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Stay cool, New West: Summer fun at spray parks, splash pools, and beaches

Summer heat came early with a May that was one of the driest on record, and it’s only getting hotter. Thankfully, New West has a pretty great list of spray parks, splash pools and even a couple beaches where you can suntan on hot sand.

Spray Parks: Open from 10am-7pm, Victoria Day to Labour Day

  • Queens Park – A classic spot for summer fun, the thick trees of the park make it easy to find a shady spot to cool down. The spray park features a water table feature for toddlers as well as a varied collection of sprinklers for older kids and adventurous tots to run through. The spray park is next to the Queens Park Petting Zoo (open 10am-5:30pm), a concession, and the Rainbow Playland playgrounds.
  • Moody Park – Located Uptown at 6th Ave. & 8th St. next to the playground, this older spray park is earmarked for an facelift soon. Water lines were recently upgraded in preparation for the new spray park. I’m not sure when the new spray park is due to be installed, but this could be the last summer to enjoy the tree-stump sprinklers in the old park.
  • Ryall Park – Next to a toddler playground, an all-wheel park, and the Queensborough Community Centre. The community centre includes a small branch of the New Westminster Library – a good spot to step out of the sun for a while to check out a book or do a puzzle with your kids.
  • Sapperton Park – Blessedly close to Starbucks and a short walk from Sapperton SkyTrain, this smaller spray park at Sherbrooke & East Columbia is a great spot to meet up with friends. I often find at larger parks like Queen’s, the kids run off to play in different areas. It’s hard to keep up a conversation while you’re chasing them to opposite ends of the playground! At Sapperton Park, the kids are always within eyesight, which makes it easy for the parents to enjoy their “playdate” too.
  • Old Schoolhouse Park – Not a true spray park, but this Queensborough park includes a playable water feature for kids where they can get as wet as they want to. At Ewen Ave & Derwent Way.
  • Hume Park – Resurfaced in May/June 2015, this is now open for business! Really nice re-do of the splash park, that uses recycled tires for the surface – non-slip and a bit squishy on the feet.  Located off East Columbia Street in Sapperton.

Outdoor pools – Open from the last weekend in June until Labour Day

  • Moody Park – The newest pool in New West is conveniently located in leafy Moody Park. Changerooms are clean and spacious, and while the pool isn’t the biggest around, it is a beautiful spot to cool off in summer. Open for public swim from 1:15 to 7:55pm in July & August. Adult swim from 8-9:25pm on Tuesdays & Thursdays; youth swim from 8-9:25pm on Wednesdays.
  • Hume Park – Pair your swim with a walk through the trails in Lower Hume or take the kids to the new adventure playground next to the pool. Hume Park is great fun. Open on fair weather days from 1:15pm-8pm.
  • Grimston Park wading pool – Open from 12-4pm in July & August, this is one of the few remaining free, public wading pools in Metro Vancouver. Staffed by a lifeguard, who often brings water toys and may offer face-painting if you are lucky. Grimston is a lesser-known park in New West, located in the West End a short walk from 22nd St. SkyTrain.

Free admission to Moody Park Pool & Hume Pool on weekends, and just $2 for adults / $1.50 for kids and seniors during the week.

Beaches

  • The not-so-“secret” beach in Queensborough is a lovely and quiet little patch of sand. You probably don’t want to go swimming in the fast-moving Fraser River, but you can cool your feet at the river’s edge and benefit from the cool air off the water and surrounding shade trees. Located off the Port Royal Riverfront Walk, on the Poplar Island side.
  • The Pier Park Urban Beach is accessed via the Quay boardwalk and a new pedestrian overpass at 4th Street (via the Parkade). While you can’t go swimming here, it’s breezy and beautiful, with trees and sun umbrellas for shade and even hammocks to relax in. The City is adding new water ‘misters’ to provide some relief from the heat (should be complete in the second week of July).

Further afield: 

When a beach where you can swim is the only thing that will do, you have to settle in for a bit of a drive or public transit adventure. Here are a couple of favourite ‘field trips’ from New West:

  • Our family’s favourite swimming beach near New West is Centennial Beach at Boundary Bay Park in Delta, which is about a half-hour drive away. It’s a long, sandy beach with shallow water that heats up to the temperature of bathwater. When the tide is in, you can go out wading until you are just a tiny speck on the horizon and still not be more than waist-deep. When the tide is out, the area is full of tidepools to explore. There is a playground and concession near the main parking lot, but if you are willing to walk a ways you can usually find a quiet spot in the seagrass where you can spread a picnic blanket. Just remember to bring lots of sunscreen and your own shade: it’s mostly scrub bush and grass out there rather than trees.
  • Sasamat Lake’s White Pine Beach is 40 minutes away and features a beautiful beach surrounded by mountains and tall evergreens.
  • English Bay Beach in downtown Vancouver is 40 minutes by car or an hour by public transit. The beach is gorgeous, and you can pair your visit with a walk around the Stanley Park Seawall or a bit of Robson Street shopping in the West End.

What about you? Where do you go to cool off on a hot summer day?

Posted in Community, Family Life.

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The first New West parklet goes to …. Sapperton!

Today on Twitter, Mayor Jonathan Cote announced the city’s first parklet will be built in Sapperton near Fratelli Bakery and the new Bloom Bloom Room flower shop.

If I didn’t know how long it takes to get things done at City Hall, I’d think the Mayor of New Westminster must be reading my blog.

The first of five parklets planned for the city over the next five years, the East Columbia parklet is expected to be finished this summer. The City’s goal is to create one new parklet per year over the next five years.

New West blogger Brad Cavanagh revealed he actually watches council meetings, beating me to the punch on his blog with a pretty great summary of what a parklet is, and what the City’s plans in this direction are:

For those who don’t know, a parklet is a mini park set up as an extension of a sidewalk. They’re not very large, typically fifteen to twenty meters long, and about three meters wide. They’re places for people, set up to allow people to meet, sit, and relax. Vancouver has five parklets, and they’ve been big hits almost everywhere they’ve been put in.

Yep, those are the very same kinds of public spaces I raved about after coming home from NYC: little enclaves of social civility and peace amid the hustle and bustle of sidewalks and streets.

Coming upon a parklet introduces a wee frisson of joy during a walk through a city. But it isn’t just a feel-good move. It’s actually a savvy economic development move. Cavanagh’s post shares links to studies in other cities that found adjacent businesses typically see between 9-20% more business following the installation of a parklet. Good news for Fratelli, Bloom Bloom Room, Sushi Heaven and the other businesses at that end of East Columbia!

But what about parking? As Sapperton resident Jen Arbo put it, the boon to businesses will far outweigh the loss of a couple of parking spots.

Councillor Patrick Johnstone also wrote about the parklet in a council meeting summary post on his blog:

Parklets are great ideas, and they can really improve the pedestrian and retail space in a commercial district. The City is piloting our first Parklet this summer in Sapperton, with plans to introduce another annually (at least) for the next couple of years. Staff has been given a modest budget, but a lot of flexibility to find partnership opportunities, design ideas, or creative innovations to make the Parklets fit local needs in our different neighbourhoods. I was really happy Council endorsed this program, and that staff is not only excited to implement it but have provided a really nice design for New West Parklet #1.

The initial reaction from both businesses and residents was pretty positive on Twitter:

But not everyone was pleased. The announcement irked at least one Quaysider, where gardening budgets have been cut back:

What can I say? New West loves its greenspace. Note to council: Don’t mess with our parks.

Posted in Business, Community, Politics.

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Why PACs never stop asking parents for money

As parents of kids in New West schools know, each school has a PAC, and they never stop asking for your money. Although PACs are familiar, a lot of people aren’t sure exactly what they do or why they do it – and why, no matter how much you donate, it is never enough.

“PAC” stands for Parent Advisory Council. PAC members work very hard to represent the parent voice within their children’s schools. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, School Districts started forming PACs in order to increase family involvement in the education process (this is according to the Vancouver School Board PAC handbook). It became school board policy that all schools must allow the formation of a PAC, and that members of the PAC executive should be chosen by election. Since then, PACs have been an integral part of the BC education system, representing the voices of families.

