successful DEU. There is an institutional customer interested in reducing its carbon footprint for regulatory reasons, and there is relatively high density development (commercial, industrial, and residential) occurring nearby that will allow gradual scaling up for increased efficiency. There also happens to be a zero-carbon energy source right nearby.

The analysis provided by the City here shows that the sewer heat option is viable, at least in the preliminary analysis. This is really good news, because although the wood waste option would provide GHG and cost benefits over not having a DEU, the math when it comes to emissions related to a sewer heat recovery system are obviously order-of-magnitude better:

Emission estimates of different systems, click to enlarge.

Yes, scrubbers, filters and the such can improve the baseline particulate numbers, but you really can’t argue with the near-zero emissions of the sewer heat system.
 
As I said, I missed my chance to go to the open house, but I can still provide my feedback. So can you!

Read the materials here. And more here.

Then provide some feedback here.You can ask questions, let them know your concerns or ideas. Here is your chance to give them the feedback you want. But you better hurry, you have until this Friday!

On the Bailey Bridge

At least we can stop fighting about this and move onto more important issues, right?

I’m not sure it is a “disaster”, but the results of the arbitration on the Bailey Bridge dispute are disappointing, and a little frustrating.

The disappointment comes from the fact that this result will do absolutely nothing to solve anyone’s “traffic problems”, as a century of traffic research and Braess Paradox tell us that adding capacity has never reduced congestion when there is a near-infinite supply of vehicles. Instead, it will likely increase induced demand and create more congestion in the Braid Industrial area, making it harder for New Westminster businesses to access Brunette or United Boulevard.

As was already made clear, the “Ambulance Argument” was either bluster or bullshit, as a critical care ambulance is unlikely to risk getting stuck behind a train when an alternative is available, and an alternative is available from Coquitlam. An ambulance at the south foot of the new King Edward overpass can get to the Emergency room at RCH via the Bailey Bridge (2.8km) or via Lougheed and Brunette (3.4km), a difference of 600m. To save that 30 seconds, they would run the risk of getting stuck behind one of the 60-odd trains a day that cross Braid, and now will run the risk of getting stuck behind a line of cars in one of the few places where cars would not be able to pull over to get out of the way – a two-lane Bailey Bridge. I suspect the 4-and 6-lane alternative route provides higher response speeds, more room for people to get out of the way of lights and sirens, and more reliable transport times. But hey, one thing have in common with Richard Stewart is that I’m not an ambulance driver.

The frustrating part is how little information we have about why the decision was made the way it was. If you read the actual arbitrator’s decision, it clearly states that under Section 287 (e) of the Community Charter, the arbitrator is not to provide written reasons for their decision. We (the voters, the citizens, even our elected representatives) are specifically forbidden from knowing why the decision was made, or what evidence was used to inform that decision. Essentially, your parents just answered “why?” with “Because I said so!” For someone who gets engaged in local politics, and expects accountability and reasoning behind policy, this is a frustrating way to resolve a 20-year conflict.

To understand why this is the case, you need to go back through the Community Charter , which is the Provincial Legislation that governs, amongst other things, boundary disputes between municipalities. Under Part 9 of the Charter (Division 3- Dispute Resolution), there are two types of arbitration available to the disputing Municipalities in this type of case. Section 287 describes the “Final Proposal Arbitration” process, where the two parties provide their proposals and supporting justifications to the arbitrator, and the arbitrator chooses one of the two, based on whatever criteria (s)he deems appropriate, with no room for compromising middle ground or requirement to justify that choice. Section 288 describes the “Full Arbitration” process, where the Arbitrator can conduct whatever proceedings they deem appropriate (including hearings, negotiations, etc.), the arbitrator can provide an alternate solution to the ones proposed by the two parties, and the decision comes with a written explanation of the decision and justification. Clearly the second is the more open, transparent, and accountable process.

This more open and accountable process was the one argued for by New Westminster. Coquitlam wanted the closed process in the interests of expedience (because, you know, after 20 years, this needs to be settled right away). As there was no agreement on this first point of arbitration, the Province stepped in and made the decision that the closed process would be used. Which is why the New Westminster Council is now scratching their heads about how the decision was made. They are not allowed to know. Take your complaints to… uh… no-one.

