Back in 2009, I wrote a guest post on Tenth to the Fraser entitled, “Taking the plunge into community involvement”. I’m hoping at the end of this post I can convince one of you to take the plunge.
It’s a topical subject, with Briana’s recent New West Wednesday’s topic asking about people’s involvement (or not) in their local residents’ associations. Commenters are discussing their experiences and I’d have to say mine’s been overwhelmingly positive, which certainly makes me a bit sad about moving away.
While I’d most recently been living in New Westminster since 2007, it was really in late 2008, and after I joined Twitter that the city started to really become a community to me. A lot of the local digerati were beginning to coalesce around the #NewWest hashtag (it’s been a battle between us and a hiphop sub-genre but I think we’re winning). Connecting with real neighbours through virtual communities prompted me to become more active in my neighbourhood.
I wasn’t really sure what went on but I thought I’d check out a local meeting of the New Westminster Downtown Residents’ Association. While just a renter, it was interesting to learn more about local issues, even if there wasn’t always a direct impact on my life. Some meetings drew bigger crowds than others, usually when people were quite passionate about topics such as the UBE or there was new info about civic projects, but there was always something to learn or be updated on.
One thing that always seemed important to the directors was how to get more people out and informed about where they lived. I made the observation that the group was collecting emails from people registering but not using them to communicate to residents, so they asked if I could help out.
Like many others, I never knew that a simple request would lead to a more formal commitment. I ended up serving as a director for the past two years and in addition to providing some meeting reminders and additional community announcements, I also started a Twitter account to live-tweet the meetings. Seeing the engagement, having people send in questions to remotely ask the speakers, and receiving thank yous from those who couldn’t make meetings, was really rewarding! (Full disclosure: I’m a big geek about information and communication technology and its impact on society.) While some people see local community building and politics as overly partisan, my experiences were lucky enough to simply be about giving something back. Even better, it helped me make friends in a lot of different parts of the community.
I’ve been able to meet various city staff and some of the councillors, business owners — both new and long term — and developers that have been reshaping the city skyline. I’ve met residents from other associations. I’ve had a chance to meet people involved in the Royal City Farmers Market Association. It seems like I knew more people at Shakespeare in the Queen’s Park and the Hyack Festival. I was meeting a lot of other folks passionate about building a strong sense of community, like those involved in N.E.X.T. New West. Attending (and volunteering) gave me a lot more pride in the happenings of the city and interest in the changes. There always seemed like a lot of conflicting ideas on what was best for New Westminster and a tension between the city’s historic past and its future but it has been great to meet so many people that care about their neighbourhood.
All these benefits and it only cost me $5 a year for a family membership and an evening every two months to attend the meetings. I was also able to take part in organizing and running two community block party BBQs that allowed hundreds of local residents to mingle with neighbours. (After last year’s tenth annual event, we decided to take a hiatus this year. It was becoming so successful, that we were outgrowing the group’s capacity to handle in that format. New ideas for next year’s event are welcome.) Unfortunately, it’ll be my last meeting coming up in a few weeks on May 25, 2011 (7pm at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parish Hall – 514 Carnarvon Street), as I’m headed out east for more school.
If you’ve always wanted to check out what goes on at residents’ associations, I’d really encourage you to come out. If it seems like something you’d like to get involved in, you could run for a spot as a director at the AGM in September and/or for any of the digitally savvy out there, the group could use a hand with sending out the occasion email and tweeting meetings. (If you’re not a downtown resident living between Royal and the River, check out the city’s website for your local association.)
It’s been a great time living in New Westminster, getting to know friends and neighbours and watching the city change and grow. (I’ll be glad to can keep up with the going ons in the city through Twitter and Tenth to the Fraser.) Thank you all for making it a wonderful experience!