PACs have been involved in everything from evolving curriculum and communicating with School Boards, to creating school lunch programs and raising funds. However, the PACs’ responsibilities have become increasingly weighted towards the latter. PACs have long been responsible for providing schools with things like hot lunches and activities, but they are now also providing schools with money for field trips, playgrounds, and technology. PACs are becoming a high stakes game, and schools are slowly becoming “have” or “have-not” due to the ability of its PAC to raise those funds. I spoke to some PAC members and parents, and there are some very telling commonalities in the typical PAC that indicate whether its school is a “have” or “have-not.”

When I asked PAC members and parents what one of the main issues was with today’s PAC, the number one answer was parent involvement. When I was a child in the 80’s, I remember my parents’ PAC meetings being a meeting place, a place to socialize, to be involved, and to get sh*t done at the school. There were always at least 20 people at the meetings, most of them on the executive. And this was a school with only 150 kids! That’s quite a ratio! The school I now work in, has a membership of 4, and an average attendance of the same.

Parents assume that they have to commit huge amounts of time to the PAC. And if there are only 4 people attending meetings, you DO! But the more people involved, the more work there is to go around, and the less time it takes to do said work. Then, the work is shared more equitably. The PAC president at my school is here most days, all day. spearheading fundraising, arranging hot lunch days, researching grants, organizing various after-school fun activities, etc. It’s a full time job that she doesn’t get paid for. Some may say, “Well she signed up for it!” And if it was signing up for something that only affected her family, fair enough. But it affects all the families in the school, and if the PAC isn’t providing, the school suffers. PAC members who work their butts off burn out quick. When I asked PAC members and parents what their top wish would be for, one of the top things was more parent involvement.

One of the other top wishes was for more funding from the government. PACs receive money from the government, and over the years, there have been more and more stipulations put on how the government allots that money, and what the PAC can use that money for. For example, PACs have to have a minimum number of members to get funds, and must fill out mountains of difficult paperwork. PACs also receive funding from the BC Lottery Corporation, and over the years, the funding has not caught up to inflation, which means the funding is actually getting cut more and more. Meanwhile, the BCLC is making more and more money, each year and passing that money on to big Crown corporations that work specifically towards the government’s agenda. BCLC money can only be used for certain things. Technology is not one of them. And what are schools lacking in the most? Up to date technology.

As I mentioned before, in the ’80s, PACs played an integral role as the family voice in new district policies, governmental curriculum development, and school communities. However, as PACs’ plates have become more and more full with providing for the schools they represent, their ability to communicate at those levels has declined.

District PACs, or DPACs have popped up. And Provincial PACs, or the BCCPAC. These new representative groups have taken on the responsibilities of policy change and educational reform. Therefore, there should be a lot of communication between DPAC and BCCPAC and the local school PACs, right? Nope. In most cases, none at all. DPACs and BCCPAC have adopted their own political agendas over the years, and the formerly non-partisan organizations have become decidedly partisan in their agendas. These agendas, for the most part, have no link to the average schools’ needs. Local school PACs feel they have little to no voice outside their own school. And even within their school, some feel segregated.

With the rise in dependence on the PAC to provide funding for field trips, school supplies, and even teacher funds, PACs have also noticed less teamwork between teachers and PAC members. In the ’80s, teachers, principals and PAC members worked side by side, creating school communities where children thrived and school was “fun.” Now, PACs are becoming more and more disengaged with teachers, finding it difficult to communicate.

When a PAC asks how they can help teachers, teachers want money for more opportunities to provide students with fun and engaging activities. And that means more money from PACs. The fundraising machine runs non-stop. Programs that used to be free are no longer free, such as the Aquarium and Science World. Some programs have been cut altogether (such as swimming and skating) and therefore those field trips and programs have gotten more and more expensive, and all due to lack of funding on those programs’ own parts. And the PAC is still there, needing to toe the line. With fewer and fewer members doing more and more, with less and less.

So the next time you get, yet another, PAC notice asking for money, hopefully you will understand that grabbing money from you is the last thing the PAC wants to be doing. And it is the last thing they should be doing too.

Posted in Family Life.

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Cuts to programs that help the homeless hurt us all

The most obvious solution to problems with homelessness and vagrancy is also the cheapest, most effective and most feel-good solution: shelter those who need it. It’s called a ‘housing first‘ strategy, and it has led to New Westminster’s striking reduction in the number of homeless people living in our city.

Between 2002 and 2008, the population of homeless people in New Westminster increased 118%. Thanks to policy changes, collaboration with community members and a partnership with BC Housing, New Westminster was able to help many of those who were unsheltered to find homes. Between 2008 and 2011, the homeless population shrank by 43% and by another 17% between 2011 and 2014. Key to this success was that BC Housing partnership, which created 84 transitional and supported housing units, as well as housing referral, outreach and advocacy programs that helped prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

However this approach is in jeopardy due to funding cutbacks. According to New West Senior Social Planner John Stark, New Westminster-based homeless outreach, referral and advocacy programs are facing $382,000 in cutbacks this year. This is in addition to significant cutbacks in 2013 and 2014 to other programs serving those who were homeless or at-risk. Furthermore, changes to program eligibility requirements are making it difficult for some in need to access services.

  • The Elizabeth Fry Society‘s Maida Duncan Drop-In Centre is in jeopardy now that the coordinator position is no longer funded by the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy program. The centre provides at-risk women and children with a safe space to access a computer, laundry, dental services, peer support, meals, and community supports. While the program is still operating, the centre cannot be sustained much longer without securing a new source of funding.
  • The Senior Services Society will have to reduce program support due to staffing cutbacks, which will hurt their ability to help seniors find housing assistance. At any given time, the society works with 150 seniors who are either homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness. Changes in eligibility criteria mean that seniors who are homeless for the first time or “only” at risk of homelessness will no longer be able to access help from Housing First programs.
  • Another program that lost funding was the Women In Need Gaining Strength housing outreach position. Since 2004, this outreach program helped 938 women and 734 children fleeing abuse at home, helping them to find new places to live and re-settle in new communities. Fundraising efforts were able to close the gap in funding for this program to maintain services, for now.
  • In 2014 the Hospitality Project lost $150,000 in HPS funding for their advocacy, triage and referral programs. These programs specifically targeted people at risk of becoming homeless, helping them to retain housing and locate shelter. With the new criteria focused only on those who are chronically or episodically homeless, the programs no longer qualified for funding.
  • In 2013, Lookout Emergency Aid Society lost funding from Fraser Health for a contract to provide non-clinical outreach to homeless people, resulting in over 400 people per year being unable to access services like service search and referral, case planning, and counselling.

It is penny wise and pound foolish to cut back on programs like these. When people are homeless, the public pays for it in increased policing and hospital costs.

As the New Yorker put it, homelessness is an expensive problem when you do nothing to solve it.

Homeless people are not cheap to take care of. The cost of shelters, emergency-room visits, ambulances, police, and so on quickly piles up. Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, told me of one individual whose care one year cost nearly a million dollars, and said that, with the traditional approach, the average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Putting someone into permanent housing costs the state just eight thousand dollars, and that’s after you include the cost of the case managers who work with the formerly homeless to help them adjust. The same is true elsewhere. A Colorado study found that the average homeless person cost the state forty-three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.

It is cheaper to house the homeless than to leave them on the streets. And it is cheaper still to help prevent people at risk from losing their homes in the first place.

A January 26 report to council from the City’s Development Services Department outlined the potential impacts of these funding cuts:

This loss of funding will have a significant impact on the community, as the programs in question enable residents to maintain their existing housing, locate new housing in crisis situations and address issues which may contribute to their homelessness. They also target some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, including low-income individuals, frail seniors and women and children who are at-risk of homelessness or who are fleeing abuse … the loss of the programs in question will make it more difficult for staff to make referrals in case of eviction or homelessness, contribute to increased street and visible homelessness and place increased pressure on Bylaw Enforcement, Police and Social Planning, with its associated costs.

The report concluded with the recommendation that the City should direct staff to approach senior levels of government to explore alternative or new funding sources for housing outreach, referral and advocacy programs in New Westminster. I think that’s a great start, but I also think citizens in New Westminster who have noted and approved of the decline in visible homelessness need to remember that it was no accident.

Programs like those provided by Lookout, The Hospitality Project, Elizabeth Fry and Women In Need Gaining Strength and the Senior Services Society are our bulwarks against homelessness. Even those of us who are privileged with health, employment, and emergency funds find it a struggle at time to make ends meet in pricey Metro Vancouver. Imagine how difficult it must be for those who must also cope with addictions, chronic physical health problems, mental health issues, domestic abuse and other factors that introduce extra barriers to employment and making rent.

