Housing Journey

Two years I wrote a guest column for the now defunct New West NewsLeader called: The elusive third bedroom in New Westminster. My rumblings about finding a larger space to raise a family in New Westminster was not new, but I had no idea the traction it would gather. I was invited to do a CTV interview on the same subject, based on the reporter finding my guest column. Granted the TV piece was rather Vancouver-centric, it does illustrate the problem is not just specific to one city.

Like many others, I am an import to New Westminster. It’s easy to quickly fall in love with this little town. It comes with a lot of quirks, even some drawbacks, but the connected, tight-knit community feel trumps any negativity tenfold. After setting up roots here, we knew we wanted to stay in New Westminster and continue raising our family here.

When first entering discussion about finding a larger condo we talked about a cap of $400 to $450 thousand. That would have worked maybe 6 months ago, but as houses become more and more out of reach for locals, the next closest thing is the much coveted townhouse and then the elusive 3-bedroom condo. Continue reading “Housing Journey”

Musings from a first time soccer coach

A couple of happy Royal City Youth Soccer players. Photo: Tayfun Ozdemir.
A couple of happy Royal City Youth Soccer players. Photo: Tayfun Ozdemir.

I don’t edit emails for content as often as I should. At least I didn’t when I contacted RCYSC (Royal City Youth Soccer Club) looking to help out with my son’s soccer team. When I offered to volunteer as a coach, I meant to write that I could volunteer as an assistant coach. Needless to say, I was surprised when the coordinator emailed me back with my very own team roster. I have never so much as coached an ant farm, never mind a gaggle of six-year-old-boys with varying attention spans. I knew this would be an adventure.

RCYSC as an organization makes a good first impression. There are a lot of solid people volunteering in the background to make things run smoothly. About the only thing they don’t provide is coaches, so that’s were lucky dads (and moms) like me come in. The club offered a couple of coaching clinics, free of charge, with instructors provided by BC Soccer. I spent a half a Saturday in a classroom, and the other half on the field doing drills, sprints and learning technique.

The first thing they teach you is to keep things fun and to keep the kids interested. I think I’ve done pretty well on both accounts. You quickly learn that over-coaching is a mistakes; explain something for too long and you’ll soon have eight kids digging for worms or talking Pokémon.  Basically the kids are there to get their beans out and it’s my job as coach to channel that energy into what should resemble some soccer skills. At first I had no idea how my team would respond to Coach Matt. My Italian-Hungarian background has blessed, or cursed me, with a rather booming voice; getting their attention without yelling was no problem. I have yet to cave and resort to using a whistle.

How did our team do? While no records are kept in terms of wins, losses, and goals scored, the kids make sure you don’t forget. We did well, and the boys all seemed to enjoy themselves.

The best part of the whole experience was watching kids improve their skills and build their confidence. It’s easy to coach the natural athlete who excels no matter what the sport, but much more rewarding with the one who isn’t so sure of himself.

Update: This blog entry has been a long time in the making. I have since signed up for another year of coaching. The first thing I noticed with my new team is:

  1. They are much more skilled than they were a year ago.
  2. They also have a lot more sass than they did a year ago.

I guess you can’t have one without the other. It should be another good year.

Thoughts on Freelance Camp

Freelance Camp at the New Westminster location of The Network Hub. Photo: Jeremy Lim
Freelance Camp at the New Westminster location of The Network Hub. Photo: Jeremy Lim

I was lucky to win a couple of tickets to this years incarnation of Freelance Camp, thanks to Tenth to the Fraser! Freelance Camp is billed as an unconference; where presenters are chosen by the audience to speak to all matters relating to the freelance industry.

This year’s event was held on the second floor of the newly renovated River Market. It’s certainly a nice change to see an event promoting freelancing, networking, and technology come to little New Westminster. I think our newly emerging downtown needs this kind of exposure; perhaps spurring the growth of some technology based sectors in the area.
So what was my impression of Freelance Camp? My worry was that there would be maybe three of us sitting in a large conference room awkwardly staring at each other. Not a chance; there were approximately 170 attendees from all over the Lower Mainland.

If I had one complaint (actually, I have a few), it’s that it was perhaps oversold. The second floor of the River Market is a large open space with a few conference rooms, a toy store, and of course a circus school.

Given the large number of attendees and presenters, it was decided to break the sessions into four groups. I was little confounded when two of those sessions were held virtually next to each other in the mezzanine, while a yoga session with boom box was doing their thing in the adjacent circus school. Needless to say the presenters tried to speak above all forms of background noise. I think the event should have been capped to whatever seating could be accommodated in both conference rooms – that, or book the circus school as well.

Small quibbles aside, I managed to pick up quite a few pointers regarding my own freelance career. I should stress that for many, a freelance career is serious business. It’s certainly not something that happens on its own. I think the people who chose this route do so in order to find balance in their lives. You often hear that the real money is working for yourself. I can’t yet venture to confirm this, but it would be safe to say most struggle with it for many years before seeing real money. But it does allow a chance to reestablish a balance between work and family life. Many freelancers, myself included, have young kids in school and the schedule of dropping off and picking up leaves a pretty hacked up day in which to “go to a job”.

