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Learning to Sew in New Westminster

At some point last fall I got the itch to start sewing.

I began dreaming about crafting my own clothes, mending existing garments and having the overall knowledge to begin a sewing project. Without any previous sewing experience, I got anxious and worried who to ask to teach me or to lend me their machine to practice on. I was prepared to self-teach and hope for the best.

But then, thanks to Google, I discovered Sew Good, a home-based business in Sapperton that offers a range of sewing classes for beginners like me. After the pre-requisite search for online reviews (all positive and encouraging), I signed up for an Intro Beginners class in February and committed to four three-hour evening sessions. My first project was a 6-panel, elastic waist skirt. Fancy.

The owner-operator, Carley Struve, is a friendly and extremely patient instructor who put me at ease instantly.  Her basement is retro-fitted into a sewing studio with four newer Janome electronic sewing machines, cutting tables, ironing boards and irons, and an assortment of other sewing paraphernalia. The small class sizes enables a lot of one-on-one time with Carley and the opportunity to converse with the other students while making sense of patterns, fabric choice, threading machines, etc.

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I loved learning how to sew in a supportive and fun environment. I enjoyed the camaraderie and shared experiences with the gals I was sewing with, but best of all was that I was doing it so close to home and not stuck in my car traveling across the Lower Mainland. However, some people don’t mind driving; I was the only student in all three of the classes I have taken in the past three months who has lived in New Westminster. I was really surprised to hear that people were traveling from other cities in the Greater Vancouver area to attend these classes. I think that says a lot for the quality of sewing classes offered at SewGood.

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I would consider myself a confident beginner sewer now and I am tackling projects at home on my new sewing machine (a mid-range Husqvarna, if you must know!), but I am still enrolled in classes at SewGood because:

  1. I like learning with other people; contributing ideas and questions within a group reinforces the information
  2. The projects all involve new technical aspects that I likely would have not taught myself
  3. It’s a night out once a week that I look forward to (and it’s a quick 5 minute drive)

I think Sew Good is a great place to learn to sew and to continue your sewing education. The SewGood Facebook page is kept current and includes inspiring photos of students projects and class updates.

Here’s hoping you begin or continue your sewing journey with as much pleasure as I have had.

 

Note: Andra was not asked to write this article, nor did SewGood compensate her in any way. 

Posted in Businesses, New Westminster, Reviews, Sapperton.

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Network with local entrepreneurs at LAUNCH! New West

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Economic Development, Events.

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New West Needs Great Service Businesses Too! Limina Spa

When my husband and I first moved to New Westminster, in September 2011, all the talk was about how New Westminster needed some new business that weren’t Dollar Stores, Car Repair shops and Bridal Boutiques. Since then, a lot of great new businesses have come to New West- bringing more quality products and services.

Often the talk about the quality of the businesses revolves around restaurants and retail establishments. But New Westminster needs more then great restaurants. Susan, owner of Limina Spa, believes it’s time for New Westminster residents to have access to high quality spa services without having to travel into Vancouver. Susan is eager to get the word out about her spa and the quality services and experience it provides. Recently, she invited Jen Arbo and myself to come and experience her spa first hand.

When talking with Susan it is clear that she loves the community here in New West and is passionate about her business. Since she opened in about a year and half a go at the Shops at New West Station, she has seen a fair amount of construction outside her door- something she worries may be impacting potential customers from discovering her Spa. But she believes strongly she has something unique to offer New Westminster.

I was excited to try out Limina Spa—it has been a while since I had gone for a massage. For me, going to a spa is about the whole experience- not just the service itself. I love the calming music, sense of peace, smell of subtle natural essential oils. I like to go somewhere that has a great atmosphere and has clearly thought about the details.

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Limina Spa did not disappoint. The hot stone massage I had was amazing- one of the best massages I have had—and I have visited top spa’s in both Vancouver and Calgary.  Susan explained to me that many places just place the hot stones to warm up the skin and increase circulation- they do it a bit differently- they actually use the stones in the massage itself.

Jen said “The facial I had at Limina Spa was seriously the best facial I have ever had, and I am a spa junkie and have had a lot of facials. It was relaxing, all encompassing, and I felt completely taken care of during the facial. It was customized to me personally, and I walked out of there positively glowing.”

I noticed while I was in the spa that they had been named by the New West News Leader as a finalist of one of the best places to get a facial in New Westminster in 2012- so obviously Jen is one among many who feel that way. Their pedicure lounge is lovely and would be great to book for a pedicure party for a bridal shower, birthday party or other celebration.

The prices Limina Spa charges are higher then other places to get similar services in New West, but are very much in line with prices elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. To offset it they offer an Elite Membership ($29/yr) which gets you about 10-15% off the regular price of spa services. Each month, members are also offered a special at a further discounted rate— March’s special combines a full body exfoliation with a massage for maximum pampering.

Overall, Limina Spa is the type of business I want to support: local, run by a dedicated small business owner and offering quality to New Westminster.

Limina Spa

263-800 Carnarvon Street
The Plaza at New West Station

Hours:
Monday 10am-6pm
Tuesday 10am-6pm
Wednesday 11am-7pm
Thursday 10am-6pm
Friday 10am-6pm
Saturday 10am-6pm
Sunday By Appointments

(604) 525-0805
info@liminaspa.com
Facebook
Twitter

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Disclosure: Jen and I received spa services at no charge as a part of Limina’s invitation (facial, hot stone massage, pedicures, and underarm waxing). We were not asked to write this article. All opinions expressed are our own. 

