All posts by Briana Tomkinson

City advisory committees accepting applications until Nov. 22

The City of New Westminster has issued a call for volunteers to apply for civic advisory committees for 2014. If you are interested in getting an in-depth look at some of the issues our city is dealing with, I strongly recommend putting in your application to join a City committee.

For a long time, I had no idea what these advisory committees were about, what they would ask of me, or whether I was the type of person that should apply. While some information is provided on the City’s website, I didn’t feel like I had a good picture of what I would be applying for. But this time last year, I put in my application anyhow.

Each committee has a specific focus, outlined in its terms of reference. Some are more narrowly defined than others. For example, the Childcare Grant Committee reviews grant applications and provides recommendations to Council regarding who should receive what funds. The Community and Social Issues Committee, on the other hand, has a broad mandate and considers a wide variety of topics, including homelessness, social inclusion, mental health, family-friendly communities and overall community health.

For the past year I have served on the Community and Social Issues Committee, and I have already put in my application to continue next year. I found the committee meetings very interesting. City staff often present reports in progress to gather feedback. Sometimes this leads to a recommendation to council and sometimes we are more of a sounding board to gather input before finalizing documents. Guest speakers come to share their insight into social issues affecting our community as well. In the last year, the CSI committee didn’t offer very many recommendations to council, but I’m told other committees like ACTIBIPED (Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians) apparently do. Each committee is chaired by a councillor and includes staff advisors, and their interests and leadership style influence how each committee is run.

Before applying to my first committee I was nervous about the time commitment and unsure what I was really signing up for. I would still say I’m a committee newbie – we met less than once a month (time off over summer), so we had only a few meetings over the year – but I can say that the time commitment was very manageable, and the work was enjoyable. I missed only one meeting, which happened to be held only days after my third child was born! My enjoyment of the meetings grew as I got a better sense of what the committee was about, and I’m very excited by the topics to be discussed in the coming year (the City is working on a family-friendly housing policy, which the CSI committee will help advise & review, and mental health issues are also on the agenda for January). Re-appointment to committees isn’t guaranteed, but I hope I’ll get picked for the team again in 2014!

The term length of each committee differs, with some serving one year, others longer. The committees that are currently accepting applications are listed on the City’s website. While some committees include spots reserved for applicants with subject matter expertise or who belong to specific groups (teens, seniors, business owners, artists), many positions are open to all community members.

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Flowers and tomatoes offered at annual Kiwanis hanging basket sale May 11

In New West, hanging baskets are a traditional Mother’s Day present. After all, why buy a bouquet when you can give flowers that will last all season long? Once again, the Kiwanis Club of New Westminster will be holding their annual hanging basket sale on the day before Mother’s Day (Saturday, May 11) from 10am – 3pm in the parking lot of the Terminal Pub. This year, there will also be cherry tomatoes for sale – and a contest to see who can get the best yield from their cherry tomato plant.

Hanging baskets will be sold for $25 each, with all profits supporting New Westminster charitable causes, including the Lord Kelvin Breakfast Program, St. Barnabas Lunch Program, Monarch House, New Westminster Ambassador Program, Purpose Society, and the New Westminster Secondary School Bursary. Cherry tomato plants will cost $10.

Participants in the cherry tomato growing contest will compare the number of cherry tomatoes on their plants at harvest time. The person with the most cherry tomatoes on their plant on September 8 will win a prize. Any surplus tomatoes will be donated to Plant a Row / Grow A Row.

For more information, phone 604-521-8567. 

 

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B.C. Election in bloom

Vote!

Voting time is coming near again! The B.C. provincial election will be held on May 14, 2013. 

Amid rainshowers and spring flowers, I’m starting to see orange election signs sprouting in my neighbourhood, with shades of red, blue, green (and more) soon to follow I’m sure. Yes, it’s election time again in B.C. and New Westminster candidates will soon be stepping up their door-knocking, robocalling and energetic presence at local events.

On Tenth to the Fraser, we always try to do our part to help New West folk get to know the candidates and issues around election time, and while we probably have to scale back our efforts this year due to personal scheduling conflicts involving a certain sure-to-be demanding newborn, there will be some voter goodness coming your way.

Specifically, we are collaborating with New Westminster Environmental Partners and NEXT New West to organize a unique event: an  All-Candidates Jane’s Walk starting at 5:30pm on May 4. Our groups have joined forces before, organizing both traditional and non-traditional local all-candidates events, and we’re always thinking about new ways to make voting and political engagement less intimidating and more fun. Here’s the description of the event:

All New Westminster residents are invited to gather at SappertonPark (at the corner of East Columbia Street and Sherbrooke Street) at 5:30 on Saturday evening. The four candidates will be introduced, and the group will walk along Columbia Street and the Central Valley Greenway to Downtown New Westminster and the River Market (a distance of about 3.5 km, so about an hour walking at a leisurely pace).

Along the way, each of the candidates will be given an opportunity for their 5 minutes “on the soapbox” to address the crowd, but the emphasis will be on face-to-face and small group conversations during the walk. Participants will be encouraged to chat with the candidates and ask their own questions. There will also be a few surprises along the way to encourage a meaningful dialogue!

At the end of the walk, participants and candidates will be encouraged, as is the NEXT New West tradition, to gather at a local pub and continue the conversation.

Pat Johnstone will emcee (if you don’t already read his blog, you should!), and all previously declared candidates have agreed to participate:

James Crosty has only just announced he’s running as an independent candidate, but hopefully he will also be able to find time in his campaign schedule to join us on the walk. 

Jane’s Walks are a global event celebrating the legacy of celebrated urban thinker and pedestrian advocate Jane Jacobs, held on the first weekend in May to coincide with Jane’s birthday. The walks are free tours, guided by knowledgeable locals to highlight interesting places and neighbourhoods. This is the first year that New Westminster has participated in the event, but there are already ten walks organized for that weekend, and possibly even more to come!

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Bracing for impact …

One week from now, I am expecting to welcome my third little baby into this world. It could happen sooner, of course, or later, but either way, this is the home stretch. After having had two already, I’m fully aware that my life is about to change (again) in ways I can’t predict. I’m writing this note so you’re not left wondering if I go quiet for a while.

The fact is, I don’t really know what will happen on the blog over the next few months after the baby is born. With my older son and daughter, the postpartum period was a surprisingly rich one for me, not only as a mother but as a person and citizen.  After my first baby, I spent a lot more time in the community, rather than in an office tower in Vancouver or Burnaby. My experience of trying (and mostly failing) to make connections with other parents and explore my city was the seed of the idea for Tenth to the Fraser. After my second was born, I helped to organize Summerfest In Grimston Park, an annual community-building event in the West End. So I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the coming months – all that time breastfeeding and rocking babies in the night provides a lot of room for thinking and planning.

On the other hand, I also remember how hard it was to find time for doing. It was worse with my first than with my second: I was not only unskilled at domestic labour (I never liked keeping house or cooking) but also unprepared for just how much time a baby can need, and how brief the periods of rest can be between feeding, rocking, changing and comforting an infant. Oddly, it was easier with two. I was more accustomed to the domestic labour that begins after the baby is born. I didn’t expect to have much time for anything, and so I was much more efficient in using the time I had. Time also passes more quickly when you have older children to keep you busy. I held my daughter and played with my son, and we all were happy together. But three children and the demands of school and activity schedules are a whole other ball game. Time for ‘doing’ will be dear.

I don’t know what this will mean for Tenth to the Fraser. Regular readers will know that the frequency of posts has dropped, as I have been preoccupied with running my business and caring for my family, but it is hard to say how things will change over the coming months and years. I may find I have more to say, or less. There may be more people who step forward with guest posts, or less. I may get better at juggling the various demands on my time, or I may need to scale back for a time to keep my sanity! Hopefully those of you who look forward to posts on this blog will be patient while I find my new ‘normal’ after the baby.

One thing I can be sure of: I am very happy to be raising my little brood in this community over any other.

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Health & wellness highlighted at ‘Spring Cleaning’ event this Saturday

This Saturday, April 13, River Market is hosting “Spring Cleaning for the Mind, Body & Soul,” a health & wellness fair featuring New Westminster businesses and organizations. The event is the brainchild of Zhoosh Fitness‘s Robyn Murrell, who recruited several friends from New Westminster’s B2B NOW (Business To Business Network of Women) group to help organize.

Highlights of the event will include:

  • Try acupuncture, reiki, Shiatsu and even pole fitness – all exhibitors were required to include an interactive component to keep things interesting
  • Demonstrations of various activities, including Hula Hoop Fitness, Zumba and Bollywood dancing
  • Children’s activities at The Music Box in River Market while parents roam the displays
  • ‘Get Active’ photobooth
  • Gift bags for the first 100 people attending the event
  • Charitable fundraising: raffle and sale of daffodil pins benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society (BC & Yukon chapter), plus a “Spring Shave”

For more information on the Spring Cleaning event, email springcleaningnewwest@gmail.com and/or goto the event Facebook page. For more on B2B NOW, email b2bnewwest@gmail.com. 