Regardless, now that the arbitration result has been released, it is all (wait for it) water under the bridge, and we need to move on. Hopefully, the City will find a way to reconfigure the traffic patterns on the New Westminster side so that the businesses down there on Canfor Ave are not completely choked out when the inevitable commuting rush arrives on Braid. Also hopefully, Coquitlam won’t use this as an excuse to uselessly blow United Boulevard just east of the bridge out to 4 lanes, and take away the cyclist and pedestrian-friendly layout they have recently created between the bridge and the King Edward overpass.

Clearly ,we will find out which prediction comes true: Mayor Stewart’s assertion that his City’s (sarcasm) biggest traffic issue will finally be resolved (end sarcasm); or New Westminster’s prediction that the 5 rail tracks and already-problematic Braid and Brunette intersection are just going to mean the traffic pinch point has been moved 400m to the west, making the rail crossings less safe for everyone, and hurting New Westminster businesses for no gain whatsoever. But we likely won’t know the answer to that question until after the election, so Mayor Stewart can enjoy his gloating in the meantime.

Hey Guys! Stay on your ass (and fill out this survey)!

HEY! Got a bit of free time this weekend? Surfing the web, looking for something more interesting? Admit it, if you are reading my blog, you must be pretty stinking bored… so here is a good way to slake that boredom for 5-10 minutes, and provide useful data for someone doing interesting research here in New Westminster.

If you are at all like me, your typical healthy-ish 40-ish male, you haven’t seen a doctor in quite some time. If you have kids, you likely interacted with the healthcare system, but for those of us without, we try to think about the last time we had stitches. Or maybe that’s just me, but this is kind of the point of this survey.

Fraser Health has been doing a “My Health, My Community” survey over the last couple of months, and they need a few more people to provide data before the end of the month (yes- in the next three days!). They especially need info from my cohort- healthy-ish males who may hardly ever interact with the healthcare system. Of course, the rest of you should also take part, it’s just (typically) the middle age males you need to kick in the ass to take any kind of health self-assessment at all.

The purpose of the survey is not to sell you services, but to gather better information about the health needs of the community. They need data from a bunch of locals about your life, as it relates to your risk for health conditions, and their need to provide services. They aren’t getting too personal, but they want to understand a bit about how New Westminster folks live their life and access health care, so they can do some longer-term strategic planning.

Typically for any health care situation – young (and youngish) males are lacking in their participation. They really need a few more male people to provide data. I filled out the survey a couple of weeks ago: it was easy, it took no more than 10 minutes, and it was a little fun (remembering the good old days when I used to smoke…). This from a guy who has not seen an actual doctor in about 15 years. Yeah, I should probably go get a check-up, but the survey didn’t guilt me into feeling that. Really, who has a family doctor anymore?

Back when I was whinging about how Democracy is what you do between elections – this is a chance to help your elected officials and bureaucrats make better decisions to save you money while providing the services you need. So I’m going to say it: If you don’t fill out this survey, you are not allowed to complain about the healthcare system!

But Hurry, survey ends on the 30th, and if you fill it out, you can win a new iPad. And hey, who doesn’t need a new iPad?

You are surfing the net right now, you clearly have time. Follow this link right now and help out a bit.

Off to the Races…

This is a good thing.

Suggestions that Jonathan Cote may (and should) run for Mayor have been bandied around for many months now, so the surprise is a little… unsurprising.

It seems like a natural progression. He has served three terms on council, and led the polls during the last two elections. His profile has been increasing, taking the lead on some of the higher-profile issues in town, and he has become the go-to Councillor when the regional press comes to New Westminster to talk about this “New New Westminster” phenomenon, and terms like (shudder) the “next Brooklyn” arise in talk about how our City is developing.

Meanwhile, not resting on his electoral popularity or media exposure, Cote has spent the last couple of years learning more about Cities while earning a Masters Degree in Urban Studies at SFU. This is the kind of thing a person might would typically do if they want to move up the ladder to a senior planning position in a City – not the standard route for a part-time City Councillor with a full time job and a young family who is thinking about politics.