Note: the information on homelessness in New West and the cuts to local programs came from a report to council created by the Development Services Department. I would link to it, but I was not able to find it online. This report was shared at the February meeting of the Community and Social Issues Committee, of which I am a member. The report was presented for our review and discussion, and I thought the information was worth sharing more widely. 

Posted in Politics.

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Looking to New West for cheaper rent, we found the perfect place to call home

Leafy Columbia Street.

Leafy Columbia Street. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

I made my first appearance in this world as a raisin-faced baby at the Royal Columbian Hospital, and as such, New Westminster is listed as the city of my birth. The reality, however, was a touch different—New West disappeared in the rearview immediately, as my parents sped my little infant self back to our home in South Vancouver. Since then, I’ve lived in North Delta, East Van, South Burnaby and North Burnaby. Heck, I even spent a few ill-advised months living in Australia. For so much of that time, New West seemed like nothing so much as a thoroughfare, a collection of SkyTrain stops, medical offices, and visits to powdery grandparents who, if you were lucky, might let you help yourself to their ancient bowl of melted and mutated ribbon candy.

When my partner and I decided to move in together in 2012, our search radius was narrow. We wanted VANCOUVER, in all its green, foodie, lululemon-y glory. Though our budget wasn’t especially constrained (or so we thought), we were soon frustrated. Anything big enough for us both was either outrageously expensive or confined to a dank basement with the prospect of a nosy landlord living directly above. Anything in our budget was either teeny tiny or attached to an alleyway littered with bug-infested mattresses. Not stunning prospects, in short.

Westminster Pier Park pedestrian overpass

One of Katie’s favourite haunts: Westminster Pier Park (as seen from the new pedestrian overpass at 4th St.) Photo: Katie Nordgren

Eventually, we had to relax our location demands to “near a SkyTrain. ANY SkyTrain.” The moment we expanded our Craigslist parameters, it was as if the clouds parted and the sun began streaming in. We were looking just as the Azure 88 buildings became available, resulting in dozens of attractive, conveniently located rental listings. When all was said and done, we had rented a massive two bedroom with a stunning river view, for the same price as the aforementioned dank basement. Spitting distance from Columbia Station, our commutes suddenly became that much more tolerable for avoiding the dreaded early morning bus transfers. Initially, we were just happy to be getting a good deal on housing – something that is increasingly difficult in Metro Vancouver. Slowly but surely, however, we fell in love with the community.

I’m an ambler by nature, not much given to hardcore fitness, but a lover of a long, purposeless walk. This has proved to be great for getting to know the area; I’ll motor through the side streets of all the individual neighbourhoods South of 10th Ave, stopping at anything interesting on the way: Pier Park, Queens Park, Quayside, all the lovely heritage homes in Brow of the Hill, the list is endless.

That was how I found myself at the Royal City Farmer’s Market one steamy Thursday afternoon, it was all I could do to not propose marriage to the handsome devil who poured plump raspberries into my hands, as a generous free sample. A stellar tactic too, as I ended up buying several pints which I immediately devoured. I then narrowly avoided committing further bigamy at the samosa stand. The heart wants what it wants, and apparently what my heart wants is food.

Speaking of marriage and matters of the heart, I married my sweetheart at the Metro Hall on Carnarvon St., a mere block from our apartment building. We had an evening ceremony, and spent the early part of the day together luxuriating in local comforts: Breakfast at the Hide Out, and a thorough pampering at Limina Spa. As we walked hand in hand to our venue, glittering in our finery, a car slowed as it passed. A gentleman several sheets to the wind leaned out from the passenger’s side window to drawl “You guysh… You guysh are the perfect couple for each other.”

And this is the perfect place for us.

Posted in Community.

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Price Check: Chicken Edition

Every week as I steel myself for meal-planning and grocery list-making, I sigh anew at the loss of Thrifty Foods. Without any particular loyalty to any grocery store, I now base my shop around whatever whole foods are currently marked down as loss leaders. I scour the flyers and – if I am feeling energetic – I double check the price book app on my phone to see if the “deal” is really any good. With six mouths to feed in this house, groceries add up, so the time is worth it to me. This week, I thought I’d share my plan in case it helps any of you who are trying to figure out your shopping lists this weekend too.

I prefer to shop close to home, and I don’t like to go to more than one big box grocery store. I price-checked the advertised specials at Safeway, Buy-Low and Save On over the weekend (May 29-31), and this time, it looks like Safeway gets my Big Shop dollars. This week, there are some great prices for tomatoes (99 cents/lb) and strawberries ($2/lb) at Safeway. Armstrong cheddar is also a pretty good price at Buy Low and Save On ($7.99 for 700g), and Save On also has nectarines for 69 cents per pound, cucumbers for 99 cents and a pound of butter for $3.49. But the best local value seems to be chicken, because you can save a lot of money on meat by stocking up and freezing it for future meals.

Whole chickens are selling for $2.29 per pound at Safeway this weekend, and bulk packs of chicken thighs are almost as cheap at $2.99/lb. Compare that price to the cost for chicken breasts: $7.99/lb! And you can’t even make stock if you buy only the breasts! To get the cheap price, you have to buy a bag of three birds, but I have a Chicken System to maximize the number of meals each chicken will provide for our family. You can squeeze a lot of meals out of a few chickens, and even more if your family is on the smaller side. I plan to bring home the limit of six chickens in my grocery cart this weekend, aiming for three meals (each feeding six people) per chicken. I’ll probably freeze four chickens for later, and prepare two birds at once to save time & energy.

Here’s what I plan to do:

Chickens #1 & 2 I will roast side by side in my turkey roasting pan, along with potatoes or beets on the bottom rack of the oven. The skins shall be drizzled in oil, salted & peppered. The cavity will be filled with lemon slices and fresh herbs (probably rosemary, maybe sage or parsley). About half to 3/4 of a whole chicken feeds three adults and three children at our dinners with the addition of salad, potatoes or rice, and some steamed carrots or other kid-approved vegetables.

The remainder of chicken #1 will be dedicated to soup: meat stripped from the bones and saved for soup, bones then simmered on the stove or in a slow cooker overnight with the ends of carrots, celery, onions and parsley stems that I have been saving in my freezer. I find it very satisfying to make stock using bits of vegetables that would otherwise have been thrown away. The stock is cooled, skimmed and stored in various sized jars: several 1-cup mason jars of homey comfort put by for future sick days or to be used in rice, sauces or stir-fries, and at least one large container ready to turn into a later meal of chicken noodle soup with homemade biscuits (a cheap and filling favourite meal around here).

As for that second roasted chicken, I will strip the meat from the bones and use it to make a chicken pot pie and, later, a pasta dish with a little chicken tossed in. The carcass will go in my freezer until I need more soup stock.

Even with all that chicken, I am tempted to also go for the chicken thigh deal. While a whole roasted chicken is a regular favourite around my house, chicken thighs are convenient and easier to make different kinds of meals. If I go for the thighs, I will have to separate the big package into meal-sized portions, to be frozen along with a marinade or packaged together in a crockpot kit with seasoning and vegetables so I can just dump it in the crockpot on a day when I don’t have time to cook. I may also cube some of the meat for kebabs or to add to soups, stews or sauces. It is a lot of work to prep large packages of meat in this way, but it is a big time and money-saver later on. Chicken thighs are also better than breasts for long-cooking dishes like crockpot curry, and although I know how to cut up a chicken into parts, I don’t like doing it.

Did you spot any local grocery deals this week that I missed? What are your strategies for saving money on food without resorting to Kraft Dinner and canned beans?

 

Posted in Community, Eats and Drinks.

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Divided We Fall: Last chance to vote in the transit tax plebiscite

#yesfortransit

A photo posted by @breebop on

The deadline to get in your ballot on the transportation tax plebiscite is 8 p.m. Friday, May 29. For those of you who haven’t yet mailed in your ballot, Canada Post is no longer an option. You must drop off your ballot at an Elections BC office. The closest ones to New Westminster are at Lougheed Town Centre (across from the H&M) or Central City Mall (across from Pearl Vision on the second level; bonus to this one is that you can drop by Central City Brewing after for a self-congratulatory pint or two … better SkyTrain over ….).

