Getting Back to Our Future

Last night at the third New West tweetup (soon to be blogged by @punkvspunk, I hope!), the idea of celebrating New Westminster’s future resurfaced. It’s no wonder it came up, given that we were twelve under-35’s, 6 iPhones, and one twitter hashtag (#newwest), meeting at a locale quoted by one tweeter as “the closest thing New West has to hip.”

It was roundly agreed that New Westminster as a city government and as a citizenry does a marvellous job of celebrating the past – from ragtime festivals to classic car show-n-shines, period costume days and the 140-year-old May Day celebration. We even do a fairly smashing job at celebrating the timeless and perennial – such as the Oolichan festival and FraserFest – perhaps this fits with New Westminster’s long identification with history and “golden years” habitats, but it has left us a bit lacking in our sense of “future.”

Imagined Skyline from New Westminster
Imagined Skyline from New Westminster

Why does “future” matter to a city at all, especially to a city like New Westminster which may not be marketing itself to attract hi-tech companies for its tax base or knowledge workers for it’s economy – however, as a small city that is home to a community college, a call centre, a large high school and a burgeoning population of young families, a sense of “future identity” is vitally important. It goes beyond teens and young families feeling that there is potential for their own future here in the Royal City, it has to do with how people view the potential of their community. Humanity has always associated “the future” with a sense of optimism and possibility, and without those sentiments being demonstrated in a community, where is the motivation to stay, to invest, to participate and enjoy?

I work for a research group which recently concluded a project about the role of maternity care services (family doctors practicing obstetrical care, midwives, and surgical backup services) in the sustainability of rural communities in BC. Not surprisingly, we found that the loss of maternity care services threatened the viability of rural communities. Without maternity care services, employers couldn’t attract workers with families, and families already living in these communities often left because they felt that their own family’s future and the future of the community were incompatible. What a good example of how vital a sense of community “future” is to viability of that community long-term… The key being that if people don’t see their own futures in the future of their own community, they are less likely to move there, stay there, or invest themselves in that community. In a city with such reverence for history but no real “future identity” we risk giving the impression we are simply treading water, dwelling on the past in an age when the future seems to arrive faster than we expected.

Envisioning a city’s future is not solely the domain of younger generations – if you are among our city’s elders, your contributions and service to this city are the seeds which will grow the city’s future. It’s your investment. How will it be used? It seems that New West has always had a devoted following of citizens who’ve loved and served the community, and worked to preserve it’s beauty and history… isn’t it the perfect time now, during the 150th Anniversary celebrations, to ensure that New Westminster’s role in the future, and the hard work of many people to get us there, is imagined, honored, and celebrated.

Last night we talked about how we might celebrate New Westminster’s future, looking ahead from our 150th Anniversary celebrations to the years to come – at Tenth to the Fraser, we invite you to join us in envisioning the future of New Westminster and dreaming up ways to celebrate it in our community. It would be easy to assume that celebrating “future” involves throwing a couple hundred dollars at the local high school student council and telling them to make it very “internet-y” (although we ARE VERY excited about the upcoming public civic wi-fi!), but it’s more than that. What do we want/expect/imagine New Westminster will look like years down the road… and how do YOU think we should celebrate it on this important year?

(Perhaps we’ll host a”Twonsultation” on the matter – but for now, we’d love to hear your input in the comments below!)

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9 Replies to “Getting Back to Our Future”

  1. Jocelyn I think you've already captured the spirit of the tweetup here. Thanks for including me in the under 35s (tee hee). ๐Ÿ˜‰

    This is a lovely call to action. I hope lots of people answer it.

  2. The past they celebrate is the mythical past of the British Empire in all its glory during the era of Queen Victoria. When you examine it closer you find war, conquest, colonization, genocide, and lots of other horrors. I think before we can move into the future we have to acknowledge the truth of the past. If you are creating a future based on a mythical view of the past you will have unreal future expectations. Half a century ago when I was young we were supposed to be working a 10 hour work and flying around in air cars this century.

  3. David – I think you've made a good point, and this is something we've made an effort to talk about on T2F of late. Surely there's a middle ground to find in our history, where we can make sure the stories are told and heard, and move into the future wiser for it.

    So my question to you would be, what do you think New West's future (and a celebration of that future) will look like 'if we acknowledge the truth of the past?' And what does 'acknowledging the truth of the past' look like?

  4. What an interesting topic; thank you to Ms. Jocelyn Tomkinson for raising it. For myself, coming from one of those multi-generational families in this city, I am intrigued by the comments made by Mr. David Maidman that ours is a "mythical past", though I tend to think of it as revisionism based on generations of political gains and cover-ups, all of which can largely be attributed to the fact that New Westminster politicians have absolutely mastered the very concept of our city's 'future'. Yes, indeed they have, and this premise is best illustrated by reviewing the many "promises of a future in-and-for New Westminster" that, for generations, have been oft repeated.

    It is a well-established pattern for New Westminster politicians to continually trot out the fact that Colonel Moody chose this site above any other to settle (based on the fact that its geographic location and topographic features appeared most promising). This is what enables politicians to perpetually justify reiterating the promise of a great future, and many without actually accomplishing anything or even presenting a coherent plan to achieve such promise. To go one step further, I predict that the mantra of "unfulfilled promise and great things to come" is a pattern that will continue to be oft repeated, most specifically, in future political promises.