That tells me a lot about what kind of guy Cote is, and one of the reasons I love that he has decided to run. He has a demonstrated work ethic, and he doesn’t come to the table assuming he knows all the answers. He instead wants to learn and find out about solutions already tested and true. I have seen him operate in committees, and he knows how to get the best out of a team and move the agenda forward. He also loves cities and the process of making them work better for the people living in them. As a Mayor, he will be able to bring a deeper understanding, and challenge staff to do better, explain better, and move the City forward.

I also like the symbolism of his run: The oldest city in the Province may have the youngest Mayor in the Province. As a bonus, that “youth” comes with significant professionalism and experience.

We don’t know what this means for Mayor Wright (at least I don’t). By all accounts, the current Mayor and Councillor Cote have worked very effectively together and have a lot of respect for each other, but there is no indication from His Worship what he intends to do in November.

I need to say, I like Mayor Wright. I have grown to appreciate his ability to move this City forward over the last decade. He has been the cheerleader this City has needed during its recent re-emergence, and has taken a few political risks that have (mostly) paid off tremendously. He’s not generally thought of as a “labour guy”, but has worked effectively with the labour-endorsed Councils he has been provided by the voters. His support in town is such that last election, when the opposition decided to run *against* him instead of *for* something else, they got beat badly. There is also something to say for the fact I am just as happy calling the Mayor “His Worship” as I am calling him “Wayne”: he is both worthy of respect, and popularly familiar.

There is an idea that the best time to pass the torch is when it is burning bright, and Mayor Wright could do much worse than passing it to Cote, but that is really the current Mayor’s decision to make. Regardless of what Wright decides to do, we can be confident the “silly season” has begun, and this will be an interesting election season!

Green Drinks and Food Security!

I’ve mentioned the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project (SWBCBRFSDP – my acronym, not theirs!) on this blog before, but it was tied in with a bunch of bummer complaining about lack of government support for protecting the ALR, so the good news might have been buried in all that whining. So this is the “good news” follow-up post. Folks in the know are coming to New West on Tuesday to tell us about this really cool project.

Recognizing the need to support more robust local food systems, the researchers at Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems are applying their significant expertise, and partnering with a diverse community of business, governance, and agricultural experts, to bring about change in how we source our food.

There are a lot of words in SWBCBRFSDP, but I like the idea of showing why every word is relevant:

SWBC: Southwest BC is defined by the project as the area from Hope to Powell River, and from Delta to Lillooet: an extensive area that ties the lower stretch of the Fraser River to the Sunshine Coast, and essentially comprises the mainland Canadian portions of the traditional lands of the Coast Salish People.

BR: A Bio-Region is and area defined by a common topography, climate, plant and animal life, and human cultural influence. In this sense, the watersheds of the Salish Sea from the desert of Lillooet to Howe Sound has a diversity of eco-zones, but are tied together by bio-cultural heritage and geography.

FS: This project is not just about farming and protecting the ALR. Yes, preserving farmland when we can will be an important part of the food security equation, but we also have to consider the other major food inputs, such as the salmon we catch from the river, and the traditional food-gathering that many of us are separated from, but are still an important part of the region’s culture. However, there is much more to food than having profitable local Agri-business farms (how many cranberries do you eat in the average year?). A Food System would support the regional economy by connecting together food sources with processors, warehousing and retail, delivery systems from Farmers’ Markets to restaurants and standard retail. A true system would even connect our disjointed organic waste stream, to bring the nutrients in our food waste back to the farms and better manage in the industrial-scale waste sometimes produced in Agri-business. Ultimately, every step in the food cycle should not just just feed British Columbians, but employ, include, and benefit British Columbians. That is how local economic resiliency is built.

Design Project: This project will start by performing an actual, science-based evaluation of what the food potential of the region is – can this region actually meet its own food needs? And if so, how? They will also be evaluating the critical needs and opportunities for our local food systems to get the food we produce to our local plates. The eventual plan is to create a series of science-based policy papers and best practices reviews that decision-makers in municipal, regional and provincial government can use to help bring a more sustainable local food system into existence.