 

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Network with local entrepreneurs at LAUNCH! New West

New West has a thriving culture of entrepreneurship, but I haven’t seen it celebrated and encouraged as much as I’d like.  Hopefully that’s about to change.

Small business is critical to New Westminster’s economy and culture. Of the 2864 business licenses issued to residents, 2452 have gone to small businesses, which means that approximately 85% of New West based businesses are small businesses. At both the municipal and provincial level, government is trying to do more to support local entrepreneurs launch, grow and thrive.

On Tuesday, March 26, Jen and I are hosting LAUNCH! New Westminster, a free, informal mixer for local business owners and ‘someday’ entrepreneurs to network with each other, learn more about City and Provincial initiatives to support small businesses, and share their thoughts and ideas on the subject.  The event is from 6-8pm in River Market‘s Food Hall. Light refreshments will be provided, and beer & wine will be available for purchase at a cash bar. While the event is free, registration is required as space is limited. Participants can register online using Eventbrite at http://businessinnewwest.eventbrite.ca.

The focus of the evening will be conversational, with lots of time for networking and dialogue. We’ll kick off with a brief Q&A with BC Minister of State for Small Business Naomi Yamamoto, as well as Acting Mayor Jaimie McEvoy, City of New Westminster Economic Development Manager Blair Fryer, and Councillor Bill Harper, who chairs the City’s Economic Development Committee. Jen and I will moderate the discussion (let us know in the comments or via Twitter if you’ve got any questions you want us to ask!). After that, it’s a party – go chat with friends, meet some new folks, or talk one-on-one with the Minister, Mayor or Councillor.

While the timing of the event is close to provincial election time, our goal isn’t to promote any particular candidate or party, but rather to open a dialogue that will hopefully continue well past the election. We’ll hear from the officials on what they are doing, but there will also be opportunities to ask questions and share ideas in open Q&A, and an ideas wall where people can write down their thoughts, suggestions and comments on small business issues.

From my perspective as an entrepreneur with a small business based in New West, I believe that attracting entrepreneurs and helping them to thrive and grow will benefit our community, culture and economy. It should be a cornerstone of the City’s economic development strategy. Hopefully this event will be a small step in the right direction. I hope to see you there!

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Discovering the joys of putting food by

First jar of mustard!

The first jar from our batch of spicy bourbon-spiked mustard.

Yesterday I spent the day chopping and cooking enormous quantities of fresh vegetables and fruit for Can-O-Rama, a full-day canning work bee with friends. We steamed up the kitchen, cooking up a spicy bourbon-spiked mustard on one burner while aromatic pear butter simmered on another and mixed-vegetable pickles processed in the canner’s hot water bath.

Until last summer I had never really given much thought to canning, but now I’ve caught the bug. My cupboards are starting to fill up with home-canned jams, condiments and other preserves, and canning has become a semi-regular social hobby for me and my friends.

It’s not something I would have expected to enjoy as much as I do. Growing up in suburbia, I never needed to learn traditional skills for making and preserving food staples. As for many others in my generation, the chain of knowledge passing down home-preserving and other handicrafts from mother to daughter broke with my parents’ move to the city. Canning, knitting, sewing and other ‘maker’ skills just didn’t seem relevant anymore.

My grandmother spent summers industriously putting food up for the winter. Living in Ontario on a single mining company salary with five children to feed, my grandparents made their dollars stretch by growing or producing as much of their own food as possible. Their eggs came from backyard chickens. Blueberries were a seasonal indulgence, involving a bit of a hike up to the bushes by the beaver pond, and many of their fruits and vegetables came from the garden. For my mother’s family, canning and preserving was an important part of the work of summer to ensure that food was not wasted, and that the family would not have to spend unnecessary dollars when the snow fell.

These are only *some* of the jars we need to prep for Can-O-Rama

These are only some of the jars we needed to sterilize & prep for Can-O-Rama

My own childhood could not have been more different. I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood in Coquitlam. Our garden was decorative, save for a few strawberry plants that the birds and bugs often pillaged before we could enjoy the red berries, and a pot of chives we grew on the windowsill. Food came from the grocery store. Healthy food was important, so we ate a lot of simply cooked low-fat, low-sodium and low-sugar meals. My mother tells me she did attempt canning one year, spending a hot, sweaty day putting up pounds of peaches in jars. The recipe was a low-sugar one, of course, and the result was apparently inedible. Aside from a successful batch of blackberry freezer jam we made one year, I don’t have any memories of making food staples from scratch or putting food by.

So you might imagine my mother and aunts’ surprise when they learned I’ve taken up canning. A city girl canning for fun may seem an indulgent oddity, like digging a backyard well or scrubbing clothes with a washboard in the bathtub despite having a perfectly good washing machine. The labour of canning was part of the sweaty, difficult farm work they left behind when they embraced city life.

And it’s true that my experience of it has been as a canning dilettante. A good part of the appeal is social – most of my canning has been done as part of a work bee with friends – but I also enjoy being able to control what goes into the food we eat, as well as the foodie thrill of discovering new and unusual flavour combinations.

I don’t love canning everything. I found putting up tomatoes to be a lot of work and without the thrill I got from jam-making. Despite it being a relatively frugal way to enjoy high-quality, locally grown, organic tomatoes year round, if I ever do it again it’ll be for the social side, not really for the end product. Saving money and making my own healthier alternatives to commercially processed foods are definitely less compelling for me than creating a taste I can find nowhere else.

Packing vegetables in jars for pickling

Packing vegetables in jars for pickling

I learned to can last summer with a few friends under Jen Arbo‘s wing. Jen grew up in a small Vancouver Island town, where she learned many traditional skills including canning. We organized a berry-picking day with our families at a local farm and brought home enormous quantities of ripe raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. After putting aside some berries for eating and baking, we poured ourselves some wine and set to work canning three types of jam: raspberry, mixed berry jam and a luscious blueberry-lime. It was sweaty work, and the product was not particularly healthy (you have no idea how much sugar is in jam until you make it yourself!) but it was the most delicious jam I’ve ever tasted.

Since that first canning session, I’ve made more jams with friends, as well as on my own. I’ve learned that my favourite canning projects are made with berries I’ve picked, or found fruit from my neighbours’ overly enthusiastic trees. I also love experimenting with healthier recipes and new flavours. My personal favourite recipe was a lower-sugar blackberry lime jam made with neighbourhood berries picked by my husband and kids one summer day.

I still have some of that first jam in my cupboard, and literally every time I spread it on my toast and take a bite it brings back memories of helping my children pick fat blueberries with their little fingers, and hours spent laughing and talking with some of my favourite people in New West. No store-bought product can compare.

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Like an old house, New West is blessed with ‘good bones’

Leafy Columbia Street.

Leafy Columbia Street. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Although many think of it as a suburb of Vancouver, New West was born a city – one of the first on this part of the coast. It thrived in a time before automobiles remade the landscape and transformed our streets from social spaces to thoroughfares. It’s one of the reasons New West’s sense of community is so strong. But it also creates friction between people concerned with regional traffic needs and those who advocate for liveability within our community.

While the commercial centre of the Lower Mainland has moved downtown and (to our chagrin) the political centre remains in Victoria, our birthright has gifted us with some of the best elements of old-fashioned city planning. New West’s decline during the peak age of the auto may actually have been a blessing in disguise, allowing our city to escape some of the missteps of suburbs planned in the highway’s glory days.

Driven by both environmental concerns and new research on what makes communities thrive, there is a movement to retrofit auto-centric suburbs to become more walkable and compact. Luckily, like many of our old houses, New West may have its problems, but it is blessed with good bones.

Many parts of New West already fit the ‘new’ model of compact planning, but misguided attempts to accommodate road traffic within community streets have compromised livability in some areas. Just as many of our heritage homes were blemished by ‘modern’ renovations in the ’70s and ’80s, the appeal of many of New Westminster’s original neighbourhoods have been diminished by retrofitting to accommodate road traffic. It’s time to peel back the shag rug and restore the lustre of our streets.

Streets that welcome people are designed differently from those that merely accommodate them. They are usually narrower, with shorter blocks, and move at slower speeds. The best streets are diverse and let people move quickly between various types of zones: from home to work to cafes to shops. In New West you can see this dynamic at work Uptown. The leafy boulevards of Queens Park and the apartment blocks of the Brow are a short – and very pleasant – walk to several parks, the library, grocery stores, cafes, offices, restaurants and the public transit hub at Sixth & Sixth.