    Honestly, would you want to be anywhere else when so much promise is yet to be fulfilled? Please, do forgive the cynicism (it stems from the fact that I do not belong to the under-35 crowd), but do consider the message; we may very well be on a precipice that will lead to great change. Acknowledging New Westminster's past should involve a comprehensive and honest examination of all of the good and all of the bad, in proper social context, so that current and future generations can achieve closure for the errors of the past, and more importantly, so that we can move forward avoiding a repeat of regrettable political mistakes while building on acknowledged successes. To put it another way, until past grievances are acknowledged and put to rest, the successes can not properly shine. Acknowledgement is a good first step to achieving our yet-to-be fulfilled promise.

    I will have future generations of family affected by the actions you people take now to advocate for your own children. I have faith in the promise of your vitality and passion. Good luck.

  5. I find myself opposed to "Lifer's" opinions in the above comment. Good comment though.

    Should we really drag the population, most of whom are new to this town, through some kind of public reconciliation to a past that very few identify with? I think we should instead plan for the future of this city. We have done too much naval gazing and hand wringing about our past in my opinion.

    Now, I am a historical society member and an avid history lover myself but that is a hobby, not a proscription for public policy. We need to answer issues of sustainability, infrastructure, family living, communication, civic involvement and employment. We need to usher our city into a place where it can nurture and sustain the families that will live here in 2015, 2025 and beyond.

    About the past: there is a temptation by some to paint a bold and rosy picture of our past in the 1800s, 1940s, 60's etc and give a Norman Rockwell impression to the times. This is wrong but thankfully this view is in the vast minority. It is equally wrong, I think, to apply the revisionists lens in the other direction, blaming the real and imagined ills of the world at the feet of those in the past as if they had some kind of malicious, or even conscious will. This nations history is made up of shades of gray. Compromises, challenges, accidents, good men, evil men, advancements, stonewalling, inclusiveness, segregation, inspiration and backward thinking. The notion that the very foundations of our town or nation is morally bankrupt or wrong simply because it came into being must be rejected.

    While the social justice of our past does not measure up to what we know as acceptable today, we need to remember that it was one of the most tolerant societies that existed in that time. We also should remember that the institutional tolerance and social guarantees we enjoy today are a direct evolution of the philosophical practices forged in those times and by those peoples. Further, we have to acknowledge that with continued immigration, the mixing of peoples and the dynamic nature of society and our electoral 'polis', we are not those times and have no culpability for them. We are innocent victims, perpetrators and bystanders all at once.

  6. I agree with Will (comment #6) that we don't want to be spoon-fed a histrionic version of our past, be it a rosy or pessimistic slant, but with all due respect to Will, reconciling the past with the future does not, per se, require extensive "naval gazing and hand wringing". Astutely, Will points out that "the institutional tolerance and social guarantees we enjoy today are a direct evolution of the philosophical practices forged in those times and by those peoples." This is very true, but also true is that many of today's challenges around "issues of sustainability, infrastructure, family living, communication, civic involvement and employment" are predicated on past (some of it being very 'recent past') political decisions and agendas – every era makes its own mistakes.

    Good decisions are based on sound information. If good decisions about the future of the City are to be made, an acknowledgement of the past is required; as examples, I offer the Chinese request for an apology for past discrimination (though it should be done with reference to the social norms of the day); or the decision to develop the waterfront diverting public monies to that project to the exclusion of other pressing civic needs; or the past agreement between the City and the School Board to knowingly build the City's new high school on the old Douglas Road cemetery (contrary to the laws on the book in that era) – fifty years later, the decisions of those people have created political instability and chaos for our children today.

    It was Jocelyn, comment #3, who stated: "Surely there’s a middle ground to find in our history, where we can make sure the stories are told and heard, and move into the future wiser for it." I couldn't agree with her more which is why I believe that to achieve "middle ground", acknowledgement of the aforementioned examples (and many others, etc.) should take form and be delivered through a non-emotive accounting of historical fact. Within proper 'historical' context, knowing who decided what and when, and why they made certain decisions, will help to inform the direction that is necessary to address the needs of today and tomorrow.

    At this juncture, an important distinction needs to be made between 'acknowledgement of past wrongs' and 'ownership of past wrongs' – they are not at all the same thing. As the old cliche goes: if we don't understand the mistakes of our past, we will be doomed to repeat them. I want better than what is today for tomorrow's generations. I do not believe that we are culpable for past mistakes but we are and will be accountable for our own mistakes. As Will so eloquently stated: "We are innocent victims, perpetrators and bystanders all at once." I really like the way he phrased that!

    From comment #5 (mine): " … [U]ntil past grievances are acknowledged and put to rest, the successes can not properly shine. Acknowledgement is a good first step to achieving our yet-to-be fulfilled promise." May future generations look upon today's actions and decisions as being part of an optimistic quest for a higher social justice and improved livable family communities. I would very much like for New Westminster's future successes to shine brightly for all.

    – a New Westminster lifer

  7. Wow, New West Lifer has a hammer !

    New Westminster sold Annacis island, didn't know what to do with it I guess. Delta sure did and look at the tax they generate from it.

    Mistake I guess. Why drag that up…

    Tax my future.


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