This project hopes to realize that building a local food economy is about more than just Food Sovereignty (our ability to feed ourselves domestically and not being overly reliant on volatile global markets), but also supports economic development for the region. Every bit of food we import is a bleed on the local economy – it is a flow of our wealth to other places that we could instead use to fuel our local economy. If food is grown in BC, processed in BC, sold in BC, and the waste recycled in BC, we are creating jobs at every step, we are having a smaller environmental impact on the planet. It also brings our communities together by bringing us closer to the people who provide us our nourishment.

At a time when many of us feel bombarded by bad news and general malaise about the future of sustainability planning in our communities / province / country, this is a good news story – a positive look forward towards a better future.

At this point, the project is still being set up, and the proponents are trying to tie stakeholders together. The proponents are putting on a bit of a travelling discussion about the project and food security, which is why I am talking about this here and now – because Dr. Kent Mullinix and Sofia Fortin from the SW BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project are coming to Green Drinks in New West!

The NWEP is moving it’s every-second-month-or-so Green Drinks to the Terminal Pub (where there is a new menu, many excellent choices at the taps, and a cool new room) on June 10. Green Drinks is always fun, casual, and no-stress. You get to chat with a wide diversity of New Westies and people from a little further afield. The formal program is kept short to give you lots of chat time, and there is no need to drink if that isn’t your thing. It’s mostly just a social gathering of folks concerned about sustainability issues, socializing, talking, and having some fun.

This time, you get a chance to talk to the folks from the above-raved-about project (and ask Kent about pruning your trees- I took a pruning course from him a few years ago and learned more than anyone should ever need to know- the guy is a font of knowledge on all things growing!)

Join us! It’s Free!

Hyack : the more things change…

Last post, I suggested some hopes for (dreams of?), a better Hyack Festival in New Westminster. In doing so, I was cognizant of stepping on eggshells, because I don’t want to downplay the efforts of the hard-working volunteers who bring a bit of fun to New Westminster while holding up long-standing traditions.

This got me reading about the history of Hyack*, and I learned that questioning the organization of these major events and challenging the meaning of them has actually been one of those long-standing traditions!

The May Day Celebrations started in 1870, with the ceremony developing around securing a common identity as an agricultural town with “royal” origins – perhaps as a bit of the thumb-to-the-nose at the upstart Capital across the water. It is important to note that May Day was, in those early days, an internal celebration for the residents of New Westminster, not a regional event intended to promote the City externally to a larger regional trading region. At the turn of the Century, the City had the Pacific Exhibition and the Farmers Market to do those things.

Through the first half of the 20th century, the May Day Celebrations expanded to act both for internal cohesion and external boosterism. It was primarily an event for children, becoming an all-day fete with folk dances, the Maypole, and sporting events, with attendance by all New Westminster school children at one point made compulsory. Originally this fest was highlighted by the Anvil Battery Salute, but by the early 1950s, May Day had moved to the Friday before Victoria Day, to foster attendance by elementary students.

By the late 50’s to early 60’s, some of those institutions that held the City together and put it on the map regionally – the Miracle Mile of shops, the Exhibition, and the Farmers Market – were disappearing. During this time, there was pressure to “protect” the May Day Festival and keep it safe from “contemporary tendencies” to expand or transform the event. The Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the mercantile opportunities, suggested moving the May Day to Saturday in 1961 to allow more visitors to be drawn to town. They were thoroughly rebuked by the May Day Committee for suggesting a children’s festival should suffer the ugly encroachment of commercialism.

In the late 60’s, this transformation began regardless, partly due to ongoing pressure from different parts of the community, partly because of the coincidence with larger celebrations of the Centennials of 1958 (of New Westminster), 1966 (of the Colony), and 1967 (of Confederation). The changes were also coincident with some of the “Old Guard” of the May Day Committee starting to retire or die off. By 1966, it was a three-day festival, and in 1967, a 5-day event, including the “largest Parade in the Province’s History”, a carnival in Queens Park, sporting events, an agricultural show, and more. With more than 100,000 people showing up for the Parade (remember, this was a City with less than 40,000 residents), this was clearly a regional event to promote New Westminster, and a significant tourist draw for the local commercial interests at a time when Columbia Street was beginning to see decline. Ugly commercialism had, eventually, encroached.