The volume of traffic that funnels through New West from car-centric developments in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey and beyond is challenging to accommodate within our small borders. One reason why our commercial districts Downtown, in Sapperton, and on 12th St. and 20th St. struggle is because their identity is confused. They aspire to be thriving commercial streets while also moving road traffic. This identity crisis results in an environment that is not fully satisfactory for anyone.

Streets and roads have very different goals: a street is a destination, and part of a walkable community. A road is intended to move car traffic quickly from one place to another.

In the Downtown, several improvements have been made to try to enhance the streetscape and make it more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians, but attempts to placate the road lobby hold back Columbia Street’s renaissance as a neighbourhood destination. Front Street is clearly a ‘road’ and while it would be great to have unobstructed access to the waterfront, Front is a vital road connection. It looks to me like the City is taking a pragmatic approach to dealing with this problem by providing alternative pedestrian access to the Pier Park and waterfront. This attention to walkability, neighbourhood character and streetscape is needed in all our neighbourhoods.

Investing in our neighbourhoods will pay off in both liveability and economic strength. Recent studies show that cyclists and pedestrians actually outspend drivers at local businesses. While they may spend less per trip (because it’s harder to carry items home), commercial zones that are bike- and people-friendly draw more repeat business.

This consumer loyalty supports community connection as well. As neighbourhood regulars get to know each other, the social connection provides added incentive for customers to return. You can see this dynamic at work at River Market, the Coming Home Cafe, and at many of our local coffee shops as well. As Jeff Speck wrote in The Walkable City, “Creating a higher quality of life is the first step to attracting new residents and jobs. This is why … all the fancy economic development strategies, such as developing a biomedical cluster, an aerospace cluster, or whatever the current economic development ‘flavor of the month’ might be, do not hold a candle to the power of a great walkable urban place.”

Streets were originally places for gossip, commerce and play, not just for moving people and goods. Moving people and goods is important, of course, and provides such a clear economic payoff that our grandfathers and grandmothers willingly made room for the horseless carriages. But when we made room for cars in our cities, we underestimated the impact on public spaces. Planners must have thought that if it was good to move quickly by car from place to place, surely moving more cars more quickly would be even better. But the impact on community and the local economy has been disastrous.

There is no sense of community from within an automobile. From the driver’s vantage point, pedestrians, bicycles, children and other vehicles are too easily abstracted. They are seen as obstructions, not neighbours. It’s easy to forget there are people within each little pod on the road, and impossible to make more than the briefest connection (via honking, hand signals, a brief moment of eye contact) with those you are sharing the road with.

Reclaiming community streets and dedicating routes for road traffic is an essential part of our evolution as we continue to build the ‘new’ New West.

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What does growing income disparity in Metro Van mean for New West?

I read an interesting article recently from Atlantic Cities about income disparity in Vancouver, based on a research paper produced at the University of Toronto.

The report findings reveal three ‘cities’ within Metro Van. City #1 includes higher-status areas in historically upper-middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrified urban areas and redeveloped zones within areas like New West that are close to parks, views or the waterfront. City #2 includes the traditionally stable middle-class neighbourhoods and City #3 includes neighbourhoods where the average income fell more than 15% relative to the metropolitan area.

While we do have our own issues with income disparity in New West, I found it interesting to see where we stand in contrast to the region. The blue-shaded areas are the areas where household incomes have grown 15-288% more quickly than the metropolitan average between 1970 and 2005. The white areas are neighbourhoods that have seen an increase or decrease under 15%, and the red areas represent income decreases of more than 15% since 1970. If you zoom into the map (which is unfortunately pretty grainy, making details hard to see), New West shows up as largely white & blue, while large sections of nearby Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey have seen significant declines in household incomes since the ’70s.

Map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 - 2005

A map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 – 2005

A map illustrating the change in average household incomes between 1970-2005 in the Lower Mainland shows incomes in New West increasing in the Queensborough and the West End neighbourhoods, while remaining flat in Queen’s Park, Downtown/Uptown and other parts of the city. Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, affluent neighbourhoods seem to have seen incomes increase, while many formerly middle-income neighbourhoods have seen incomes decline.

According to the report, “The three neighbourhood groupings or “Cities” represent a dramatic transition from the old model of concentric social areas with poverty at the urban core and a solid band of middle income districts in the suburbs. Relative to metropolitan changes, significant income gains and losses are occurring in both city and suburban neighbourhoods. There is more inequality with 54 percent of the 2006 CMA population living in tracts that either gained or lost more than 15 percent of their income relative to the metropolitan average over the 35-year period. Equal numbers of people, about 565,000, lived in the gaining and losing tracts.”

So what does this mean for New West? Well, the report illustrates that in the current economic climate, to those who have, more will be given. And to those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away.

I think this illustration shows New West in a favourable position within the Lower Mainland. While the actual income numbers continue to show significant lower income populations here than in many other more affluent parts of the city, it shows that most citizens have either maintained their incomes or increased them – which is significant in an era when so many have seen incomes eroded. Income inequality in surrounding areas appears to be worsening, and that will result in social issues that will impact us all.

There are troubling implications when you look at who is gaining and who is losing. The report says: “City #1 is overwhelmingly the home of the native-born. In contrast there has been a marked increase in immigrants in the remainder of Metro Vancouver, and especially in City #3, which has shifted from a majority native-born in 1971 to an immigrant majority in 2006. City #3 also includes a plurality of visible minorities (61 percent) while City #1 does not (23 percent).” I don’t have enough information to be able to interpret this nugget, but it does raise questions whether opportunities for immigrants are shrinking or if some other factors are at play.

During New West’s renaissance, the City appears to have consciously tried to guard against simply pushing out lower income populations through protecting and supporting local nonprofits, protecting low-income housing and taking the initiative to house the homeless (rather than just complaining about how it’s the job of the Province to take care of that problem). As a result, we are likely to continue housing and caring for a large number of the region’s lower income families. Is that bad? While I think many people automatically think about the most abrasive marginalized people when considering the issue (those who are hardest to empathize with), we do well to remind ourselves that low-income families include seniors, new immigrants, single-parent families and others who have simply been dealt a raw hand. We can’t just pretend these people don’t exist, and we can’t write them all off as having ‘made their own beds’ to lie in.

Juxtaposed with regional trends indicating worsening income inequality, it’s good to remember that many of us in the middle risk sliding into that red zone, whether through corporate downsizing, developing health problems and being unable to work for a time, lack of financial literacy (leading to taking on too much debt – another significant problem), retiring with inadequate savings or any number of other misadventures. We all believe these things won’t happen to us, but the reality is that we’re not so special or so smart that it can’t. Every one of us could make a mistake or fail to spot and address a potential threat that could set our families back economically. Wouldn’t you prefer to live in a city where there was somewhere to turn for help, if the worst should happen?

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The shops I wish we had in New West

If New West's fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here's what I'd wish for ... (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

If New West’s fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here’s what I’d wish for … (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

I have many favourite boutiques and restaurants in New West, and it seems to me there are more opening all the time. But if I had a fairy godmother who would fast-track a few new businesses for me, here is what I would wish for:

A truly great coffee shop
New West does not lack for coffee shops, but it does lack for great coffee. A JJ Bean would be awesome, or better yet, something like Raw Canvas in Yaletown, which combines great coffee with a great creative space (and turns into a wine bar / lounge at night!). I want it down on Columbia Street, which just seems like the right place for a cool cafe.

An indoor play space for kids (that is also comfortable for parents)
While restaurants and cafes with adjacent play areas are popular in other parts of the city (Kinder Cafe in Coquitlam, Rocky Mountain Flatbread on Main, Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial), there isn’t anything in New West or nearby. There are also large indoor active play areas, Koko’s Activity Centre in Port Moody, Crash Crawly’s in Coquitlam and Jungle Jac’s in Pitt Meadows, but all of these are awful for parents – and far away to boot. I would love to see a fun place where kids can play on a rainy day and parents can sit in a comfortable chair and chat with each other over good quality coffee and snacks. Bonus points if the food is healthier / more interesting than just hot dogs and pizza. I had thought that the space where Dynamic Health and Fitness is now in Royal City Centre would have made a great large indoor play space, but River Market would be another good bet for a mid-sized space. A restaurant with a small play area could be done anytime by any of our existing restaurants. Yes, it’s fewer tables, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve overheard local parents (mostly moms) pining for such a space in New West.

A hip greasy spoon diner
Back when Will and I lived downtown (years ago!), we’d often head out to The Templeton for a hearty, hip breakfast on Granville St. This weekend when we were considering where to go in New West for breakfast, there was nowhere that quite fit the bill: independents like the Coming Home Cafe and The Hideout Cafe were likely to be closed (it was Remembrance Day) and we were left with various chain restaurants or the greasiest of greasy spoons (cheap, but no atmosphere and mediocre food). We ended up at The Boathouse for brunch, which was good in its own way, but we spent the meal daydreaming about what a great Columbia St. eatery would be like. Re-Up/Fathom sometimes has brunch on the weekends, and it is very good. Maybe the owners could be convinced to open a breakfast joint on Columbia next?