Posted in Businesses, Reviews.

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What does a ‘sustainable’ future look like for New West? [Update on Envision 2032]

Lots of great ideas came out of Envision 2032's Sustainability Fair in November. Photo: Julia Dykstra

Lots of great ideas came out of Envision 2032’s Sustainability Fair in November. Photo: Julia Dykstra

The City of New Westminster is creating its first sustainability plan, dubbed Envision 2032. The year 2032 is one generation from now – a length of time that is easy for people to imagine when making decisions that affect the future. When completed, Envision 2032 will be a sustainability “lens,” used to review plans, policies, projects and practices.

A Sustainability Fair was held at the Inn at the Quay in November as part of the Envision 2032 process. Those who could not attend the workshop were able to provide input via an online survey as well as view  presentations and video clips from the event on the Envision 2032 website.

The feedback from the initial community outreach was analyzed by the City’s sustainability team to identify key themes and an initial set of “Descriptions of Success” has now been created for discussion purposes that are intended to reflect the consensus for these themes in each policy area. Once reviewed by the community and feedback is addressed, updated Descriptions of Success will be provided to City Council for consideration. When they are approved, the Descriptions of Success will form the foundation of Envision 2032, describing the sustainable future that we will all be working towards. You can provide feedback on the Descriptions of Success online via an online survey (note: survey closes on March 15).

Participation in November’s community outreach events was strong. With over 90 people at the Friday evening “Let’s Talk Sustainability” event and 80 people at the Saturday morning sustainability visioning workshop, Sustainability Fair events were well attended in spite of the gloomy weather outside. A further 90 people provided input online as well.

The audience for “Let’s Talk Sustainability” included Council members and representatives of the City’s social, cultural, business and environmental communities, along with a healthy contingent of interested individuals. Participants were treated to innovative video shorts on sustainability and an eclectic mix of speakers providing insights on different aspects of sustainability, including:

  • Lori Baxter, former manager of the 2010 Legacies Now arts program for the Vancouver Olympics and executive director of the Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture, stressed the importance of arts, culture and heritage in creating vibrant communities.
  • Judith Cullington, City of Colwood Councillor, explained how the “Solar Colwood” initiative was implemented using a community outreach and engagement process involving multiple community partners.
  • Jerry Dobrovolny, Director of Transportation for the City of Vancouver and former City Councillor for New Westminster, described the steps leading to Vancouver’s success with integrating land use and transportation and achieving transformational change through the use of targets.
  • Darlene Gering, President of 2012 BC Seniors Games, Chair of the Burnaby Art Gallery and former President and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade, focused on applying triple bottom line thinking (i.e., social, cultural, economic and environmental) into decision making, including social enterprises.
  • Patrick Johnstone, a municipal Environmental Coordinator and past-president of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, challenged the audience to take strong action, both individually and collectively, to protect and enhance the environment in the context New Westminster’s urban setting.
  • Virginia Weiler, Chair of VanCity, outlined the role of business and the financial sector in creating a sustainable community and provided an example of how VanCity uses community sustainability in its lending practices

At the Saturday visioning workshop, there was a high level of understanding and support for what Envision 2032 is (i.e., a sustainability “filter” or “lens” that will be applied to what we do in the future) and how the process steps work:

  1. Decide where we want to be in the future
  2. Determine where we are now
  3. Identify actions to move us from where we are now to where we want to be
  4. Track and report on progress towards our desired future using key indicators

Workshop participants had an opportunity to attend two visioning sessions for the eleven defined policy areas, covering everything from land use to transportation, culture, the economy, social issues and the environment and answer the basic question: “What does it look like in 2032 if we are successful and sustainable in this policy area?” This simple exercise unleashed a wave of creativity and for over two hours post-it notes with hundreds of vision statements were flying around the room.

After the workshop, an online version of the visioning exercise was available for another month and responses from 90 people were received. Between the workshop and the survey, over 80 pages of visioning input from the community were documented and this is available on envision2032.ca.

We need your help now to let us know if we’ve captured the right vision for New Westminster! An online Description of Success survey will take you through each of the eleven policy areas and provide you with the opportunity to review, confirm or enhance the vision. You can provide input on as many or as few of the policy areas as you’d like.

The survey closes on March 15th, 2013, so don’t delay, we want to hear from you!

Posted in Environment, New Westminster.

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Hidden gems in Downtown New West

I like to support businesses in my neighbourhood of Downtown New Westminster. Many places make this easy for me to do: River Market, Zoom Hair Salon and Columbia Integrated Health Centre, for example, are active on social media and in the community and have curb appeal to spare. They are all fabulous and I can’t recommend any of them enough.

But then there are businesses that I walk past every day and never enter. They aren’t out there promoting themselves and they just don’t look like they have a lot to offer. But then, one day, I go in and realize how badly I’ve misjudged them.

These hidden gems that have been quietly providing a high standard of service to the community, at reasonable prices, without a lot of fanfare, and it’s about time they get some love. Here are three of my favorites:

Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut!

Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut! Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Agnes Barber & Stylist
607 Agnes Street 778.397.0460

Agnes Barber might look like any other barbershop in the neighbourhood (which rival wedding boutiques in number) but it’s hands-down the best place to bring your squirmy toddler boy for a haircut.