This growth was not without concern. The loss of traditions and increasing cost of the larger event caused apprehension among many of the traditionalists. When conflict ensued at City Council about spiraling costs, and a concurrent push by some to build a more “professional type, money making event”, a new organizing committee for all festivals was created: one comprised of upstart younger businessmen. This group was less encumbered by old traditionalist and parochial ideas about the fete, but wanted to inject new ideas, energy, and blood into the City’s Festivals. One of their first acts of this so-called “Royal City Society” was to change the name of the May Day celebration into The “Hyack Festival”.

Funded by a 1% tax on businesses, and unfettered by the City’s bureaucracy, Hyack grew to a 10-day celebration. It didn’t replace traditions like the May Day celebrations or the Anvil Salute, but surrounded them with other events to improve the overall attractiveness. In 1972 there was reportedly “a carnival, high-wire acts, roving western singers throughout the City”. In 1973, the festival was just as big with a week of sporting events to build the excitement towards the upcoming Canada Summer Games. In 1974, the Parade moved from Columbia Street to the current Uptown route, reflecting the shifting economic fortunes of the City’s two main commercial centres. By then, visitor numbers had dropped back to the more-typical 25,000 or so people, but Hyack as an entity, and as a festival, continued to thrive. Through ups and downs, as events came and went (canoe race anyone?), this is the same Hyack festival we have today.

But where are we today? The number of events surrounding the mainstay traditions is definitely reduced, and there were clearly not 25,000 people on 6th Street last month. The traditions hold strong, and the Hyack Festivals Association has to be thanked for keeping the flame burning for 40+ years. However, the root of all of the conflict in and around Hyack for the last year seems eerily familiar: how much change is too much change? What is the most responsible way to spend Taxpayer’s Money? Do we want to have a large commercial event (dare I say “professional” or “not amateurish”) to attract people to our City, or a smaller community-building event that represents our traditions and desires? Are these two ideas incompatible?

The 2014 Hyack Festival is over, there is some new leadership of the Festival Association, and the battle for Letter-to-the-Editor dominance has apparently fizzled out. However, the conversation cannot stop now. Sustainable funding is still an uncertainty. The prominence of Hyack is being challenged by the many new neighbourhood and community groups setting up festivals and other events around town. Some of the structural concerns and visioning issues about Hyack that led to last year’s conflict have not been resolved. The worst thing that can happen right now is for the conversation about the role of the Hyack festival Association in our community to go silent.

The bitter fight was silly and distracting; we need a calm discussion. Maybe Hyack should start it. The people of New Westminster want to be engaged in the conversation, because most of us don’t want to volunteer for Hyack or wear a Green Jacket, but we all love a Parade.

*I read many sources for this Post, not the least being Earl Noah’s 1992 MA Thesis (Geography) from UBC, from which anything in quotes above was drawn. My not being a historian means I can hang any errors above on my unprofessional misinterpretation of records, and not a flaw of the records themselves!

Hyack Festival – the fete goes on

Well, we survived another Hyack Festival. By that, I mean Hyack survived to put on another week+ long schedule of events, culminating in the Hyack Parade.

After a year of questionable decisions, accusations, battles (petty and otherwise), victories (pyrrhic and otherwise), and Editorial Page exchanges that only increased the questions and doubts, it was good to see the Show that Must, did indeed Go On. Everyone loves a parade.

Clearly, a successful, if slightly scaled-back, Hyack Festival does not mark the end of the ongoing battle for Hyack relevancy and funding. However, it was a positive step, both for Hyack and the City, and one that did not look a certainty only a few months ago.

I attended various Hyack events this year, chatted with quite a few people at these events, and have talked to many people since. At times, these conversations led to deeper discussions about what these “traditions” we celebrate are for, and who they are for.

Before I start to get critical, I need to acknowledge that I did nothing to help organize the events of Hyack Festival. That puts me in the (very crowded) category of people who complain about something that other people – mostly volunteers – bust their ass to do to the benefit of the community, without lifting a finger myself to help them. This is pretty much the definition of a jerk.However, Hyack themselves are quick to remind us that they are an important part of the City of New Westminster and its traditions. They are also asking that the City continue to support (logistically and financially) the events Hyack organizes every year, which opens them up for a certain level of constructive ruminations. So here are my impressions, not meant to disparage the Festival or organizers, but to add to the discussion of what Hyack means to this city.