I sat in on a session that talked about contracts and how to protect yourself financially; a handy skill to have when working for yourself. My last session was with an inspiring young woman who transitioned to sales training from working as an electrical engineer! Needless to say it was quite refreshing to learn that anyone, engineers included can learn the art of salesmanship. And while I don’t endevour to become a salesperson; when working for yourself you’d better get used to the idea.

Beyond bridal boutiques and payday loans: re-envisioning downtown

Copp's Shoes on Columbia St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.
Copp's Shoes on Columbia St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.

Downtown New Westminster has it going on.

Well, it could have it going on if it could once again capture the vitality of its once historic past. From an urban planning perspective you could not wish for a better template; you’ve got history, great public transit, a waterfront, shopping, density. So what happened, why did the city turn its back on the downtown?

New Westminster did what almost every North American city did in the post-war era; it decided to re-invent the wheel. How many cities had a perfectly good urban core and decided a shopping mall in the suburbs was the way to go? We don’t even have a suburb, yet that didn’t stop us from building a huge mall just 1 km up the hill. While probably bustling with stores when it first opened, it is hardly an example of a thriving mall as we’d like to see it. The mall is tired, lacks interesting merchants, and doesn’t have the convenient access of SkyTrain, which is a must these days. It did not help that the mall lost its last anchor tenant with the closure of Woodwards. Uptown is probably not quite the gem urban planners had envisioned, but let’s leave that for another post.

So what else contributed to the demise of the downtown? Like with many cities, the decline of public transit combined with the introduction of the personal automobile changed the way people live. With a car you could now live in one city, work in another, and go shopping in yet another. Before the TransCanada Highway was built to the north of the city, Columbia Street was essentially the commercial hub for all residents east of the Fraser River. People would come here from as far away as Chilliwack on the interurban railway. With the construction of the highway and the discontinuation of the interurban line, Columbia Street’s importance as a retail destination was delivered another blow. No longer did you have to pass through New Westminster on your way from A to B.

So how does it look for the future of New Westminster’s downtown? People are once again moving to New Westminster, realizing the potential of living in the geographic center of the Lower Mainland. And they are moving to the downtown to be close to transit and other amenities. Certainly they deserve more than a couple blocks of bridal boutiques and payday loan shops. The city must promote the downtown not only as a place to live, but as a place to shop, and a place to work. More people moving downtown will bring more diversity in terms of shopping and employment opportunities. The building of the Civic Centre and (slow) emergence of the River Market are good examples. Companies may look to New Westminster as a location to open up their head offices. We need all levels of employment to once again make the downtown vibrant.

New Westminster is not a large city. It can support both a vibrant downtown and a thriving uptown. At the moment however, it seems like the downtown has the momentum in its favour.

Multi-family recycling numbers can no longer be ignored

This is a guest post by Matt Lorenzi. Matt is a New Westminster resident. He volunteers with the New Westminster Environmental Partners and sits on his building’s strata council.

Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi
Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi

The issue of garbage and recycling rates in multi-family dwellings is finally being addressed by Metro Vancouver.

The region’s Zero Waste targets are for 70% trash diversion by 2015. Single family homes are well on their way with 55% diversion, but multi-family lags far behind with an estimated 16% diversion.

So why such a disparity from multi-family to single-family? A number of New Westminster residents gathered at City Hall a few weeks ago to tackle this very issue. The results of the evening’s findings were numerous; everything from garbage chutes, poor signage, lack of containers, and language barriers were touted as reasons hindering recycling.

Municipalities and Metro Vancouver share some blame in these low participation rates. In many municipalities the collection of waste and recyclables from multi-family dwellings has been offloaded to private operators. While this in itself is not the problem, it does make it fairly easy to pass the burden of education and enforcement onto strata councils, building managers and the private haulers.

It appears the industry is starting to take matters into their own hands. One of the larger haulers is soon to install cameras on their trucks which will allow them to audit the garbage at the point of pickup. If the load is contaminated with too large a number of banned items, the resulting fine can be billed back to the building from where it was picked up. This same company stated that they incurred $600,000 in fines from Metro Vancouver due to contaminated waste. Clearly they are not interested in absorbing this cost alone. The result will be more responsibility for each building and in turn for each resident.

So what are the barriers to getting better participation in multi-family buildings? One of them main complaints is a lack of space. It takes a certain amount of commitment to put aside space in your suite to sort and collect. Buildings also have to make it easier and more convenient to participate. Many recycling rooms are out of the way and once you get there the bins are often full. There are some creative solutions being looked at; for example collection could be handled on each floor or in front of each suite using individual sized blue bins.

One of the greatest challenges living in a multi-family building is personal accountability. While costs for garbage removal is gathered through strata fees, individual behaviour is not factored into the equation. There is nothing stopping me from creating as much waste, or using as much hot water as I wish. The challenge is bringing everyone on board and having everyone behave in a similar manner. Barring a change in the way personal accountability is handled, education and behavoir change is the best bet in improving results.

The bottom line is that every year the cost of disposing garbage at a Metro Vancouver transfer station is expected to go up. This cost will be handed back to whomever produced it; be that a business, single-family home, or multi-family building. The days of cheap garbage removal are behind us and a more proactive, equitable approach to dealing with it is the only way forward.