A brew pub
Last night Twitter erupted in disappointment when word got out that Brown’s Social House would be the pub tenant at the Brewery District in Sapperton. New West has a nascent craft beer community, including some intrepid home-brewers, and a local brew pub was on their wish list. I’m sure Brown’s will become a popular destination for a certain type of night out, but for now Hops remains the beer geek’s pub of choice in New West. But if there are any brew pub entrepreneurs out there reading this: Sapperton wants YOU.

A gift shop for men
We’ve got Brick and Mortar Living, Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Sonse Design (among others) where you can find a lovely little something for a woman, but men are much harder to shop for. I’d love to see someone open a Brick and Mortar-style boutique with little things for men to covet and women to gift. Ideally it would tap into the Art of Manliness movement – most men’s gift stores I’ve seen are full of unimaginative, uninspired garbage. In my opinion, this sort of store would do well on Columbia St., to tap into the wedding market and give brides something really nice to buy for their husbands, or grooms to select for their groomsmen.

An independent toy store
Yes, we had one of those (two if you count the oddly named & situated Kids Kloset), but since Pedagogy Toys closed, there’s been nowhere to go locally to buy gifts for kids. I love shopping at toy stores, and I would love to see someone give an independent toy store another go. I think a toy store would do well uptown. There are lots of parents and grandparents out and about during the day, heading to Moody Park and the Library, and I could see a lot of walk-by traffic from folks in the area to do banking, grocery shopping or other errands. A toy store in the vein of the Village Toy Shop in Port Moody would be perfect.

A neighbourhood coffee shop on 12th St
Poor, poor 12th St. It has struggled for so long and is in quite the slump right now. The hill really limits how far people will walk the street, especially without a chain of awesomeness to draw you up, one store at a time. Amber’s Choice is a nice cafe at the top of the hill, but if you’re around 6th Ave or below, it’s a long way to hike for a coffee and a muffin. John Ashdown’s old cafe, Village Coffee Lounge, was in a perfect spot for neighbourhood customers, and as a resident of the West End I certainly feel its absence. I’d love to see more tightly clustered retail on 12th St., particularly around the nexus of 12th St and 6th Ave, anchored by a great community cafe.

A large mixed-use development at 22nd St. SkyTrain
Here’s the biggest item on my wish list. I want to see 22nd St. SkyTrain station built up. Last year, three of the five or six houses immediately next to the SkyTrain were up for sale at the same time, and I was holding my breath hoping a developer would buy them – alas, not how that story turned out. Still, I think a smaller-scale Plaza 88 ‘Shops at New West Station’-type development would be great there. The proximity to downtown on the SkyTrain is awesome from that station, just 25 minutes to Waterfront and less than 20 to the edge of downtown. The price per square foot vs. travel time to downtown work would be ideal for many folks. Plus, it would provide some walkable and useful businesses for the existing local residents in the area – and potentially lift the fortunes of some of the 20th St businesses as well (which suffer from the same issues as 12th St).

There’s more of course. I’d love to see more wearable street fashion, not just bridal, and more of a visible arts presence. I miss having an art supply store on the street (years ago Full Spectrum Art Supply bowed to the bridal market and turned into Paper Poet, a wedding invitation & papercraft store), and I often wish for an independent bookstore of the type I enjoy in La Conner, WA (The Next Chapter, check it out if you are ever in the area. Fireplace, comfy chairs, decent coffee and an expertly curated selection of titles).

But that’s me. What would you like to see?

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Economic development will be vital to New Westminster’s future

Population growth by age in the New West trade area (including Burnaby and the Tri-Cities). Source: Urban Futures Institute

Population growth by age in the New West trade area (including Burnaby and the Tri-Cities). Source: Urban Futures Institute

At the New Westminster Economic Development Forum on Thursday, Andrew Ramlo from the Urban Futures Institute presented some unsettling insights on upcoming demographic changes in the city, and shared some truly geeky statistics illustrating New West’s economic strengths and weaknesses. A few pertinent highlights:

  • New Westminster, while attracting large numbers of adults in the prime working years between 20-55, will face the same tsunami of grey as the rest of the region when the Baby Boomers retire. Because of advances in health care, the population will remain overweighted by seniors for a long time.
  • New Westminster’s biggest economic ‘exports’ are health care and education. Fraser Health and Douglas College are the two biggest employers in the city. Public sector employers (school board, city staff, other government organizations) are also a huge source of jobs in the city.

To me, this highlights the need to focus now on economic development in New Westminster because:

  • Seniors pay lower property taxes while requiring more tax-funded services
  • Hospitals and educational institutions are exempt from paying property tax, so expanding these institutions, while providing jobs does not provide more tax revenue to the City (note: other levels of government sometimes provide grants in lieu of taxes to offset some of the cost to cities, but it doesn’t always make up for the lost revenue)
  • City governments depend on property taxes to fund services and infrastructure improvements, and are restricted from demanding other forms of taxation
  • New Westminster has one of the more dense concentrations of nonprofit organizations in the Lower Mainland, and most of those organizations don’t pay property taxes either
  • There is very little undeveloped land remaining in the city that could be built up in order to increase tax revenue

Tax-exempt nonprofits and institutions benefit from city services, yet don’t put money back in the pot. The rationale for this is that these types of institutions provide a great social benefit to the city and its public, which justifies exempting them from paying tax. That’s all well and good, but what happens when a city has more than its share of nonprofits within its borders, and then also suffers a drastic reduction in the size of the taxpaying population?

This makes me concerned about the long-term sustainability of the City’s finances. The City’s largest employers are not paying property tax, and ever-larger numbers of residents will be getting significant breaks on their tax bills as they reach retirement age. Meanwhile, there’s a ton of city infrastructure that needs upgrading, and provincial and federal governments keep offloading responsibility for vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill and the homeless to cities. That leaves an ever-larger tax burden for those of us who are under 50.

This is the same story across North America to some extent, but I believe that when you look at New West, we are currently not as well equipped to balance out declining residential property tax revenues with business tax revenue. Because we do have such a high concentration of nonprofit, government, healthcare and educational employers, and because we have so little commercial property, I fear this makes our city more vulnerable than others unless we take action now to strengthen our economy.

The answer isn’t just to attract younger people to pay the taxes the seniors are exempt from. There just aren’t enough young bodies to balance out the immense impact of the Baby Boomers. As I see it, the City needs to act now to diversify its sources of revenue. As I mentioned, the City is limited in its ability to impose new taxes, but it does have other sources of revenue already, including Development Cost Compensation (DCC) from new development, as well as grants from other levels of government, various licenses, fees and fines. But a key missing link in New Westminster is economic development, not just continuing to add more tax-exempt government-funded and non-profit jobs, but attracting more new for-profit businesses to this city.

Comparison of street front rental rates in the Lower Mainland. Source: InvestNewWest.ca

Comparison of street front rental rates in the Lower Mainland. Source: InvestNewWest.ca

New Westminster is succeeding at attracting some new large employers. The TransLink offices, for example, will be opening soon at Sapperton’s new Brewery District development, but as as I mentioned in my last post, we need to reach out to both large and small businesses. Currently I see a revolving door of small businesses in this town. We have some of the most affordable commercial rents in the Lower Mainland, and I think that attracts newbie entrepreneurs to jump in and invest without the financial cushion to soften the inevitable blows that every new business endures in the critical first few years. The City can’t take away the risks of business ownership, but it can provide more leadership in identifying the types of businesses that we believe would thrive here, actively recruit more employers to set up shop in New Westminster, and provide support to our current businesses to stay in New West and grow their businesses.

An artist's rendering of the new Civic Centre and Office Space. Source: City of New West.

An artist’s rendering of the new Civic Centre and Office Space. Source: City of New West.

This is also why I have come to believe that the City’s decision to proceed with building the class A office space above the new Civic Centre was a risk it had to take. One of the reasons why it was so important to incorporate commercial uses into the Civic Centre project was the implications for tax revenues: had the City built only the Civic Centre (and not the office tower & commercial spaces) the cost to build would have been lower, but the City would lose the opportunity not only to boost the economic activity of downtown (through jobs and in-town spending by employees & businesses) but also lose out on the estimated $660,000 in annual tax revenues from the office space. It would be just one more parcel of prime New Westminster real estate that’s a cost centre for the city, not a revenue-generator.