I mailed in my ballot a few weeks ago, and for me there was no doubt that I would vote Yes. If you choose to vote No, I ask only that you make your decision based on the question asked on the ballot rather than using it as a protest vote on tangentially related issues.

The plebiscite was a stupid, spineless tactic to avoid taking leadership on the difficult question of how to fund the desperately needed improvements our transportations system needs. But, we were stuck with this political theatre, and this is not a vote on whether we should be voting on this question. It is not a performance review of TransLink, or an open question on spending priorities. Voting no won’t persuade the government to spend more on education, reduce our tax burden, or find another method of funding TransLink.

As New Westminster blogger Mike Folka wrote on his Tumblr:

A yes vote is not, despite what some might want you to believe, a ringing endorsement of TransLink or its lack of voter accountability. Rather, it is the belief that if we want to improve movement in our region that we need to get serious about funding it and that a 0.5% increase to the PST (which will be paid by citizens, businesses, and tourists alike) is arguably about as fair and as stable a form of funding as any. Conversely, a no vote is really just a vote against the implementation of the tax. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not a vote against TransLink (they aren’t on the ballot) and a no vote will not magically result in TransLink reform.

(By the way, you should really read Mike’s whole post. It is excellent.)

Voting no means our region’s ability to move people suffers. That hurts you if you drive (more congestion – and remember TransLink is also responsible for roads), and it hurts you if you are using public transit, cycling and even walking (impatient drivers trapped in gridlock are a disaster for pedestrians).

Please, just answer the question on the ballot. A symbolic protest vote about something else won’t be heard in the way you intend. If you are pissed off with something else, write a letter to your MP or your local newspaper or your local blog, join an existing movement working for the change you seek, and remember these feelings next election ….

Posted in Politics.

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Ask Arbo: A new monthly feature coming to Tenth to the Fraser

Have you ever had a quirky or unusual question about the City and how it works? Like, why does the City spraypaint potholes orange? Are New Westminster residents allowed to keep pet goats? Or, why is there a tunnel under 8th Avenue anyway?

My good friend and frequent collaborator Jen Arbo is known for being the person who knows the answer to all sorts of obscure questions like these (or knows the person who does). As my husband Will tweeted back in April, she’s practically a verb.

Starting in June, Jen Arbo will be launching Ask Arbo, a new monthly feature answering offbeat questions from blog comments, Twitter or Facebook. We’ll keep track of questions as they come up, and on the first Monday of each month, Jen will dive into the question pool and find out the answer from City staff and politicos, local historians and others in the know.

Do you have any questions you want to Arbo?

Posted in Community, Site News.

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Five Big Apple ideas for our Royal City

  

Manhattan’s Chinatown, as seen from our hotel window

 I spent last week in Manhattan. Although it is a very different place than New Westminster, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that our little burgh could borrow and make our own. With blistered feet and starry eyes, I’ve put together a wish list of five ideas I wish the Royal City would borrow from the Big Apple. Maybe not all of these are doable here, but a girl can dream!

 

Supporting cycling through protected lanes and bike share programs improve traffic flow, and increase safety for both cyclists and pedestrians.

 5. A City bike-share program – Prices are reasonable, you don’t have to worry about your bike being stolen, and since you can drop it off anywhere, you don’t have to commit to making a return trip. I saw blue bike share bikes everywhere, used by both tourists and locals. Notably, for a city notorious for its gridlock, there are protected bike lanes throughout the city. The effect of these bike lanes on traffic? On some streets travel times are actually faster because cars turning left now have pockets to wait in without holding up traffic, pedestrian injuries have dropped an average of 22% on streets with bike lanes, cyclist injuries are down (by 65% on one particular avenue!), and local business has seen a boost in retail sales, new jobs and more tourists.

 

Sailing remote control toy boats in Central Park. You can see a cafe on the other side of the lagoon where you can get a surprisingly tasy burger and enjoy a glass of wine or cold beer overlooking the lagoon.

 4. Mixing business with pleasure – Throughout public parks there are spaces for small businesses to offer refreshment and fun. In even the smallest park there are buskers and food carts, and in larger areas like Central Park, there are a variety of relevant businesses that enhance the park experience: boat rentals, carriage rides, gift shops with relevant books and souvenirs, cafes and activities. There are also many adjacent businesses, museums and attractions. On our walks Central Park we also stopped for a glass of wine at a cafe overlooking one of the lagoons, rented a remote control sailboat, visited two large museums and bought snacks. We have small concessions in Queens Park and Pier Park, but currently New West parks tend to be removed from our commercial areas. It would be interesting to plan to create more relevant opportunities for small business that can add to the park experience. 
 

We stopped to listen to these fellows play some excellent bluegrass. Their brand-new band is called The Sidemen. Talented folks!

 3. Street performers and public art – Crooners playing guitar on the subway. B-boys breakdancing in public squares. Cellists busking in Chelsea Market. Part of what makes the city come alive is the random discovery of talent as you move through the city. Parks are full of statues and wonderful art installations that make your walk through each area more memorable. New West could fill our streets with music in the summer with a call for performers, and support more murals and art installations in parks and commercial districts. We should do more to support emerging talent and strengthen our own base of local artists. 

 

High Line Park, in New York’s Meatpacking district.

 2. Neighbourhood parklets – There isn’t a lot of space for large parks, so NYC has found space in some unusual places. All around town, the City has reclaimed road space to create public places to sit and eat lunch or people-watch. People bring their brown-bag lunches or food cart finds and enjoy a bit of sun while they rest their feet. There are also many small public squares, playgrounds and teeny parklets where people can find a patch of green in the city. The most unusual one I have seen is Highline Park, which transformed an elevated train track into a narrow walkway above the city, lined with greenery and public art.

 

In some areas, like SoHo and Little Italy, there are so many pedestrians that they spill over into the streets. Cars are a decidedly second-tier way of getting around the city.

 
1. A walkable city – New York is the ultimate walkable city. Cars are a decidedly second-tier way of getting around unless you have a really good reason to use one. Pedestrians rule at crosswalks, and the city has done a fantastic job of supporting this through the creation of many public seating areas (to rest your tired feet), supporting distinctive neighbourhoods that can only truly be enjoyed on foot, and maintaining a fast and efficient subway system that makes it easy to zip across town when you need to go somewhere fast. In New West, we already enjoy a culture of walking but we could do more to make it more pleasant. I would like to see more cafe tables (public and private), more treed boulevards (especially in lower apartment blocks where green space and shade is lacking), and a pedestrians-first traffic policy. 

Posted in Community.


New West – represent!

Baby wearing New West t-shirt.

Brick and Mortar Living is just one of the loval boutiques selling products that put your New West pride on display. Shirt available in both baby and adult sizes ($26-35 at Brick & Mortar Living). Photo: Rachel Janzen (@nikonrachel)

There have always been people who are proud to live in New West, but there have rarely been so many ways to show it. Boutiques around town are stocking up on buttons, t-shirts, totes and even coasters to show off your New West pride. 

At Banana Lab on 12th St, you can find t-shirts silkscreened with maps of the city. The independent mom-owned toy store Schnoo And The Pachooch (located within River Market) has New West Moms Group pins and t-shirts to identify group members walking around town, and River Market has periodically printed its own #NewWest shirts listing the neighbourhoods in the city. 

Probably the best selection of New West merch is at Brick & Mortar Living, where you’ll find leather bracelets marked with the latitude and longitude of New West, buttons, illustrated prints, tote bags with images of local heritage homes and storefronts, coasters printed with maps of the city and (of course) t-shirts. 

And although it isn’t specific to the city of New West, local pride also beams from the many Steel & Oak hoodies and tees that you’ll spot around town, as well as the “Locavore” shirts and artichoke & eggplant tote bagsfrom the Royal City Farmers Market.

Personally, I’m a little obsessed with this sort of stuff. I have at least five New Westminster t-shirts, as well as local map coasters and fridge magnets. And then there’s my husband’s collection. I even bought him a set of New West map cuff links once, custom ordered from Etsy.

What about you? What’s in your collection of Royal City swag?

Posted in Community.


Toilet deserts of New West

The SkyTrain Station at 22nd St in New West is unusual in its isolation from commercial buildings. With no adjacent cafes, restaurants, or stores of any kind, 22nd St is a weird little bubble of activity within a sleepy neighbourhood of single family homes. 