I used to take my kids to a fancy-pants kids’ hair salon at the mall. They would get a 10-minute haircut and a balloon, and I’d pay $60 for the two of them, after taxes and tip. Ouch! So when I spotted the motorcycle chair through the window at Agnes Barber, I took a chance.

Our barber, Kal, was one of the most patient and pleasant people I’ve ever met. Despite having people waiting, he took his time introducing my four-year-old to the “scary” electric shaver and stayed upbeat and cheerful while my little guy squirmed and fidgeted. My two-year-old, meanwhile, HATES getting his haircut and was in full meltdown mode. Kal dismissed my apologies and wasn’t fazed at all. His skilled hands worked very quickly to get the job done while he remained calm and soothing.

Both kids got great haircuts! Despite their best efforts to walk out with bald patches, their hair looked flawless. They got to sit on a motorcycle, wore a Disney cape and each walked out with a lollypop. They also enjoyed counting the birds the huge birdcage by the window. And to top it off, kids’ cuts cost only $10! You won’t be seeing me at the mall salon again.

Agnes Barber & Stylist is open Mon-Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 10am-5pm

 

Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Columbia Square Law Office

833 Carnarvon Street
604.526.6352
tjhewitt@cslaw.ca

I needed some notary services recently. My husband called around for rates and, to our surprise, discovered that the most reasonable rates (for a variety of legal services, not just notary) were right in our own neighbourhood at Columbia Square Law Office.

I went down to the office with trepidation. The exterior really does leave something to be desired. The bars on the windows, the drawn shades… it was all kind of off-putting. My opinion quickly changed when I walked through the door. The receptionist, Barbara, was instantly welcoming and made me feel like my time was valuable and that I was respected.

My personal experience with lawyers has shown me that being listened to and treated with respect is the best indication of how happy I’m going to be with the outcome of my legal representation. In this case, my interaction with Mike Jukic, one of the firm’s two lawyers was brief, but my gut told me that if I were in need of legal representation again, I could count on him to come through for me.

For any future legal services, I’m heading straight to Columbia Square Law Office.

Columbia Law Office is open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, and Sat 10am-4pm

Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Unit 109-1015 Columbia Street (Columbia Square Plaza)
604.521.5572
columbiasq.ah@gmail.com

Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is tucked away in the northeast corner of Columbia Square Plaza, by the Rona. Open the door and you’ll see a desk covered in brochures and samples, there are hard-backed chairs and stacks of pet food for sale. Nothing about the place seems particularly warm or inviting.

And then you meet Dr. Brar.

Dr. Brar is an amazing vet. He handles my kitty with gentle, but expert hands. He asks lots of questions and takes the time to address any concerns. And, unlike, other vets I’ve encountered in the past, I never get the feeling that he’s trying to upsell me on products or services. In fact, Columbia Square Animal Hospital’s prices are very fair (about half of what my last vet charged!) When I’m there, I feel like the focus is on providing the best possible care for my kitty and not on making a profit.

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is open daily, 8am-10pm

What New West businesses do you feel are overlooked? Sound off in the comments!

Posted in Businesses, Downtown, Parenting, Pets.

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SpudShack: Fitting a Vision Into New West

You don’t know how bad French fries can be until you have amazing French fries. When a number of locals were all atwitter and agog to learn that the Spud Shack Fry Co. was opening up at the Shops at New West Station, I kind of shrugged my shoulders. I mean, I didn’t get why this was a big deal. They’re just fries, right?

Wrong.

Call them fancy French Fries or call them by their proper name of Belgian Frités, but either way, you need to head to Spud Shack and become one of the converted, just like me. Owner Dan Close has perfected the art of the deep fried potato stick; both crispy and fluffy, perfectly salted, and well portioned, the hand cut Belgian frités are, in a word, superb. The Spud Shack has quickly woven its way into my brain as one of the best places for a meal and a brew in New Westminster.

Nachos made with Belgian frites

Nachos made with Belgian frites

My frist trip to SpudShack I tried the cod and chips ($11). Served in simple metal trays, the meal featured a big portion of fish (Dan cuts and weighs each piece by hand), delectable batter, and a generous serving of frités, with a pretty amazing tartar sauce. I’ve tried the frité-chos ($10 for the small) – nachos on a tray with generous and unexpected toppings such as pickled red onions – and found them really satisfying. I’ve gone for the poutine ($5 for the small) and found it the perfect ratio of gravy:curds:potatoes. We’ve had the naked frités on their own ($4 for a medium), too, with a side of  bacon mayonnaise ($1) for dipping that was great.

The Spud Shack offers high quality craft beer on tap and in bottles, as well as craft sodas and juices, and just recently started serving desserts. Right now there are two on offer – a chocolate pot de creme with brown sugar whipping cream ($4), and a house made donut with almond praline served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce ($7). It is, as Briana said,  “the best dessert on offer in New West. Period.”

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Now, for me, what makes a place a favourite isn’t just the menu or the location. I think I’m a pretty decent cook, and I’m willing to travel to inconvenient places for good eats, so those factors are nice, but they aren’t the be all end all for me. What wins me over is a compelling combination of factors – selection and quality of the menu and liquid accompaniments, price, location, decor, and ambience are all standard criteria. The Spud Shack does a good job for me on all fronts. The wood decor and murals look good, there are multiple seating choices including a cozier low table set up and standard wood tables and chairs. I’m grateful they don’t succumb to the temptation to use styrofoam tableware and instead opt for paper cones and actual ceramic bowls and metal plates, metal cutlery, and glasses not made from cardboard, emblazoned with a logo, or featuring a plastic lid. While there are TVs (a pet peeve for me when I eat) the social atmosphere and high placement of the TVs make them mostly unobtrusive.