Today the economic development activities the city undertakes include offering information and statistics, help with site selection, providing business and community contacts and helping with government approvals. That’s good work, and business licenses have grown at three times the regional rate in New West between 2009 and 2011. But it is not enough.

New Westminster needs to present a vision that inspires businesses to want to locate here. It has to provide incentives for residents to shop here, and support local business in getting the word out beyond our borders. The business community can also do more to support each other, through partnerships, mentorships and cooperation.

In short, although we’ve come a long way from the ’90s decline, we still have a long way to go. Strengthening our economy is something that we can all play a part in by shopping locally, starting businesses here and spreading the gospel of New Westminster beyond our borders to let the world know how great this city is to live, work and play.

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Visions of the ‘new’ New West

Over the weekend I attended two sold-out events that are potentially significant bellwethers for the future of our town. The first, a $175-a-plate business and networking luncheon, was a clear signal that New Westminster is open for business. The second, a $30-per-ticket gala celebrating young entrepreneurs and community organizers, showed that the next generation of leaders are already making an impact on this city.

On Thursday morning, a crowd of developers, large business owners, banks and local employers packed La Perla Ballroom for the New Westminster Economic Forum to hear a demographer, several of the City’s largest employers, a developer and famed Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie share their predictions on the shape of the “new” New West.

As a symbol of the City’s interest in strengthening our local economy, I thought the event was a great success. Not only was it sold out, but many more citizens and business owners were interested and would have attended had the ticket price been less steep and/or if space had been available. But I also thought that the City’s economic development office missed an opportunity to reach out to that packed house of potential investors in our City and inspire them to action.

The event was an informative soft sell, sharing demographic trends and anecdotes from Fraser Health, Douglas College, Lowes and Bob Rennie about their organizations’ investments, activites and expansions in New Westminster. The City’s Director of Development Services, Lisa Spitale, also shared some highlights of the City’s vision for future development, particularly in the downtown. But an event like this should be more than informative. It should be persuasive and connective. articulating a compelling vision and call to action that inspires business owners to invest in the city, and acting as a force multiplier to connect people together to do business, form partnerships and become aware of relevant organizations, City resources and services in town.

The information presented at the event did change how I understand our city’s economy. Our largest employers and biggest ‘exports’ are in health care and education (many people from other parts of the Lower Mainland come here to access those services). While this helped me to gain new respect for Royal Columbian Hospital and Douglas College’s positive contributions to our local economy as employers and magnets drawing people from other parts of the Lower Mainland, I felt it also illustrated New Westminster’s weaknesses in other sectors. New Westminster will remain a bedroom community unless we can generate sufficient employment opportunities in sectors beyond health care and education.

On Saturday, a very different event illustrated the new New West in action when almost 200 people filled the ballroom at the Inn At The Quay to recognize 25 of New Westminster’s talented up-and-comers at the NextUP gala organized by NEXT New West and sponsored by The New Westminster Newsleader. The themes in this event were very different.

The event was light on information, but heavy on inspiration. The guest speaker, East Van bootstrapper Mark Brand, shared his story about launching two successful restaurants in the Downtown East Side before buying the legendary Save-On Meats butcher shop and diner in the neighbourhood. His message for New West was to believe in your neighbourhood and take the risk to invest in your community. He also advocated integrating marginalized residents in community transformation, hiring what he called ‘barrier’ employees, for example, who have physical or mental disabilities, or who are recovering from addiction.

The room was full of young talent fired up with big dreams, and I believe the message took root, reinforced by the example of the 25 go-getters recognized at the gala. I was one of those 25, and what I found remarkable was how diverse the activities were of those people on the list: business owners, volunteers, community organizers, sports advocates, and more. The challenge for New Westminster will be to support the crazy dreamers who take the chance to start something new, and provide them with resources and connections that will help small initiatives grow large.

On Thursday and Saturday I witnessed two separate spheres of activity that will lead to positive growth and change in our city. What’s needed is to bridge the two. We had an economic development forum that lacked vision and a celebration of talent with more potential than proof. The economic forum made absolutely no mention of the role of small business in our city, while the NextUP event lionized initiative but not consistency. What New West needs is a balance, blending the tried and true with the fresh and new.

Small businesses and large are both vital to New Westminster’s future. New ideas and risk-takers are essential to progress, but as our city’s long list of failed small businesses shows, there’s a lot more to success than a promising start.

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Second Annual New Westminster DocFest this weekend

New West Doc Fest, October 19 & 20 at the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre, Douglas College (700 Royal Ave.)

New West Doc Fest, October 19 & 20 at the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre, Douglas College (700 Royal Ave.)

Did you know that New Westminster hosts an annual documentary film festival? The second annual New West DocFest is coming up this weekend, October 19 & 20, at Douglas College’s Laura C. Muir Theatre.

The festival opens on Friday evening with a presentation by guest speaker Mark Jaccard, a professor at SFU, followed by the screening of Chasing Ice. This year’s films cover a range of topics including the environment (Chasing Ice and White Water Black Gold), women in India (The World Before Her), the video game industry (Indie Game the Movie), and the power of corporations (Big Boys Gone Bananas).

In addition to the program of critically acclaimed documentaries, the festival also incorporates music, theatre and art. Short theatrical performances throughout the festival will be presented by Act Now, a youth theatre group focused on sustainability.

As a fairly new event in New Westminster, this will be a critical year to determine the long-term viability of the event. According to one of the event organizers, Andrew Murray, the vision for the festival is to become more than just a local event: “We want to create an event that is unique to New West that will not only draw people locally but also throughout the Lower Mainland.”

Admission is just $7 per film ($5 for students and seniors). For more information, visit www.newwestdocfest.ca.

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New West underrepresented in regional Urban Futures Survey

New Westminster residents often complain that our opinions aren’t well represented in regional planning. Not being the type of community to take disappointment quietly, we are becoming a bit notorious as a hotbed of rabble-rousers due to our vocal protests against good-for-the-region / bad-for-our-community projects like the defeated United Boulevard Extension proposal. So when Place Speak‘s public involvement lead Spencer Rasmussen reached out to me about getting better New Westminster representation in the 2012 Urban Futures Survey currently underway, I was pretty impressed. According to Spencer, Vancouver is currently overrepresented in the ratio of survey participants, and so he’s reaching out to try and get more folks from places like New Westminster to try to correct the balance.

Here’s a note from Spencer on what the Urban Futures Survey is all about, and why it’s so important for New West folk to participate:

The recent controversy over the Pattullo Bridge is an opportunity to step back and think about the region we want live in. The decision regarding the bridge – along with in numerable others – will change Greater Vancouver. We need a vision, and citizens’ voices must be heard.

The 2012 Metro Vancouver Urban Futures Survey is designed to do just that – to give residents a voice in the planning of our region. It is the third in a series of studies that impacted the decisions that make Greater Vancouver what it is today. The parks we enjoy, the recycling bins in front of our houses and quality of our air are all connected to the results of previous surveys. The 2012 survey repeats that process, polling residents on the future they desire.

To work, every community must be represented. In New Westminster, that means 65 residents sharing their opinions. 45 have done so already, but 23 are still needed. Completing the Urban Futures Survey gives our region the information it needs to plan a better future for you, your family, and your community. Please take 20 minutes to share your opinions: Take the 2012 Urban Futures Survey

If you are more comfortable reading Chinese, PlaceSpeak has translated the Urban Future into Chinese Traditional text. The Chinese version can be found here: 城市未來發展調查2012

The 2012 Urban Futures Survey is being conducted under the aegis of Lambda Alpha International, the Society of Urban Land Economists, with the support of the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, the City of Surrey, the City of North Vancouver and Vancity.

You can learn more about the Urban Futures Survey here, and be sure to like the Urban Futures Survey Facebook Page and follow PlaceSpeak on Twitter.

 

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Are ‘born & raised’ New West folk different from the rest of us?

Are ‘born & raised’ New Westminster folk that different from those of us who moved here by choice?


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How to make friends in New Westminster

Friends gather together to watch The Princess Bride at Summerfest In Grimston Park

Friends gather together to watch The Princess Bride at Summerfest In Grimston Park

It’s hard to make new friends as an adult.

You make friends in the places where you spend your time. Because most adults lose track of hobbies, spending their days at the office and their nights and weekends with spouses and immediate family, we spend time in only a few places: home, the office, the mall, the grocery store, the movie theatre, maybe a favourite restaurant or two.

It’s not like it was in your teens and twenties when your social calendar was very busy and your obligations were few. As a result, friendship researchers find most people find and make their lifelong friends in college or high school. When shopping, watching movies or eating at restaurants you pass by a lot of people, but you usually talk to very few. At the office, people change jobs frequently, which can limit the number of repeated interactions. Sensitivities to competition, income differences and job pressures make the office a poor setting to let your guard down and share intimate confidences with cubicle pals.