If nature should “call” while you are at 22nd St Station waiting for a train or bus, you are out of luck. The only toilet can only be accessed with the aid of a (typically absent) TransLink station attendant. The nearest business you could ask is a doctor’s office, several blocks up the hill – but even if they might let you use their facility, they are closed evenings and weekends. 

As a fascinating NY Mag article about bathroom culture in North America pointed out, everybody poops, but nobody likes to admit it. One of the side effects is the emergence of public spaces that fail to meet the most basic biological needs of the people who go there. Without an easily accessible public toilet at 22nd St SkyTrain Station, men have taken to using the side of the building as a urinal. Women hold it in better (or perhaps are just sneakier), and parents caught in this toilet desert with a newly toilet trained preschooler are completely out of luck. In other areas, toilet deserts could be created when a bloc of businesses all restrict toilet access to paying customers only, or when the public toilets are closed seasonally or for lengthy periods.

So the big question is, does the City of New Westminster have a duty to ensure reasonable access to public toilets within commercial zones? And if so, how should this be done? Should funding be allocated for creating and maintaining universally accessible public toilets? Should businesses be encouraged (or even required) to allow reasonable access to bathroom facilities upon request? 

Several City committees have been asked by Council to discuss the issue of public access to toilets in New West, including the Access Advisory Committee, the Seniors Advisory Committee and the Committee I sit on, Community and Social Issues. The request reflects concern for seniors with dementia or health problems that require fast access to a toilet, but the issue also affects young children, people who are homeless, and anyone who has ever really had to go RIGHT NOW. 

What do you think? Are toilet deserts an issue in the city? Are there specific places where you see more public urination because of a lack of public access to toilets? What do you think should be done to fix these problems?

Posted in Family Life, Politics.

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The New West Moms Group: Finding info, support and friendship on Facebook

Chalk art illustrating the love of the NWMG (New West Moms Group) on Facebook. At almost a thousand members, the women-only group is a dynamic source of information, support and friendship in New West.

Chalk art illustrating the love of the NWMG (New West Moms Group) on Facebook. At almost a thousand members, the women-only group is a dynamic source of information, support and friendship in New West.

When my first child was born, I was the first of my friends and family to have a baby. After he was born, I found myself lost in a sea of questions about what to do, when to do it, and if I was doing it “right.” I tried the local Baby Talk program (run by Fraser Health) but I had a hard time connecting with the mothers there. I took my baby on long walks and out to playdates, but I just couldn’t seem to click with any of the mamas I met.

I found comfort in blogs like Ask Moxie. Reading the comments to Moxie’s posts about baby sleep (and lack thereof) reassured me that what I was experiencing was challenging, but totally normal, but I couldn’t seem to find anyone in New West who would admit to having any of the challenges I was struggling with. It took me over a year to find local mommy friends who I could relate to.

The latest wave of New West mamas has an advantage I didn’t have: The New West Moms Group on Facebook. The NWMG is now almost 1000-strong, and includes ladies from New West as well as those who just like to spend time here. Participants discuss everything from decoding weird baby rashes, to family vacation recommendations, to sleep training, to finding nursing-friendly clothing that doesn’t suck. Sometimes the discussion gets rowdy, as when sharing hot photos of a mostly naked Channing Tatum, asking for opinions on sleep training, or questioning why it is so hard to befriend other moms at Motoring Munchkins. But even when the conversation turns controversial, the tone remains friendly and supportive. I am sure this is in good part due to the steady hand of the group’s moderators, who have established and (importantly) enforced clear rules of conduct.

The NWMG has such a strong sense of identity that they have created buttons for members to wear in order to recognize each other around town. And group member and local crafter Allison Baird of Ribbons and Threads has produced and sold custom T-shirts for NWMG members. The buttons and shirts are often available at fellow NWMG member Alicia Mahoney’s business Shnoo And the Pachooch (a boutique toy store at River Market).

I asked some of the mamas to share what they like about the group, and here are some of their answers:

“I love the community that the NWMG provides. Laughs, support, provisions, information, you need it, it’s here. As a first-time mom at 30, I was more than a bit nervous. But all through my pregnancy, I had resources, supplies, support and advice right at my fingertips.” – Jen ‘Jazz’ Phillips

“What I like about NWMG is everyone has a way of making me feel normal…. Whether I’m losing my mind over my kids, husband, or family in general, I find I’m not alone in feeling that way. Someone else is always going thru it too, or has in the past.” – Shannon Holt

“This group reminds me that I am normal. And also gives me an outlet that I can get opinions on the not so normal and not have to worry about being overly judged. I also appreciate the bold honesty that comes from some. It may not be what I WANT to hear, but it is what I NEED to hear!” – Stacey Sweet

“Being new to NW, this group helped me become part of the community. I feel I belong here now :-) – Julia Klymenko

“This group is the opposite of mommy wars. It’s amazing how supportive everyone is of each other even when we don’t necessarily agree on the best way to raise our littles. One of the most frequent comments I see is, ‘You know your child best.’ Awesome!” – Jocelyn Smith

“I love being a mother to my two boys, but it can be isolating at times, especially since the bulk of our friends and family are out East. As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ NWMG, I think, has become ‘the village’ for many of its members. I don’t know what I would do without that village!” – Diane Duflot

 

For me, I have found so many rich opportunities through the group. Questions get answered, complaints find sympathy, cries of despair win gentle words of support, and – my favourite part – new doors open. For me, I have already found a few moms who share my interest in community activism and politics, a few more to sing with, a few to write with, and a whole bunch to swap recipes with in the spinoff group I created, New West Cooks.

The NWMG is probably just one of many interesting semi-private groups on Facebook. Do you know of any others?

Posted in Family Life.

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Let’s wake up this Sleeping Beauty

After more than a year away, I have finally decided to wake up this sleeping beauty of a blog. Two years ago, life got interesting and  also hard, and the mission that had sustained the posts on Tenth to the Fraser through previous times of interestingness and difficulty lost its pull. For the past year I have been debating whether to formally pull the plug on this blog, but I never was able to steel myself to do it.

Tenth to the Fraser was born out of frustration with the sorry lack of an online community for New Westminster seven years ago. In 2008, a diligent search of the blogosphere found only a handful of people who admitted to being located here, and most rarely wrote about their community. On Twitter, the same. Almost no one set “New Westminster” as their location (most used “Vancouver”), and there was no substantial public conversation about the community on Twitter, only passing references to things seen or experienced here.

In 2015, things couldn’t be more different. Twitter is now an essential backchannel for political conversation, there are a number of thriving interest-specific groups on Facebook and there are many locals who use their blogs to spark conversations about community issues. Most of the major cultural organizations, businesses and nonprofits also have reasonably well-organized and regularly updated websites where people can easily find what they need.

So with the original problem that this blog was addressing essentially solved, I have been questioning whether there is a need for a site like this anymore. After all, why invest the time, attention and heart into blogging if your audience doesn’t care? But in recent weeks I have been realizing there is still a void that a site like this can and should fill.

No other resource exists solely to showcase the people, places and organizations that make New Westminster a better place to live, and show citizens how they can be more involved. While there are many places to go for conversation, and many sources of information, this site is still needed to be an on-ramp for newcomers to New West as well as those of us who live in the community without feeling a part of it. It is needed to celebrate and shine the spotlight on the people and organizations who are working hard to make this place better for all of us, and perhaps also to identify specific ways we are falling short and proposing solutions on how we can do better.

If you are interested in writing, volunteering technical or design skills, offering a financial contribution to offset the costs of running the site, or have other ideas on how you can help, please drop me a line in the comments or via Twitter (@10thtothefraser). 

If you have ideas on what you would like to see in the next incarnation of Tenth to the Fraser, please leave a comment or send me a tweet/email/Facebook message to let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d like to read about and how you’d like to see Tenth to the Fraser evolve.

Posted in Community.


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.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Community, Events.


New West is a Healthy Community – My Health My Community Survey

Neighbours600x600When most people think about being healthy, they think of eating better, exercising more and not smoking.  Sure, of course all those individual behaviours have a huge impact on health, but you’ve probably also realized that our environment plays as important a role too.