What will ultimately tip a place into “favourite” status for me is something a bit more than the food or how a place looks. I believe favourite haunts are welcoming and encourage you to visit rather than simply patronize. These are places we see in pop culture: Boston had  Cheers, the Friends cast had Central Perk, and The Beachcombers had Molly’s Reach (I’m dating myself with that one, aren’t I?). New West needs those, too.  A place where everyone is welcome, and where the ownership “gets” the community. Places that are open and receptive to feedback.

Cases in point: when I stopped in on my first visit, I asked about a kid’s choice on the menu. While my 4 year old is a good eater and likes fries, the fish and chips is a bit too big for him. Dan was incredibly accommodating, and said next time we were in to mention we wanted a kids’ portion and he’d fix us up. And he did – small fish nuggets on a smaller portion of fries at a reduced rate. He also picked up a couple of high chairs and is happy to put one of the TVs on the cartoon channel for his younger diners if requested. When we enquired if wine was going to be offered (thinking about future drinks-and-desserts potential), he showed us where the shelving was going to be installed. When we asked about a size between the small and medium poutine, he said he was hunting for the right bowl. When local vegan crusader Melissa approached him about keeping vegan “cheese” on hand so vegans could enjoy his poutine too, he said “where can I buy it?”

This is the kind of business I can get behind. There are others in our community doing it well already that I try to celebrate them, and I’m excited to have another one I can choose from. As an owner, Dan is positive, optimist, and welcoming. He’s not trying to fit New West into his vision, he’s trying to fit his vision into New West.

And he makes magic with potatoes.

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The Spud Shack Fry Co is located at 352-800 Carnarvon Street, on the east bound Skytrain platform at the Shops at New West Station. Give them a call at 604-553-2582, or check them out on their website, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.

We’ve organized a Family Day evening meetup at the SpudShack this Monday coming, February 11th, from 5pm onward. Dan’s agreed to offer some special combos and menu items. Check our Facebook event for details and to RSVP

 

Posted in Downtown, New Westminster, Restaurants.


Discovering the joys of putting food by

First jar of mustard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packing vegetables in jars for pickling

Packing vegetables in jars for pickling

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

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

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

Posted in Lifestyle, New Westminster.

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

Leafy Columbia Street.

Leafy Columbia Street. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Neighbourhoods, New Westminster, Transportation.

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Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies a welcome addition to Sapperton

There is a significant amount of excitement at my house these days because no longer will my husband have to head to Vancouver to pick up beer making supplies (one of the better known and more popular suppliers in the region has set up shop on Hastings, just east of Main) to knock off a batch of basement brew. Even more exciting is that just-opened-today local business, Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies,  has opted to find space in Sapperton – within walking distance of our house. This bodes well for those doh! moments in home brewing when you realize you have the wrong kind of yeast or not enough hops, or not enough growlers to bottle the batch (although judging from the glass collection under my stairs, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon).

Home brewing has become pretty huge in our house lately. Ross and his friends have started out big, choosing to go all-grain right off the bat, meaning, they are actually boiling up the grains rather than mixing extracts up. It’s akin to starting with grapes when you make wine rather than buying a kit with powders or extracts you mix together. Purists argue it is better beer, and also more controllable or customizable. Once every few weeks, our basement and laundry room are transformed into full-on nano brewery, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before more permanent brewing installations will be suggested for that empty corner of the basement.

Today I popped into Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies to see what owner Curtis Van Marck, had to offer on his first official day in business. Curtis hails from Edmonton by way of East Van, and chose New Westminster as the location for his business because of a large home brewing population in the suburbs, and because of its proximity to the Skytrain. And while I can’t imagine personally hauling 16 pounds of grains to or on the train, the proximity to a Modo car sharing car at Sapperton station is definitely attractive for those who opt not to own their own car.

Van Marck has lined his shop (located at 101-455 E Columbia Street) with tubs of grains, a variety of yeasts, and assorted other supplies like sanitizer, bottle racks, bungs, carboys, and mash tuns. Don’t know what any of that is? It’s okay to ask. On his site Curtis offers some advice and how-to’s to get you going, in-store, he offers the supplies and gear to make it happen (plus a shelf for us wine drinkers and wannabe wine brewers, though that’s not the focus of the shop). Fun feature? A bike powered grain mill.

While inventory is still trickling in, he is now up and running every day except Tuesdays (breaking rank on the long standing closed-on-Mondays-New-Westminster-ism that drives me bonkers) and maintains the following hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays: 10-6, Thursdays he is open later to accomodate those that plan ahead for weekend brews from 10-8, and Sundays 11-5.

You can find Barley’s online, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

(If you are into homebrewing in New West, you can also check out the Brew Westminster Google Group (you need to ask to join to cut down on spammers) and use #brewwestminster on Twitter.)

Posted in New Westminster, Sapperton, Shopping.

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Royal City Writers record stories that might otherwise remain untold

The Lookout Emergency Aid Society sign on the Cliff Block building in New Westminster. Photo: Diane Haynes.