There are three 4 major events of general public interest that make up the Hyack festival: the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, the Parade, and the Uptown Street Fair. Some will point out the many other associated events, but I get the sense some fall under the category of normal local events that could occur on any weekend (antique fair, petting farm opening), others seem a little inward-looking (Portland Rosarians Rose Planting, Seymour Artillery Firing), and yet others are not really open events (such as the Formal Banquet) that are more important to Hyack than to the rest of the community.

Of the main events, the Anvil Battery Salute is the one with the greatest historic relevance to New Westminster. The 21-firing salute to Queen Victoria, starting at noon on Victoria Day, is a unique, exciting, and important tradition. I just wish more people were there to see it. I could imagine it as a centrepiece of a great day in the park – the middle of a festival with everything from kid’s games to sports contests to food booths and beer gardens, music, and entertainment. Pick up Sapperton Day, drop it into the middle of the baseball field, and run the Anvil salute then, and you can see what I am getting at. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone event, it can appear to be much ado about nothing to those not aware of the tradition, and the crowd measured in the dozens this year* are a testimony to the failure to make this connection to people.

Being without kids and with a full-time job, I was not able to attend the May Day Celebrations. Wednesday, mid-day just doesn’t work for most of us working stiffs. By all accounts it was well attended, appreciated, and continues to be a highlight of the spring for many kids and parents. That the School Board puts so much effort into the event in these difficult times for that organization shows the desire of the community to protect this tradition that goes back more than 140 years.

This leaves the Hyack Parade and Uptown Street Fest. Everyone (and I have to include myself) loves a parade. It seemed there were many fewer floats this year than last year, and there were definitely more notable gaps in the crowd on the bottom half of the route that I remember from previous years, but the crowd that was there seemed into it. The same goes for the distinctly scaled-back Uptown Street Fest. With a bouncy castle and some food trucks, there was a good hour or so worth of entertainment to be had post-parade. It was well attended for the relatively small space it took up, but to suggest (as some boosters did on Twitter the day of) that it had 3x the attendees of last year’s hugely popular Uptown Festival, is fanciful.

If I was to put out one major criticism (and this is a common theme I have heard voiced), it is that these four events combined would make for a great 2- or 3-day festival. To stretch it out to 8 days over two weekends takes the momentum away from each of the events, and serves all of them a little less. Asking to general public in these busy times to dedicate two weekends to the Hyack festival, when there is only a couple of hours entertainment on each weekend, is not optimal. Given the choice of the Anvil Battery or the Parade, and going camping or to visit grandma on the other weekend, I’ll take the Parade every time (but I wish I didn’t have to choose).

Again, not being an insider, I only have my own suspicions as to why a good 2-day festival is stretched out to 8 days – mostly because the two headliner events can’t be held on the same weekend. Of course, the Anvil Battery Salute is a Victoria Day celebration, so it makes no sense to move that date. However, Victoria Day is a Monday that is not a civic holiday in the United States, and with so many parade floats and marching bands coming up from the Northwest, having the parade on this day would be problematic.

This problem is exacerbated because Hyack is the only Canadian member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Association, and the third weekend in May is already reserved for the Spokane Lilac Festival (put on some sunglasses before clicking that link). I suspect that Spokane is not interested in changing their weekend-before-Memorial-Day tradition, and competition between NFHA members is discouraged. So neither the Parade nor the Anvil Battery Salute can be moved, unless a tradition is broken.

That’s the way of it with traditions. Next post I am going to delve a little deeper into the history of these traditions in New Westminster, and tell a bit of a story about what happens when an upstart group of young business leaders step up to challenge a stale organization to be “bigger and better”, City Hall gets involved, funding gets withheld, and people challenge the parochialism and suspect impropriety of long-held traditions.

*Correction: A member of the Anvil Battery Salute team corrected me today on Twitter, saying an actual crowd count numbered the people at the Anvil Salute at 400. I am surprised, as I felt I had a lot of elbow room” in the stands, and even the photos of the event show pretty sparse crowds, but they had a count and all I have is a vague feeling, so you are better to rust the count!