Fraser Health, as has the Ministry of Health with its “healthier communities” focus, recognizes that where we work, live and play largely determines whether or not we are healthy.  However, the lion’s share of Fraser Health business, is about providing health care services – what to do when people get sick.  A very small percentage is devoted to prevention and promotion.  Yes, FH does immunizations and such at the Public Health Unit, but over the past few years FH has quietly taken a new approach – Healthier Community Partnerships.  The idea – that by working with the City of New Westminster, SD 40 and other community stakeholders – policies and initiatives outside of the traditional public health bag of tricks can be implemented to help improve the health of the citizens of New West.  Hence health is playing a more active role when it comes to issues like transportation, or community planning, just two examples where health is severely impacted by decisions being made.

A Healthier Community Partnership committee has been up and running for over a year, chaired by the City Social Planner and with representation from a Councillor, SD Trustee, City/School District/FH staff, Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice, members of the public and others.  More and more you will be hearing what this committee has been up to.

One of the initiatives currently happening is the My Health My Community Survey.  Open to all residents 18 yrs and older in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health areas, it seeks to gather information about issues that influence our health, such as transportation, community services, green spaces, and sense of community.

This information will be used to inform policy and programs to help make New Westminster a healthier community.  In order to plan for a healthier city, we need to know where we’re at and get a sense of where else we need to go.

Confidentiality is a priority – survey answers and identifying information will be kept on separate computer systems complete with data encryption.  We are encouraging everyone to take the survey, as the more responses we have, the better we can assess and plan for a healthier New Westminster.

If you are 18 yrs or older, please take the survey at:  www.myhealthmycommunity.org.  And yes, there are prizes to be won for participating, including iPads and gift certificates.

 

 

 

Posted in Community.

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Uptown Unplugged

You may have caught a piece in The Record or may have seen Councillor Jonathan Cote’s tweet regarding a “parklet” going in in front of Westminster Centre. A parklet is essentially a small, temporarily installed urban park. And by small, I mean teeny. Westminster Centre, in collaboration with the very busy folks at Hyack Festival Association, are working to liven up Uptown. This, together with their recent launching of www.MyUptown.ca, an investment into street banners, as well as the second (very successful) run of Uptown Live, is really doing its part to make the Uptown neighbourhood particularly liveable, lively, and inviting.

The parklet is but one part of Uptown Unplugged, a weekly summer series of music and street performers that launched July 13th and is ongoing on both Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 until August 25th. With an eclectic, varied, and interesting mix of performers, there is something for everyone. I mean, check out the line up for this weekend – it is pretty amazing.  You can check out the Facebook Page for details, but I guarantee, you should pop on buy, grab a beverage from one of the local shops, and enjoy the free entertainment.

(Disclaimer: the company I own with BrianaHyack Interactive, was hired to help develop a portion of content on www.MyUptown.ca, and the work, while mostly complete, is ongoing as new listings are added. I’d write this article no matter what though – parklets and free entertainment that make a community more liveable are my kind of thing.)

Amanda Marino belting it out

Amanda Marino belting it out

Gorgeous day for hanging out and listening to music

Gorgeous day for hanging out and listening to music

 

Ladybird

Ladybird

Posted in Arts & Culture, Events.

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Food Truck Festival – Let’s Go Eat

The good news is the first ever Food Truck Festival is coming to New West, and it is already shaping up to be amazing. The bad news, for me, anyway, is I can’t make it! But you should be putting August 10 on your calendar and head to Columbia Street and make sure you go hungry.

Kaboom BoxThe first ever Food Truck Fest here in our city, dubbed Columbia StrEAT, will feature beer gardens (woohoo #brewwest!)  live entertainment, and 15-20 food trucks on a closed Columbia Street between 4th Street and 6th Street from 3 pm to 9 pm. Food trucks confirmed include Guanaco Truck, Casalinga Carts, Beljam’s Waffles, Aussie Pie Guy, Holy Perogy (who some of you might remember from Summerfest a few years ago – oh my!) and Kaboom Box.

With New West quickly becoming a bit of a food hot spot, a Food Truck Festival – long considered to be some of the best portable restaurant incubators -makes perfect sense.

Aussie Pie Guy

We all know that Robert Fung, of the Salient Group and developers of the anticipated Trapp +Holbrook, has committed to New West. He’s the lead sponsor for this Saturday’s Pecha Kucha Volume 3 (and seriously, you should be coming to that if you aren’t already – it’s free and open to all!) is signed up as a sponsor. “Downtown New West continues to catch people’s attention as a great urban neighbourhood and dynamic place to live. There’s a strong sense of community here that is filled with the energy that comes from people sharing the knowledge that they are part of something special,” says Fung.

JJ's Trucketeria“The Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Fest is an amazing testimony to how progressive this town is, and how ready it is to blow the culinary and entrepreneurial doors off! Salient is really excited to be a part of this event and, with Trapp+Holbrook, to be part of the Columbia Street evolution. If you don’t already live here, get used to coming to Downtown New West for great food and a great sense of belonging. This event is a wonderful example of the atmosphere and excitement people can expect in Downtown New West.”

Check out the BIA’s Facebook page for more info.

Posted in Community, Eats and Drinks, Events.

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Digital Story Telling Unconference – July 13

My job is storytelling – peoples’ stories, corporate histories, stories of big needs and big challenges, personal moments, things learned and passed on. I’ve done a story that shares the lore of a lakeside cabin, one about an adult child’s devotion to mom’s cooking, and a salute to a family’s golden retriever that was part kid, part nanny and part saint.

Nearly three years ago, I started up a conversation with with Denim and Steel’s Todd Sieling and Tylor Sherman, and product designer Kaishin Chu about the possibilities for digital storytelling. We didn’t have an unconference in mind, but it surfaced pretty quickly. The four of us got seriously excited. It seemed like the natural extension of Todd and Tylor’s concept for a forum where people with tech and non-tech creative skills could come together. No insistence on outcomes, just a keen interest in what this kind of enriched chemistry might produce.

So, an unconference? I didn’t have the vaguest idea what that entailed. I had worked on conventional conferences before, and the stress those events produce didn’t carry much appeal. To get me started, the concept was outlined and I was given links to explore. I did my reading but remained pretty skeptical. I could appreciate the immediacy and power of the self-organizing, creative ideal, but figured it could just as easily devolve into a free-for-all, unfocused mess. But, my three comrades were eloquent and compelling, so I braved it out.

July 10, 2012, the day of the first Digital Storytelling Unconference. Fifty-plus people arriving at the New Westminster Network Hub (At the River Market on Westminster Quay – the view alone is worth the visit). Lots of friendly milling. People moving together and then apart and then together again, many times. On cue we collect in the Network Hub’s main meeting space. After a quick welcome, and quicker explanation of a few ground rules, we launch.

Thirty-second pitch slam not what I expect at all. It stokes the group energy. My turn. I stand up, speed through my session pitch (all about what I call life mapping, in just under 30 seconds, I reckon) and I sit down. Then the self-selection part that I am the most curious, and the most skeptical, about. We swarm the bulletin board to mull the pitch options written on Post-it Notes. Only a couple of moments of seeming confusion while choices are recorded, then a return to seats. The day is set. I’ve never seen a menu of possibilities so quickly parsed into a working schedule.

I decide to surrender my cynicism to the day. I’m excited now. A pause to review and clarify then we head to first sessions. Lots of talk in hallways and quick, impromptu meetings out in the Market concourse in front of the Network Hub.

From a year’s distance the energy resonance is clear, a good hum that I can still conjure – ideas still percolating. Most details are blurring now. But I remember the guy, Todd Smith of Motion Design, who sparked my interest with an idea he had about an interviewing technique he called “Breadcrumbing.” And there was the woman, seeking help for her community organization to get the success stories of kids at risk out to a wider audience.

I haven’t had a day like DSU in a very long time, where I found myself so juiced. I was surrounded by strangers who shared some of my questions about how community can be made stronger through digital storytelling. DSU Vancouver 2013 can only be better.

 John Wellwood is the Creative Director at Echo Memoirs, an attendee and sponsor for this year’s Digital Storytelling Unconference, held at The Network Hub this coming Saturday, July 13 from 9:30am to 5:30pm. Your $25 (+ fees) ticket registers you for the event, plus gets you lunch and refreshments for the day. You can find them on Twitter @DSUVancouver or check out their website at www.digitalstorytellingunconference.org for more info. 

Posted in Arts & Culture, Events.