The Lookout Emergency Aid Society sign on the Cliff Block building in New Westminster. Photo: Diane Haynes.

For my tenth birthday, I got my first computer. There were no games on it, so I mostly just used it to type up the many short stories and journal entries I had composed in my ten years. Those files are still sitting on a floppy disc, which is currently in a box along with the macaroni crafts and storybooks of my childhood. It never once occurred to me that the ability to keep a record of those things is a privilege that, unfortunately, isn’t granted to everyone. New Westminster’s Royal City Writers (RCW) is working towards changing that.

New Westminster has been home to the Cliff Block, a transitional housing unit run by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, for over a decade. The residents of the Cliff Block, who have experienced challenges ranging from mental illness, to addiction, to homelessness, receive support, supervision, and direction from Lookout and the Cliff Block staff. Most importantly, they are given the opportunity to connect with their communities in a meaningful way.

I didn’t know about any of this until September of this year. Coming from Coquitlam, where there is no equivalent to Lookout, I’ve lived my life with a certain amount of distance between myself and places like the Cliff Block. While I was aware that organizations like that existed, I’d always operated under the assumption that they worked autonomously from the communities in which they were situated. That is, until this fall when I met local author Diane Haynes and began working with her and a small group of dedicated volunteers as part of Royal City Writers.

Launched just a few weeks ago, Royal City Writers’ pilot project pairs writers with residents of the Cliff Block. Over the course of eight weeks, our volunteers are conversing with residents, audio recording their words, and putting their stories into print. The project was built on the idea that storytelling forges powerful connections within communities, and our intention is to give voice to those stories that might otherwise go untold.

Haynes first came up with the idea earlier this year. “The inspiration for Royal City Writers came from two sources,” she says. “My own recent illness showed me how isolating such an experience can be. And my recovery involved the practice of yoga, which includes the concept of karma yoga. The idea is that you give back to your community the strength and peace you discover through your practice. I realized I could do that through writing.”

At surface level, it’s a simple idea, but one I think could make a big difference in the community at large. It’s an opportunity for people who are from a whole range of backgrounds, but are living in the same place, to learn from each other. We hope that this experience will prove equally meaningful for Cliff Block residents and volunteer writers alike. Since beginning work on the pilot project, we’ve recruited an absolutely fantastic group of volunteers ranging from a social activist to a librarian and children’s author to a victim support worker, all of whom are enthusiastic about bringing other people’s stories to light.

“I admit I was nervous when I entered the Cliff block for the first time,” says Holly Andrews, an RCW volunteer. “Who was I to walk into a stranger’s home and ask him to tell me about his life? But actually, my conversations with my writing partner have become a highlight of my week. Learning about schizophrenia from a person who has it has been incredibly eye opening, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to help him tell his story. Hopefully, sharing this story and others like it will challenge some of the stigmas associated with mental illness in our community.”

New West City Councilor Jonathan Cote believes “this is a project that has the capacity to bring the whole New West community closer together, to build connections between those who have experienced obstacles such as homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and addiction, and those who maybe have not. There’s huge potential here.”

As a small part of Royal City Writers, I can say that thus far, the pilot project is living up to Mr. Côté’s expectation. Writing partners have met with each other several times now, and the results have been encouraging. Working on the nuts and bolts of getting this project off the ground had distracted me from the bigger picture, but the stories that have emerged from the writing sessions have put everything back into perspective. Everyone has the right to speak and be heard, and I’m proud to be part of a project that allows people to do that.

Posted in Arts & Culture, New Westminster.

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Vagabond Players presents Dear Santa (plus: a contest!)

The Vagabond Players present Dear Santa

The Vagabond Players present Dear Santa

There is deep love and long standing commitment for community theatre in New Westminster. The Vagabond Players, formed in 1937 and the longest-running community theatre group in BC, have continued to present engaging productions over years in the Bernie Legge Theatre, a cozy playhouse nestled in Queens Park. Operated completely by volunteers, the Vagabond Players present four or five productions each season and you are just in time to catch their next show, Dear Santa, by Norm Foster.

Have you ever wondered what it is really like at the North Pole? Why don’t you come on down to the Bernie Legge Theatre in Queens Park to have a look? Santa and his busy elves have cooked up a great show for you. Join the fun as Santa Claus tries to fulfill a child’s special Christmas wish while his staff struggles to overcome a supply shortage at the North Pole. This is a laugh-filled holiday play delightfully entertaining for adults and innocent enough for the youngest boy or girl.

This lively comedy introduces a host of quirky characters—all of whom are essential to get Santa ready for his Christmas Eve tour. The show stars Sue Sparlin as Santa; Greg Dersken as Algernon, the efficient Chief of Staff; Kathleen Kelly Driscoll as Bozidar, the head honcho in charge of the elves; and Denise Fullbrook as Santa’s housekeeper. Adding to the fun are Jim Bjorkes as a pushy sleigh salesman, and Claire Temple, Faith Hurd and Andra Louie (that’s me!) as the visitors who create more complications for Santa. Rounding out the cast are Kelly Avery, Alice Woodbury, Rob Larsen, Suzanne Biehl, Helen Volkow, Amy Goheen, Lindsey McGaire and Alison Main-Tourneur as elves and choristers.

Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, Dear Santa runs Dec 6 – 23, Thurs – Sat at 8pm; Sunday matinees at 2:00pm. Special Saturday matinee, Dec. 22 – 2:00pm. Two-for-one previews Dec. 6 & 7. Book now: 604-521-0412 or online at reservations@VagabondPlayers.ca.