We are lucky in New Westminster. The community here is very good at creating the conditions that help friendships form and grow.

There is a science of friendship dating back to the ’50s and holding up through the new millennium. The elements of friendship are these:

  • Proximity
  • Repeated, unplanned interactions
  • A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other

Proximity

We tend to underestimate the role of proximity in making new friends. As a parent, it’s obvious that it makes a difference in my kids’ friendships: neighbours, the kids of my friends and classmates become ‘best’ friends, while those who attend different schools or live even a few blocks farther away tend to be farther away from their hearts. But as adults, we assume that friendship has more to do with shared interest than how physically close we are to a person.

You can walk New Westminster from end to end in about an hour. Our six square miles is dotted with bus stops and SkyTrain stations that make it easy to leave the car at home when you go out and our tree-shaded boulevards are a pleasure to walk. The simple fact that we live in a smallish town within the larger Metro Vancouver district provides us with the physical closeness to neighbours that helps make friends.

Repeated, unplanned interactions
Our retail districts are concentrated in just a few areas, so if you work or shop locally, you find yourself in the same haunts again and again. Once you become connected with the New West community through social media, parties and events, schools or involvement in one of the many local organizations, you start seeing the same people all around town – particularly in hot spots like River Market, the Uptown nexus of Sixth and Sixth and coffee shops all around town.

Many New West folk park on the street instead of garages, and even this simple act brings us closer. And, in many of our neighbourhoods yards are not just decorative; families gather with neighbours in yards as common spaces. In New Westminster, we actually see our neighbours, and over time, in many neighbourhoods, neighbours become friends.

A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
This is the trickiest factor to overcome. Aside from the political social scene, in which a certain amount of gossip and backbiting is sadly to be expected, I have found the New West social scene to be very welcoming and open. Most people here still suffer from the cultural reticence to ask for help or admit to vulnerable feelings, but with the first two ingredients in place (proximity and repeated interaction) we can gradually become comfortable enough with people to open up a little. When that goes well, a little can quickly turn into a lot.

What of shared interests?
What you don’t see in here is connections based on shared interests. As I mentioned, people tend to assume friends will be people who share their taste in music, film, activities or other interests. This isn’t wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t work the way people think. It isn’t the shared interests that bring people together. Rather, the share interests provide a reason to interact on a regular basis, and a starting point to open conversations that can build trust over time. I see this happen in two ways in New Westminster:

  1. People gather together in activities related to shared interests: wine tastings, the Farmers Market, foodie events, board game nights, curling club, artists’ organizations, and more. When the same people consistently attend these events, they develop a rapport that opens the door to trust. Over time, they transition from smalltalk to conversation about ideas, opinions and feelings, and from there they may become friends.
  2. Friends who first gathered together because of proximity (neighbours, local Twitterati, or NEXT New West social club members) uncover shared interests through conversation and develop new hobbies and activities together. A number of friends who met via Tenth to the Fraser activity, tweetups or other local activities have taken up new hobbies (archery, canning, beer and wine-making, and more) and participating in these events provides them with new opportunities to get to know each other better, deepening trust and friendship.

We here a lot about how our modern society can be very isolating, and when you look at the elements of friendship it’s no wonder:

  • We isolate ourselves in our cars, reducing opportunities to interact with neighbours. We spend too much of our limited leisure time in front of the television, further limiting the number of people we interact with in a day.
  • We over-schedule and, feeling exhausted from the 9-5 grind, spend time at home or with existing friends instead of in places where we can encounter new friends.
  • Flimsy friendships based on fleeting encounters, often in socially charged situations (such as at the office), don’t inspire sharing deep thoughts or feelings. We stick to smalltalk and feel unsatisfied with these interactions as a result.

If you are looking to make new friends in New West, the conditions are all there to support you.

If you want to make new friends, here’s what you need to do:

  • Be out in the community, in person and online. Shake hands, introduce yourself and show up to the same events over and over so you can get to know the regulars, and they can get to know you. The first key to friendship is showing up. You won’t meet anyone new in front of your TV.
  • Spend time in your yard and walking around the neighbourhood. Shop and eat locally. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see acquaintances out and about around town. Go up to them, say hi and see if they have time to join you for an unplanned coffee chat.
  • Talk about things that matter. Ask questions, debate issues, share feelings. Invite friends to try new experiences: go to an event, learn a new skill, or go somewhere you’ve never been before. In my experience, participating in doing something together can really open up a friendship.

Ultimately, what you want to do is move from people who inhabit the same space, to people who do things together, to people who trust and care for each other.  In other words, to become friends.

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Outdoor movie screenings in New Westminster this summer

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen at Summerfest in Grimston Park. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen in Grimston Park at 2010's Summerfest. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Nothing says summer like movies al fresco, plus the price (free!) can’t be beat. There are a number of outdoor movie screenings coming up in New Westminster this summer. Here’s a list of the ones I have heard about so far. If you know of an event I’ve overlooked, please comment to let me know. All movies in this list are free. Remember to bring your own picnic blanket or lawn chair if you go.

JULY

  • July 14: The Princess Bride Summerfest in Grimston Park features a free screening of The Princess Bride. Swordfights, giants, princesses, magic potions, Rodents of Unusual Size … what more could you want in a movie? Festival starts at 2pm with classic picnic games, mini-Farmers Market from 3-7, live music from 5-9 and the movie starts at 9:30.  Movie sponsored by Derrick Thornhill of Park Georgia Realty. Free popcorn provided by Community Savings Credit Union.

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

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Family-friendly Pattullo rally planned at TransLink open house June 23

Pattullo rally poster

Pattullo rally poster

Opinion polling in New Westminster is pretty clear: New Westminster does not want a six-lane replacement to the Pattullo Bridge. TransLink’s public consultation in our community, however, has assumed six lanes as a given. Clearly, New West and TransLink are not seeing eye to eye.

New Westminsterites concerned about air quality, livability, pedestrian safety and environmental impacts of increasing traffic through our already congested city have organized a rally for the whole family in response to TransLink’s Pattullo Bridge Open House at Sapperton Pensioner’s Hall this Saturday, June 23. Supporters include New Westminster school trustees Jonina Campbell and David Phelan, the Surrey Citizens Transportation Initiative and New Westminster Environmental Partners.

Rally organizers believe TransLink’s public consultation process was unfair and that building a bigger Pattullo goes against TransLink’s own transportation strategy, which centres on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging development of communities designed for transit, cycling and walking. In previous open houses, TransLink has asked for public input on specific questions about planning details related to location and connections for a six-lane bridge, not whether a six-lane bridge is the right solution for our communities.

In the invitation to the event, organizers invite parents to bring their kids, bicycles and bubble-blowers, and participants are asked to keep messages “constructive, welcoming and focused on the issues.” Signs prepared for the event will include slogans like, “No 6-Lane Bridge,” to specifically reference TransLink’s current plans and “Give Surrey Transit Now!,” which is in keeping with their Transport 2040 Goals. Others will include: “Stop Driving Climate Change,” “A Good Planet is Hard to Find,” “Less Traffic=Safer Streets,” “TransLink: Put Our $ Where Our Public Transit Should Be,” “Plan Past Peak Oil: It’s Time to Think outside the Barrel” “Think Lions Gate”, “TransLink: We Need to Talk!” and “Stop Pushing Car Dependency.”

The rally will begin in Sapperton Park, rain or shine, at 9:30am to walk to the TransLink open house together with signs and letters to the TransLink Board. There will also be activities for children during the brief event.

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Old-fashioned picnic games, mini-Farmers Market and outdoor movie at Summerfest July 14

Children play in the Grimston Park playground at the first Summerfest event in 2010. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Children play in the Grimston Park playground at the first Summerfest event in 2010. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Despite Junuary‘s gloomy skies, summer is here, and festival season is underway. Over the next few months, it’s party time in New Westminster, with outdoor events in every neighbourhood in the city. One event that is very close to my heart is the West End’s big neighbourhood party, Summerfest In Grimston Park. The third annual Summerfest celebration will be held on Saturday, July 14 from 2pm-midnight.

Summerfest is like a big West End neighbourhood picnic. It’s a family-friendly afternoon splashing in the wading pool at Grimston Park (open to 8 p.m. this day only) and listening to live music, topped off with a special free screening of The Princess Bride under the stars. Families can purchase picnic food on-site or pack their own snacks.

The festival kicks off at 2pm with old fashioned picnic games such as three-legged races and balloon tosses beginning at 3pm Food vendors will be on site from 3-7pm,  including a selection of vendors from the Royal City Farmers Market, as well as Holy Perogy and Papa Dave’s Pizza.