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Uncovering Creeks in Hume Park

Photo Courtesy City of New Westminster

Photo Courtesy City of New Westminster

Hume Park is one of my favourite parks in New Westminster. Since moving to the east side of New West a few years ago, this park has become my go-to place for recreation. Side by side with tiny Hume Park Elementary (whose fate I ruminated on a few years ago), the  much-loved spray park and playground, dog off-leash park, playing fields, outdoor pool, and wide, sweeping, flexible lawn space, Hume Park has woven its way into my family’s life more than Moody Park ever did when we lived on the west side of town.

Recently, we’ve gotten into geocaching as a free, fun, family activity and Hume Park offers a few of those too that are kid-friendly and beginner level caches. We frequently walk the trails in Lower Hume Park with our leashed dog since she’s not really dog park material (side note: that link is another Tenth article I wrote some time ago about our city’s animal control bylaws – I’m pleased to see that they have since overhauled the animal control bylaws and have repealed BSL!). I’ve also found myself keeping my eyes on the ever-changing shores of the Brunette River that runs through Hume Park, and checking out the herons and other birds that hang out there. So, when a recent media release from the New Westminster Parks, Culture and Recreation department made its way into my inbox that mentioned “my” park, I was keen to see what they were up to.

And it’s pretty cool: New Westminster Parks, Culture, and Recreation department has partnered with Evergreen to launch a two year Parks Stewardship Program called “Uncover Your Creeks: Citizen Science” in Lower Hume Park. This is a free, all-ages program, and it kicks off this Sunday, June 16th. During the program, participants will learn about local ecology, help manage invasive plants, plant native plants, and monitor water quality in the Brunette River. The release states:

The Brunette River watershed is shared between the municipalities of Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, New Westminster and Port Moody. The watershed is 80% urbanized and is home to 175,000 people. In much of the 20% of the watershed that is made of up of green space, invasive plants are a threat to the urban ecology and biodiversity that support native plant and animal species. Through “Uncover Your Creeks: Citizen Science”, the urban ecosystem will be rehabilitated by removing invasive plant species such as Blackberry, Ivy and Lamium and planting native species such as Salmonberry and Red-Osier Dogwood.

The program runs for the next two years, occuring monthly on the third Sunday of the month. Citizen science training and activities will be offered from 10am to 12pm at each session. Sessions are drop-in but registration would be appreciated so the enough tools and gloves can be prepared. For info, or to register, contact Sharon Johal at sjohal@evergreen.ca or 604.689.0766 ext. 226. The group will meet at the Lower Hume Park picnic shelter (enter off E Columbia, just east of Holmes Street).

 

Posted in Community, Events, New Westminster.

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Parks, Culture, and Recreation Summer Movie Series Returns!

After the success of last year’s four outdoor movies at Queens Park, the City of New Westminster, G&F Financial and local realtor Derrick Thornhill have decided to expand to eight movies throughout the summer for a free community viewing series. Beginning July 12th, the community is invited to bring their blankets and/or chairs every Friday night to Queens Park Stadium to watch one of the eight all age friendly movies that were selected by a voting process. In total, 244 unique (one entry per ip address) votes were made to narrow the twenty six possible movies down to the eight that are being shown. Voting was fierce, but the clear runaway favourite was Back the Future. The summer movie series will kick off July 12th with that very movie, starring BC’s own Michael J Fox as the time travelling high schooler with a sweet ride and a kooky professor sidekick.

There isn’t a concession, but everyone is welcome to bring your own snacks (just remember to pack out your trash or place it in the trash can!). Movies start at about 8:30pm, but the stadium will be open at 7pm so feel free to bring a picnic and boardgames and enjoy a warm summer evening before the movie starts.

In the weather isn’t cooperating, call the Parks Hotline 604-527-4634 on the Friday morning to see if the movie is still on. Queens Park Stadium has lots of parking and is accessible via transit.

Download the poster here. The complete schedule is:

Untitled

CharacterLeaning_SummerMovies

Posted in Events.

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Time To Get Curious

It’s no secret that we’re proud of our rich history here in the Royal City.  Our streets are laden with lovely heritage homes and we have some of the best antique stores in the Lower Mainland.

When Jenny Cashin of Mid Century Modern Home moved her shop into the River Market, it just made sense that the River Market then became home to a new type of flea market.  A type that had never been seen in New Westminster before.

And so the Curious Flea was born.

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The Curious Flea is a flea market for the modern age.  It’s a social flea.  An event where people are invited to shop, hang out, engage and explore.  Traditional flea markets are a hodge podge of items ranging from the unwanted to the unloved to the hidden gem and everything in between.  They’re often in stuffy halls packed to the gills with bargain hunters of every size.  Get in, get out. Kinda gloomy and depressing.

Not so, the Curious Flea!  This flea has everything going for it.  Select vendors displaying their vintage, up-cycled and retro wares.  Incredible food from the River Market tenants, spectacular view and venue, buskers to encourage you to get up and party, facepainting for the kids (and the adults, lets be honest…I’ll be doing it) from 11:30-4 by The Stage New Westminster and dance parties both days from 1 pm – 2 pm hosted by Music Box.  And lets not forget the Battle of the Curious.

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We all own something strange.  It could be a family heirloom…it could be a horrid gift from an ex…it could that thing you just found in your closet.  Bring it  to the flea on Saturday and take it upstairs to the Curious judging booth.  The Curious Flea ringmasters will take its picture (so you don’t have to part with your treasure) and your contact information and then a team of crack experts will choose the winner by end of flea on Saturday.The winner of the most curious curio, most vintage oddity or just most plain weird will win $100 to spend at the Flea on Sunday.  Hooray!  The item will then be imortalized forever in the Curious Hall of Fame for all to gaze on in awe.

The most important thing about the flea however, is that it is a community flea.  The River Market is an anchor point in New Westminster’s blossoming downtown community, and the Curious Flea is celebrating that fact.  Many of the vendors, including Belle Encore, Brick and Mortar Living, Flying Fox Art and Design, LoCalo Living, PAVA Creations and Robyn’s Vintage Nest  are New West locals.  There are even got some original Quayside residents bringing their collectibles from home. And because of the proximity and inspiration of Front St, there will be a special table featuring wares Front St merchants. Fleaers are encouraged to come to the Flea and then take a walk down Front St to complete their day….and their collecting.

We have built this flea to be a celebration of our community.  A celebration of New Westminster and its diverse residents, fantastic shops and incredible passion.  A celebration of why we, as a city, are awesome…and just a bit curious.

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The Curious Flea will be taking place on June 1st and 2nd from 10 am to 5 pm at the River Market at 810 Quayside Dr.  General Admission is free, but there is an $10 early bird rate for 9 am entrance. We’re going to hold the flea on a quarterly basis, so lets make this first one a great one!  And if you have any suggestions…be sure to find me and let me know.  We want the flea to keep getting better and better.

For more information, check out the River Market website and the Curious Flea Facebook page.  And come on…get curious with me!

 

Posted in Arts & Culture, Community, Events.

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Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine: Keeping a Medicinal Garden at Westminster Pier Park

File this under “who knew?”: Western Canada’s only accredited naturopathic school is right here in New Westminster.

The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, located at 435 Columbia Street is a graduate-level naturopathic medical college. Students applying require a university bachelor’s degree from a recognized post-secondary institution, or the equivalent and once accepted are entered into a rigorous four-year, full-time doctor of naturopathic medicine program.

The school is also home to the Boucher Naturopathic Medical Clinic. Much like the student massage clinic at West Coast College of Massage Therapy a few doors away, this teaching clinic offers high quality, affordable health-care to the public, while equipping our senior clinic interns with essential hands-on experience.

They are also the tenders of a public garden initiative at the Westminster Pier Park. Bill Reynolds, the Store Manager for the Boucher Institute told us about his recent day of gardening at their plot in the Park:

The day dawned bright with promise as we gathered at the Boucher Botanical Garden in Westminster Pier Park on April 28th, the last weekend in April.  Armed with shovels, rakes, hoes, brooms, watering pales and other requisite gardening tools; members of the Botanical Garden Committee met and proceeded with the task of the day which was the planting of our Garden.

Everything went well.  The garden plot provided by the New Westminster Park Dept. was fresh and had no weeds so, with many hands, the work simply flew and well before noon we had planted every herb available, raked the ground smooth, swept the adjacent sidewalks and then stood for a few minutes, finishing the last bits of our coffee and admiring our work.