CONTEST: If you would like to enter to win a pair of tickets to see Dear Santa please add a comment below telling us what’s on your Christmas wish list. On Friday, December 7 a winner will be drawn at random.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Events.

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‘Royal City’ swag lights coming back to Columbia Street

Several weeks ago the City of New Westminster hosted an Economic Forum. The forum was intended to highlight the changes that have been occurring in the city and promote future economic opportunities. The keynote speaker at this event was real estate marketer Bob Rennie. At the end of his speech Mr. Rennie suggested that New Westminster ditch the Royal City moniker for something more contemporary. Although I was out of town during this speech, I could almost feel the collective groan in the community following this comment. Personally I do not agree that New West should ditch the ‘Royal City’ nickname, as it is engrained in the collective consciousness of our town. Having said that, and probably more to the point of Mr. Rennie, the city should be prepared to look at how and when this traditional moniker is used.

That same week on a seemingly unrelated topic, the City made the decision to install swag lights along Columbia Street.

Historic Seasonal Lighting over Columbia Street in the Downtown (Image courtesy VPL: 41806)

In the 1950’s swag lights hung over Columbia Street and contributed to a sense of pride in the community. During this time Columbia Street was known as the Miracle Mile for retail activity and drew in shoppers from all over the region.  The decades that followed were not so kind to this street though, as New Westminster largely became known as a small, old-fashioned, inaccessible community. Just as prominent retailers began to leave the street, so did the traditional crown swag lights.

Today Columbia Street is starting to make a rebound; one only needs to walk along the street to see that something is happening down there. So it seems only fitting that the city has decided to permanently install replica crown swag lights along the street. To be honest, I am not a big fan. I recognize that this is mainly a taste issue and my opinions are very subjective. I have spoken to many people and heard a range of comments from “I think they are going to look great down there” to “the design of the lights looks dated and old-fashioned”.  I am also probably the last person anyone should be getting style advice from. Having said that, I love cities and I take great passion in exploring the secrets behind what makes a city a great place.

I have been fortunate to visit a lot of great cities during my life and I don’t believe that these types of beautification programs are a key ingredient. I don’t need street banners telling me that I am in the big apple to appreciate New York. Nor do I don’t need signage indicating that I have entered the hipster capital of the world when I walk through Portland. There is something genuine about these cities and there is something genuine about New Westminster as well. Our historic buildings, our beautiful streetscapes and the river all tell the story of our community.

I also think we have lost an opportunity to allow ourselves to be inspired by the swag lights from a past era, but then to take this idea and design contemporary lighting that speaks to what the city is today and where we want to go in the future. New Westminster will always be the Royal City; I am just not convinced we need to put up ’50s-era stylized crown lights along Columbia Street to maintain our special place in the heart of Queen Victoria.

Posted in Downtown, Economic Development, New Westminster.

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Helping Others Over the Holidays

Photo by sxc.hu user rosenhamer, used with permission

During the upcoming holiday season we frequently get asked about charity drives and other ways our readers can share the spirit of the holidays with other New Westminster residents. What we noticed this year is many of our local small businesses are taking the initiative to start something and we think that’s amazing. It’s hard enough to run a business but to also coordinate something selfless that contributes to the greater good of our community shows us that businesses in New Westminster really do acare about the community.

Here’s a round up of some of the programs we’ve managed to find (including a few initiatives by various community agencies), and we’d love it if you can add in the comments any you know of that we missed so that we can update this post.

Feeding the Hungry

Paul at the Heritage Grill for years has done an annual Christmas dinner where anyone can come in for a traditional turkey dinner at no cost at the Grill. His staff volunteer for the gig. Give him a call if you’d like to help out at 604 759 0819

Shoe Drive

The amazing women running Brick and Mortar Loving on Begbie are collecting mens’ shoes to give to the needy. Used or new, drop off your shoes at their store and they’ll be sure they get into the right hands.

18th Annual Coat Drive on the Downtown Eastside

Roni and her team at the Shop 4 Paws Thrift Shop on 12th is in need of donated coats for her 18th Annual Coat Drive that we’ve spotlit before that takes place Decembeer 10th.  Roni says that each person gets a coat, some warm soup, hot chocolate, and whatever socks, hats, and mittens they can muster up. She points out “many of the people who come to the coat drive are actually from New West – I see many of the same faces walking the streets of New West, so it is nice to know we are helping not only the folks from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, but also folks from here, too.” Roni needs coats and helping hands, so contact her at the shop on 12th at 6th or call her at 604 540 7722.

Adopt a Family

The great folks at Family Services have stepped up this year to take over the Adopt A Family program. This year, they have about 120 families in need on their list, and only about 40 sponsors so far. Sponsors buy gifts or provide funds for the family and provide money for a Christmas celebration. Please contact them if you can help at adoptafamily@fsgv.ca or call 604 525 9144.