Summerfest features live music by The Real Canadian Rock Band and Caitlin Beauregard as well as face-painting by Job’s Daughters. There will also be water play activities, games and kids’ crafts. Finally, at 9:30pm, families will gather on the grass to munch on free popcorn from Community Savings Credit Union and enjoy a screening of The Princess Bride on a big screen in the park.

As regular readers of the blog know, Summerfest is a weather-dependent event, and although we had gorgeous weather in the first year, last year we were rained out. The movie screen can’t be set up if it rains within a day of the event, so cross your fingers and hope that this year won’t be another bummer summer. Here’s hoping for some sunshine!

IN BRIEF:
WHAT: Summerfest in Grimston Park, a community picnic & celebration featuring a free screening of The Princess Bride, live music, mini-Farmers Market and children’s activities.
WHEN: July 14, 2011 from 2-11:30pm
WHERE: Grimston Park, 7th Ave. at 19th St., New Westminster
WHO: All ages
COST: Free

 

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Preaching the gospel of community in New Westminster

Rainbow-spotting in New Westminster's West End. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Rainbow-spotting in New Westminster's West End. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

One of the things I love about New Westminster is that there is a very strong sense of community here. At times, local events almost feel like church revival meetings as we all come together to reaffirm our friendship and faith in The Church of New Westminster. We have been saved from the anonymous hell of suburban living, and escaped the perilous prices of downtown. Our congregation is diverse and evangelical, and will enthusiastically preach the gospel of community.

As I was walking through the West End on a recent sunny Sunday I felt again the deep pleasure and conviction that *here* is a good place to live. I felt grateful for the quiet, tree-lined streets, the children riding their bikes, the people walking their dogs and the pack of children I would find back on my block, deep in raucous front-yard play. It got me thinking about the elements of community. What builds community? And why is New West so successful at this, more so than any other city I’ve lived in?

New Westminster was planned in a time when people’s lives were not so independent and anonymous. The smaller city footprint, with its older homes and narrow streets gives us an environment that is more conducive to building community than some newer parts of Metro Vancouver.

Many parts of New Westminster are dominated by older homes. Mine was built at the end of the 1940s and many of the homes on my block are even older. There are a few ways I think older-style homes improve the sense of community:

  • The garages suck. They are inadequately small, tumbledown affairs stuck at the back of most older homes. It’s often more convenient to just park on the street in front and use the garage to store all the random crap that homeowners accumulate. Instead of entering and exiting your home encapsulated in your car, neighbours encounter each other as they go to and from their homes. You know when your neighbours are home or if someone’s home sick when their car is parked out front. I never realized how much this matters until we moved into our home with its dangerously leaning garage and awkward back gate.
  • There are few driveways in front of homes. Related to the first point, but offering a different suite of benefits. No driveways means safer, more walkable streets. When I go walking with my kids in my neighbourhood I can let them run ahead on the sidewalk for long stretches without having to worry that a driver will back in or out without seeing that there’s someone there. No driveways also means greener streets. Instead of a concrete pad and the faceless door of a garage, we see green grass, leafy trees, front stoops and flower beds.
  • Older homes need a lot of maintenance. Not so awesome for your wallet, but home repairs are great conversation-starters with the neighbours. We’ve swapped advice with our neighbours on roofing, landscaping, window replacement, plumbing, drain tile and more. When your house is new and shiny (or at least not falling apart) this stuff isn’t on your radar yet. Interior cosmetic repairs have less neighbourly conversation value: we see the outsides of each other’s homes more than the insides.
  • Porches. Sadly, my home has no front porch, but many of my neighbours do. Porches contribute to a front-yard culture of informal conversation, and add eyes to the street, improving safety.

Pedestrian-friendly streets are another huge factor in building community. When people pass each other face-to-face, each little nod and smile builds familiarity over time. This doesn’t happen when you pass another driver in a car. Several factors impact how pedestrian-friendly a street is:

  • Short blocks. In older cities like New West, blocks are short. For pedestrians, this means that you feel progress when you’re walking – long blocks *feel* long. It also provides more options to vary your route, which makes walking more interesting and allows more ways to avoid walking on busy streets.
  • Small city footprint. It doesn’t take that long to walk or bike from the West End uptown or down the hill to the edge of downtown, from downtown to Queen’s Park, from Glenbrooke to Sapperton. In most parts of the city, it’s only a short walk to get to a business district to buy milk, indulge a craving for sweets, meet a friend for coffee or select fresh vegetables.
  • Frequent, (mostly) reliable public transit. In our wee city we have five SkyTrain stations. For most trips, the wait to catch a bus is 15 minutes or less. Our system is not perfect. There are dead zones in the city that are awkward to access via transit and I know some there have been problems with some community shuttles serving the Quay. Still, it is easier to take the bus or SkyTrain in New West than anywhere else save Vancouver’s downtown core.
  • Green boulevards. Maybe not all our streets are as green as they could be, but New Westminster’s network of beautiful streets covers a huge part of the city. On most walks, sections of ugly streets don’t last long.

Aside from the city’s physical traits, I think there are a few other elements that help connect us:

  • A single high school. Almost all the children who reach their teenage years in New Westminster end up at NWSS. Grads who choose to raise their own families in New West end up with a large network of local friends and acquaintances.
  • Twitter. Holy cow, what a network. Vast groups of New Westies have met and formed new social groups over Twitter. If you’re not there yet, check out the #NewWest hashtag to meet some new friends.
  • NEXT New West. It’s a new group, but is a very powerful way for younger adults to make new social connections in the city and explore new things to see and do. It’s awesome.
  • Kids. Through school PACs, activity programs and organizations like Little League and Scouts, parents get to know each other through their kids. After a few playdates, the parents make friends too.
  • Dogs. Almost as good as kids for helping their ‘parents’ make friends. Particularly in neighbourhoods like the Quay, where most dogs are walked along a single route (such as the Quay boardwalk), dogs can be a great boon to community. You get to know the other dog owners in your neighbourhood over time.

And, of course, you can’t forget the diverse efforts of individual community boosters. There are a ton of them in New West, managing clubs, creating events, volunteering to run festivals, blogging about different aspects of city life, and organizing events to bring people together, from pub crawls to art shows to house parties. New Westminster is lucky to have more than its share of people actively working to make our city a better place to live.

What do you think contributes to New Westminster’s strong sense of community?

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Voting underway for New West’s inaugural ONE Prize

River Market's ONE Prize

River Market's ONE Prize will give three winners a total of $5,000 to fund community initiatives in New West.

Three community-building ideas in New Westminster will get a boost from Donald’s Market and River Market, winning cash and publicity from the inaugural ONE Prize. Funded through a customer appreciation program that allocates 1% of member sales to community projects, five shortlisted projects will vie for votes in hopes of winning a portion of the $5,000 in this year’s pot.

This year’s diverse ideas include initiatives related to food, art, social media, volunteering and entrepreneurship.

The finalists this year are:

  • ARTISTS IN THE MARKET - Local artists of diverse practices showcase the fruits of their labour at River Market for everyone to enjoy!
  • NEW WE.ST CAREFULLY CURATED - Carefully curated local feeds and searches mixed with crowd sourced events, links, pictures, and conversation.
  • POPLUCK - A series of pop up dinners in open-air public spaces across the city that combine an element of surprise with a love of well-prepared, fresh, and local food.
  • SOCIAL GENERATION AWARD - What happens when we encourage young people to let their imagination go and give them seed money to get it going?
  • THANKSGIVING IN JULY - Seniors Services Society says “Thanks” to their volunteers for all that they give with a special Thanksgiving luncheon in July.

The winners will be chosen by ONE Members via online voting. The top three vote-getters will win funding for their idea, $3,000 for the most popular project and $1,000 each for the two runners-up.

If you’re not a member of the ONE Program, you can sign up at Donald’s Market.

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Volunteers needed to help remove invasive plants from Hume Park this Saturday

In my ignorant pre-gardening days, I extended my politically correct Canadian sensitivity training to the world of flora and fauna. I admired the spunk of dandelions growing in the crack between the sidewalk and the curb, the beauty of the morning glories twining in the hedge and the hardiness of blackberry bushes crowding parked cars in the back lane. I felt guilty pulling weeds. After all, didn’t they have just as much right to life as any other plant?

Then I planted mint in my garden. I love mint, so I was pleased to see how fast it grew! Until it began to take over. Along with the dandelions and morning glory. Thankfully, we have no blackberries!

So, now I know, not every plant that can grow in a place should grow there.

A couple of weeks ago, on April 14, the City of New Westminster began work with a crew of volunteers to help re-habitat Lower Hume Park by replacing invasive species with native species. A second rain or shine work bee is planned for this Saturday, April 28th, and they’ve put out a call for more volunteers to help.

Invasive plants are spread through illegal dumping of garden waste and seeds or dispersal by wildlife and wind, causing ecological destruction. This project will help prevent and control the spread of invasive plants while protecting the ecological integrity of our parks. Good boots, comfortable clothing and registration (at the office) are required.