The Boucher Botanical has been a dream of the students for quite some time and so it is especially gratifying to see it become a reality.  To date we have planted: Lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Motherwort, Raspberry, Celandine, Marshmallow Comfrey, and Skull cap.  We expect to add a few more plants in the next month or so but now the job is to keep everything watered and weeded.  We want to invite all to come and visit our garden.  Westminster Pier Park borders the Fraser River just east of New Westminster Quay.  We hope you all enjoy and we will post pictures to show the progress of our plants over the spring and summer.

Boucher

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New free art program starting May 26: ArtStarts at River Market

ArtStarts-RiverMarket-May2013-LogoArtStarts at River Market, an ongoing free arts-based workshop series for kids, kicks off on May 26. This is a new monthly event series in New Westminster for kids and families who want to get creative and have some fun. Donald’s Market ONE members will recognize this name as one of the recent winners for the ONE prize.

ArtStarts in Schools is a not-for-profit organization that promotes art and creativity among BC’s young people.  At the ArtStarts Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Canada’s first devoted exclusively to young people’s art, they currently host a kids workshop series called ArtStarts on Saturdays. And now, New Westminster is the second community to host this program!

The folks at ArtStarts are really excited about expanding the program into New West, as they strive to provide quality arts experiences to young people in all areas of the province, and winning a ONE prize has given them the opportunity to find a home in New Westminster at River Market. (For those of you who don’t know about the ONE prize, funds accrue based on purchases by members at Donald’s Market, and organizations and individuals can apply to receive grant funding. ONE members vote on who gets the rewards, and this year four different applications were awarded prize money. Membership to the ONE program is free, and there are perks to being a member. Check out the website for more on the ONE program.)

Taking place at River Market at Westminster Quay on the last Sunday of each month, ArtStarts at River Market will offer free arts-based workshops for kids. Presented twice, at 11am and 1pm, these 45-minute workshops feature a broad range of performing and visual artists, representing diverse cultures and disciplines.

artstarts-sheldon-casavantThe kick off on May 26 features a performance and workshop by magician Sheldon Casavant. His magic show is light-hearted and highly interactive;  objects will appear, disappear, and even float in the air. Magic is traditionally passed on from magician to magician, so Sheldon may even teach the secrets of some magic tricks to budding magicians in the audience.

At future workshops, look forward to cartoonist Julian Lawrence on Sunday, June 30, who will guide kids to create an original 8–page mini-comic describing themselves, their family and their culture. On Sunday, July 28, enjoy the antics of ventriloquist Kellie Haines and her puppet friends. She’ll also teach kids how to make their own puppets. (Bring a sock!)

Find out more about ArtStarts at River Market on http://artstarts.com/free-weekend-workshops

Posted in Arts & Culture, Family Life.

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May 25 Uptown Live 2013: Music In New Westminster Streets Again!

Photo supplied by Hyack Festival Association

Photo supplied by Hyack Festival Association

Once again, music will fill the streets of New Westminster with a line-up of lower mainland indie bands of various stylistic stripes courtesy of Uptown Live. The event will also feature food carts, and family events for everyone’s enjoyment.

Starting at 1:00 on Saturday May 25th after the Key West Ford Hyack International Parade, a cross-section of local musical talent from all over the Lower Mainland is set to entertain crowds, touching on a rich spectrum of musical delights. The event is a part of the celebrated 42nd Hyack Festival, and presented by Royal City Centre and Westminster Centre. Continued…

Posted in Arts & Culture.


Queen’s Park Garage Sale is about more than bargains

A child's sign advertising lemonade sales for Canuck Place at the Queen's Park Garage Sale.

A child’s sign advertising lemonade sales for Canuck Place at the Queen’s Park Garage Sale.

It’s a bargain-hunters’ Shangri-La, and I will attend every year for the rest of my life—but not for the bargains.

Every May the Queen’s Park neighbourhood hosts a community garage sale and it’s one of the events that I really look forward to, but it’s probably not for the reasons you’d think.

Yes, you can get some absolutely fabulous bargains and it’s no secret that I love to get a deal. It’s also an event that builds community because it’s a good excuse to chew the cud with your neighbours, and we all end up buying some sort of junk from each other. I’ve picked up lots of things for our Arts & Crafts bungalow including vintage framed prints, a craftsman-style front porch lamp, and even a wooden door for my art studio. In fact, it was during this annual sale that I bought one of my most prized possessions–my fireplace surround. I love that I know which house it came from and the connection it gives me to the heritage of my city. So yes, great deals, neighbourliness, the treasure exchange, and the proverbial “hunt” for a great deal are all reasons to shop at the Queen’s Park Garage Sale.

But even if I was never to buy another thing, I will always attend. This sale will always be close to my heart because each year it is held in support of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

Back in 1995, Frank Wright, a local realtor, decided to sponsor the Queen’s Park Garage Sale in support of the then-under construction and first free-standing children’s hospice in North America. The doors opened that year in November. And only two days after their opening, my husband and I and our two daughters walked through the shining new front doors for our first stay there. In 1994 our oldest daughter, Brenna, was diagnosed with Batten Disease, a rare, degenerative neurological disease. During the next few years after our inaugural visit we received respite at the hospice and, later, palliative and bereavement care there.

Despite what you might think, the hospice is a place full of life–children in wheelchairs zooming around, siblings playing video games with the occasional visiting hockey player and families enjoying time and relaxation together. But children do die there: Brenna passed away at our “home away from home” on the last day of summer, September 21, 1997. The funds raised by the Queen’s Park Garage Sale from 1995 to 1998 directly supported our family while we used Canuck Place.

Another New Westminster family, who live just a few blocks from us in Glenbrook North, needed Canuck Place too when their younger daughter, Madison, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Says her mom, “Madison passed away in January 2004 at Canuck Place. And we are forever grateful for the care she received.”

The Queen’s Park Garage Sales continued and the funds raised during that time directly helped and supported their family. Then a few years ago, we found out that another young boy living in the Queen’s Park area also received palliative care and subsequently passed away at Canuck Place. Once again, this family was helped in their time of need by the community through the dollars donated during the Queen’s Park Garage Sale. Families receive all the services provided (accommodation, respite, cooked meals, psychological & emotional support, etc.) at no charge, a blessing at such a vulnerable time in a family’s life.

Now the tradition continues. On the Saturday of the Mother’s Day weekend, May 11, people from all over the Lower Mainland will crowd the streets of Queen’s Park for the 18th annual sale. It starts at 9:00am and continues until 4:00pm.

Some are there for the deals; others come to get a glimpse and walk around one of the area’s favourite heritage neighbourhoods. New Westminster—“The Royal City”–and once our provincial capital, is a great place to view Victorian and Arts & Crafts era heritage homes and bungalows.

The families who host the sales do so for many reasons. One woman told me it’s a way to clear out her house each year and she knows the funds she donates will be going to a good cause. Another told me she does it because she never wants to take her children’s health for granted.

But it’s the children who touch my heart the most–the kids with the cookie or lemonade stands and a big sign that says “All funds go to Canuck Place” or “In support of Canukc [sic] Place.” Over the years parents have told me they encourage their children to participate because it teaches them about civic responsibility and how giving back to their community and to a facility like Canuck Place is important. It’s children helping children.

One final reason why I will never miss the neighbourhood garage sale? It’s my opportunity to thank garage sale participants. Sometimes it’s awkward because people don’t know what to say when I tell them who I am and why I’m thankful for their support. But that human connection is always worth the effort because it is a concrete way to express the great appreciation and esteem held in my family’s hearts for what the people of Queen’s Park have done for us and others in our time of profound distress and need.

Now through this post, I have the opportunity to say thank you more publicly. I also want to thank Frank Wright for the years he sponsored the event and now Dave Vallee and his team who have taken up the cause. If you are a participant in the sale, thank you from my heart to yours, for cleaning out your house and supporting the families who use Canuck Place. If you live in the Lower Mainland and have purchased or intend to purchase items at the sale, thank you too.

On that note, for those who plan to attend this year–please spend, spend, spend! How often do you get to do something so entertaining and fun and be certain that the funds donated really do make a difference in people’s lives?

Canuck Place has made it possible for many families like mine to go through the loss of a child and come out the other side mentally and emotionally healthy. For the many families who have benefited from your support through the Queen’s Park Garage Sale, that old adage, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” has never been more true or carried such deep meaning.

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