Cruise for Food

Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours is offering two upcoming charity cruises on December 2nd in benefit of the local food bank. Admission on the two sailings (one is from 2-3, the other is from 3:30-4:30) is by donation plus at least one canned good which will go directly to the Food Bank. As well, they’re happy to accept additional canned goods. The captain, crew, and live entertainment are all volunteering their time. Contact the tour office for more info and to make reservations (requested) at 604 525 4465 or email info@vancouverpaddlewheeler.com

Redbrick Home Holiday Special

Thursday November 29th, from 5-9pm Michael at Redbrick Home is offering a special evening of shopping, nibblies, beverages, discounts and helping the food bank. Bring in any non perishable food items, and receive discounts on merchandise (25% off any one regular priced item or 15% off any one sale priced item), and with any purchase, be entered to win a $250 gift card, drawn November 30th.

Sapperton Tree Sale

The 5th Annual Sapperton Tree Sale is happening December 9th, from 11-3 with all sorts of local Sapperton merchants supporting and sponsoring this event. Buy your tree while enjoying music and hot chocolate while you support the RCH Foundation. Please note, tree sales are cash only. Check out this poster for more info.

If you know of anymore we’ve missed, please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments!

Posted in Hyack the Holidays, New Westminster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Development, Downtown, New Westminster, Queen's Park, Queensborough, Uptown, West End.

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The shops I wish we had in New West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Downtown, Economic Development, New Westminster, Sapperton, Shopping, West End.

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Economic development will be vital to New Westminster’s future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Economic Development, New Westminster.

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Visions of the ‘new’ New West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Economic Development, Events, New Westminster.

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Key to the City

I was at the Dublin the other day, having a snack with a friend (okay, and maybe a beverage). We got our bill, and it was 20% off. Later in the week, I was checking out a new chair at Red Brick and realized I would get an extra 10% off if I went for it. I decided to stop by the British Store for some sweets and a tea on my way home, and got 10% off my sweets.

How was I getting all these discounts? I have a Key to the City. No, not some giant, oversized, pretend key, but the hyperlocal New Westminster – specific key tag system put together by Tourism New Westminster. There are over 40 businesses who participate in this program, offering buy one get one discounts, percentages off, and other deals on goods, services, food, places to stay, and things to do just by flashing a key tag right before you buy.

The program continues until the end of April 2013 and there are about 250 key tags left available to buy for just $10 each (you can buy them right from Tourism New Westminster or at participating locations) but we have a keytag to give away for free! Comment on this post about how you’d use a Key to the City, and we will draw one lucky commenter at random, Friday November 9th at 3pm PST.

 

Posted in Contest, Shopping.


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.

Posted in Children, New Westminster, Sports.

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Sustainability in New West: envisioning our future at Nov. 2 & 3 event

Envision 2032

Envision 2032 is the name of the City of New Westminster’s sustainability framework that will guide City planning. 2032 represents one generation from now – a length of time that is easy for people to imagine when making decisions that affect the future.

This is a guest post by Mark Allison, a Senior Planner with the City of New Westminster who is coordinating the team working on the Envision 2032 process. He has led a number of award-winning sustainability plans in communities around BC and was formerly the Senior Planner and Manager of Advisory Services for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

What exactly is sustainability?! The word has been thrown around so much in recent years that it’s been interpreted many ways. We’ve chosen to adapt a well-known 1987 definition created by the United Nations that is broadly accepted around the world:

“Sustainability” is meeting the needs of the present generation in terms of social and cultural needs, the economy and the environment while promoting a high quality of life but without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

New Westminster’s 2012-2014 Strategic Plan created a focus on building a high and sustainable quality of life for its residents and called for the creation of a sustainability framework, or “Sustainability Lens,” to “guide and test all future decisions and initiatives against balanced economic, social/cultural and environmental perspectives.” Envision 2032 is the name that’s been given this sustainability framework and it is intended to become the guiding policy document for the City.

ICSP sustainability lens

New Westminster’s 2012-2014 Strategic Plan created a focus on building a high and sustainable quality of life for its residents and called for the creation of a sustainability framework, or “Sustainability Lens,” to “guide and test all future decisions and initiatives against balanced economic, social/cultural and environmental perspectives.” Envision 2032 is the name that’s been given this sustainability framework and it is intended to become the guiding policy document for the City.

If you’ve been around the City for a while, you may recall that “Envision” was the name of our 1998 Official Community Plan. We thought that the name was still applicable, since sustainability planning is all about visioning the future that you want and then taking the steps you need to get there. The “2032” in Envision 2032 is the year 2032… one generation from now. While we usually think several generations ahead when planning for the future, one generation is what most people can wrap their heads around. It’s roughly the time between a child being born and the time that they become an adult ready for independence. Most people can imagine that length of time, so we thought it would be a good timeframe for the plan.

So why are we doing a sustainability plan now? Well, besides providing a logical, consistent way to move towards our desired future, most would agree that our region and the world are facing some enormous sustainability challenges to address in the social, economic and environmental areas. The idea of “think globally, act locally” is definitely fitting.

Socially, New Westminster is in a unique situation when it comes to age demographic shifts, the so-called “baby boomer tsunami.” Not only are we going to have thousands more school-age children in 20 years, we’re projected to have tens of thousands more seniors living in the community by then. It’s going to be a huge challenge to provide the schools, and the recreation, housing and health care needs of these residents.

Economically, it’s probably safe to say that most people are either concerned or very concerned about whether there will be jobs for them and their children in the future, whether their pensions will be enough to live on or whether they’ll be able to afford to buy their own home. With a global economic meltdown just a few years ago and countries all over the world close to defaulting on their debts, there’s a strong desire for communities to create strong and diversified local economies and employment opportunities.