What to know if you want to go:

  • WHEN: Saturday April 28th (Rain or Shine)
  • TIME: 1pm – 4pm
  • WHERE: Lower Hume Park, New Westminster
  • WHAT: Celebrate Earth Day: Invasive Plant Removal and Native Replanting. In Intergenerational Event
  • WHO: New Westminster residents age 13+
  • REGISTRATION: Call 604-519-1066 Pre registration is mandatory. This is a free event.
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Park safety, property values on the agenda for Feb. 26 QPRA meeting

The Queens Park Residents’ Association is tackling two timely topics in its next meeting: park safety and property assessments. Because these are two issues with broader reach than the immediate neighbourhood, the QPRA has invited interested residents from the rest of the city to attend.  The agenda for the Sunday, February 26 meeting includes guest speakers on both topics.

After Councillor Betty McIntosh’s daughter Lisa was mugged walking home through Queen’s Park, it raised safety concerns for many frequent users of the park. The first speaker, City of New Westminster Director of Parks, Culture and Recreation Dean Gibson, will brief residents on planned lighting enhancements for Queen’s Park, and provide an overview of upcoming long-range planning work. Residents are encourages to come with questions and ideas to bring forward.

The second half of the meeting will shift gears to discuss property values. The average New Westminster property assessment increased by 5.16% this year. Receiving the assessment always makes homeowners wonder how those numbers are calculated anyway. BC Assessment Deputy Assessor Zina Weston and New Westminster appraiser Carmine Guadagno will explain how property values are determined with specific focus on the Queens Park neighbourhood. There will be an opportunity to ask questions.

The Queens Park Residents Association meeting is 2-4pm on Sunday, February 26 at Centennial Lodge. Coffee and refreshments will be available by donation.

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Hops a solid new addition to local pub scene

Hops on Urbanspoon

Dimly lit Hops, located beneath New Westminster SkyTrain, is ideally situated for stumbling home after a pint or few. Once the new movie theatre at Plaza 88 opens for business, it will almost certainly become a convenient spot for pre-movie drinks. But it takes more than just easy access to SkyTrain and a taxi stand to earn a new pub good customers.

There has been a pub in this location as long as I have been stomping around New West, and I remember more than one rowdy night spent here back in my college years a decade ago. Newly renovated in a similar style to the Terminal Pub or Drink (the latter is owned by the same company), Hops is clearly going after a different demographic than the rougher clientele the former bar served.

The bar at Hops

The bar at Hops

I came in for lunch to scope out the space and sample the menu, finding soft pretzels on the menu (they are a favourite treat of mine, and often don’t live up to expectations), free wifi and a nice selection of local brew on tap. Hops offers a few nice twists on the typical pub experience in New Westminster. I had the pretzels and a cup of chowder, and found both to be very tasty and nicely presented on the plate.

The space is significantly smaller, and includes some higher end decor choices including actual artwork on the walls, designer bar, leather booths, wood accents and upscale lighting. Yet, despite these touches, the space retains some features I associate with a more downmarket pub, such as gambling machines and an economical low-pile carpet flooring in a colour that won’t show stains (instead of a more appealing but less-resilient hardwood look). The service was pleasant, but when I asked for what I thought to be a minor detail (to order only one pretzel instead of the two listed on the menu), it was a non-starter. It is a minor detail, but one that matters to me. I would be more forgiving during the dinner rush, but for lunch when there are maybe five people in the whole place, I expect a waitress to at least ask the kitchen if they can accommodate a custom order.

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

It was all more or less as expected, which puts Hops in a “solid and predictable” category of pub. The menu features mostly comfort foods, including the expected sandwiches, wraps and burgers, but there are a few nice surprises, including a gorgonzola mac & cheese with short ribs that sounded pretty good. In addition to the now ubiquitous walls-of-televisions that unfortunately (to my mind) dominates most pubs, Hops has smaller wall-mounted flatscreens in several of the booths, which I assume could be turned to whatever channel you wanted. There are also a couple of nice nooks for larger group gatherings with larger televisions. Like most pubs, it’s hard to find a seat where you aren’t distracted by screens. Even my favourite local pubs, The Terminal and the Dublin Castle, suffer from television overload from the perspective of someone who comes to a pub to hang out with friends, not TV screens.

I left with mixed feelings about Hops. I will definitely return when the movie theatre opens, and I will probably enjoy my food and brew when I do. But all the televisions are a turnoff for me. And maybe it makes me a pub snob, but I just don’t feel the same way about a pub when I see a dedicated TV screen for Keno and a pull-tab machine. The pub is only two weeks old, so new it’s still listed as “coming soon” on Tag Pubs’ website and at the time I first published this review it didn’t yet have a listing on Urbanspoon. I plan to give it some time to grow on me, and I would recommend trying it out for yourself. Let me know what you think if you do!

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Local gift ideas for Valentine’s Day in New Westminster

For a long time I thought Valentine’s Day was nothing but a Hallmark holiday artificially inflating the price of roses and chocolates. My preschooler changed my mind. My son loves all holidays and celebrations and to him, having a day to celebrate the people in your life who you love is a wonderful thing. It reminded me that you can take the Hallmark out of the holiday, and when you do, it can be a lovely way to take time out to show the people that matter to you that they are important in your life.

For those of you who are still looking for something to do with your sweetie on Valentine’s Day, here are my local picks:

Take a romantic walk
New West has a number of lovely places for a stroll. If the weather is fine (or if you’ve got a big umbrella to share), I’d recommend taking a ramble through the Queen’s Park boulevards to admire the heritage homes or along the Quay boardwalk to admire the river view.

Enjoy an experiential gift
Chocolates, flowers and jewelry can be lovely, but happiness has more to do with what you do than what you consume. Buy tickets to a show at Massey Theatre or the Bernie Legge, spring for a couples’ cooking lesson at Wild Rice, or support your partner in developing new skills in sewing, dancing, archery, swordplay, art or other interests.

Indulge in a spa treatment
Phoenix Wellness is a lovely spot to go for a facial or mani-pedi. For massages, I’ve heard good things about Shine on 12th St as well. I haven’t tried any of the other spas in town, but there are many to choose from.

Hire a pro to take some couples’ shots
When one of you is always holding the camera, it’s hard to get a good photo of the two of you together. There are a lot of talented photographers who work locally in New Westminster, and a ton of great spots for photo shoots. I’d suggest Tipperary Park, the Quay Boardwalk and downtown as a starting point, but the people who do a lot of photography here all have their favourite buildings and lookout points that are good for a picture.

Go out for a nice meal
The classic Valentine’s Day activity. Wild Rice has a special prix-fixe dinner for Valentine’s Day. Taverna Greka has good food and a great view of the Fraser, and if you’re looking for something a little different, Tamarind Hill‘s Malaysian cuisine is a tasty treat. If you’re going out tonight for an early Valentine’s Day treat, Karmavore is hosting a vegan mingler at their shop on Columbia St.

Stay in and cocoon
Order in and curl up to watch a romantic movie together. Okonomi Sushi delivers their delicious fresh sushi, Yianni’s will do pick up (their Greek-style roast lamb is superb), and Spring Garden has tasty, fresh Chinese fare. If you’re cooking, I’d suggest Queens Park Meat Market for quality meat and a butcher’s expertise, River Market’s Crab Shop for fresh fish and delicious make-at-home crab cakes, and Sapperton’s Bella Cakes for a sweet treat. Pick up a bottle of wine from the experts at Quayside Wine Cellar or go really local with Pacific Breeze‘s wonderful made-in-New West wines (I recommend their GSM blend and their Killer Cab if you like red wine).

Buy something special
For her: a unique necklace or earrings from Cadeaux on East Columbia or Tiny Finery in River Market, a guilt-free faux-leather handbag from Karmavore, pearls from The Urban Gypsy, or something for the home from Lofty Living, Red Brick or Sonse Home Design. If you’re buying flowers, I’d recommend a bouquet or potted plant from KJM Urban Gardens or one of the unique arrangements from Queen’s Park Florist.

For him: A classic pair of quality leather shoes from Copps, a fine bottle of whisky, or a copy of New Westminster author JJ Lee’s book Measure of a Man. If your man is a gamer, a new game from Board Game Warriors or a vintage console platformer from Press Start on 12th St could be just the ticket. If he likes RC toys, you can find a good selection of remote control helicopters and airplanes at SN Hobbies on 12th St and RC cars and trucks at Team 1 Hobbies on East Columbia. High-end pocketknives and similar accessories can be found at DS Tactical on 12th St and Westley Military Surplus on Front St.

What else would you recommend for a romantic Valentine’s Day gift in New Westminster?

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