Finally, while often overshadowed by economic concerns, it’s hard to ignore the looming environmental crises facing the planet. Many scientists, for example, say that we may already be at the tipping point where greenhouse gas concentrations may cause runaway climate change at the same time that demand for fossil fuels seems insatiable with supplies dwindling.

Sustainability encompasses not just environmental concerns, but also social and economic.

Sustainability encompasses not just environmental concerns, but also social and economic.

What can New Westminster do in the face of these challenges? Quite a lot! While communities can’t do everything on their own and local governments get the smallest piece of the government revenue pie (while having to provide most of services that people need day-to-day!), communities are where most sustainability action starts. Communities and local school boards provide the playgrounds, schools and seniors centres. Small, local businesses create the majority of jobs in Canada. Local governments facilitate affordable housing and the way that we design our communities is a major determinant of resource use and whether people will drive or use more sustainable transportation modes… local governments provide the sidewalks, bike paths and transit shelters that encourage walking, cycling or taking the bus.

While creating a long-range plan for everything that’s involved in moving a community of 60,000+ 20 years into a successful and sustainable future can be a daunting task, there’s luckily a number of existing models that we can follow. There are a number of basic steps:

  1. Create an awareness of sustainability in the community… like writing this blog!
  2. Identify all of the policy areas where you can influence sustainability.
  3. Create a vision of what the desired future looks like in each of those areas.
  4. Determine where you are now in each area.
  5. Work together with community partners to create actions that move you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.
  6. Select key indicators and regularly monitor and report on progress towards the desired future.

Eleven policy areas have been identified, which we think covers most things:

  • Buildings, Sites and Urban Design
  • Individual and Community Well-Being
  • Economy and Employment
  • Energy and Emissions
  • Environment and Natural Areas
  • Heritage and Neighbourhood Character
  • Affordable and Appropriate Housing
  • Land Use and Development
  • Parks, Culture and Recreation
  • Resources, Waste and Infrastructure
  • Transportation and Accessibility

The next step is visioning and creating a concise set of statements that describe the desired future in each of these policy areas. This will be the focus of the Envision 2032 Sustainability Fair events being held at the Inn at the Quay on the evening of Friday, November 2nd and the morning of Saturday, November 3rd:

The first event, on November 2, 7-9:15pm,  is “Let’s Talk Sustainability.” This inspirational evening will introduce the Envision 2032 process and features an exciting lineup of engaging speakers who are leaders in the sustainability field. Doors will open at 6:30 for refreshments and networking.

The following day, November 3 from 9 am – 1 pm we’ll be presenting an interactive workshop, “Envision New Westminster,” where the vision statements that will form the foundation of Envision 2032 will be created. Participants will be able to attend breakout sessions for two different policy areas. Doors will open at 8:30 for refreshments and networking and a light working lunch will be served at noon.

It’s important for anyone wanting to help define the future that the City will be working towards, which will be the foundation of Envision 2032, to attend these events and provide us with your vision.

For more information on the process, to provide feedback and to register for Sustainability Fair events, visit www.envision2032.ca or send us an e-mail at envision2032@newwestcity.ca… and of course you can also follow the process at www.facebook.com/envision2032 and www.twitter.com/envision2032.

We’ll also provide you with regular updates on this site to keep you in the loop!

 

Posted in Development, Environment, New Westminster.

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Second Annual New Westminster DocFest this weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Arts & Culture, Environment, Events.

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Santa Parade Needs a Makeover

Today it smelled like cold, and I found myself thinking about the upcoming holiday season. I recalled recently reading a piece in the Royal City Record that the folks at the Hyack Festival Association are proposing to change up the Santa Claus Parade of Lights to a event that focuses on Hyack Square and a giant Christmas tree, with some sort of light display along the wall of the Salvation Army.

Thank goodness, I say. Why did this take so long?

Just look at how happy they all are!

Christmas Parade Past – Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

The three times I have attended the Parade of Lights since my son was born, I have had to leave early when he got fussy or bored or cold, and the watery hot chocolate isn’t enough to keep him occupied. We see the same floats and groups march on by for more than an hour that we see in the (much warmer) Hyack Parade in May. The one time we were there long enough to move to Hyack Square, we clustered around to watch the spectacularly miniature tree get lit while a number of politicians talked about how the Christmas spirit was alive and well (which it is – I’m not being a Grinch here). There were no bleachers, no seating, not even organized areas to stand – no way for the short folks such as myself or my child to even see what was going on as we stood in the scrum of people with hardly a way to even get out of the crowd mid way through. My son didn’t care one tiny bit for the speechifying and was bored bored bored. We left, and went home and watched Miracle on 34th Street, drank eggnog, and ate mandarin oranges.

A number of the councillors are quoted in the Record’s article as being concerned about the change, and while they don’t necessarily oppose it, they mostly seem underwhelmed and even somewhat resistant to the idea. All of their comments centre around their own opinions of the parade. One comments that “he always liked the parade”, and cites concern that it won’t attract families if it is presented in another format. Another says “Personally, I like the parade,” and worries that a transition to another format will be too quick. I’m not trying to single out anyone out, here, but only one of our current councillors is currently raising a young family in our city.

In the article, Mayor Wright is quoted as saying “Change does not come easily to anybody. We welcome your new ideas. We have to work into them.” His comment is absolutely spot on. The Santa Claus Parade of Lights in its current format is  boring and outdated, and while I want to support the parade and the many community groups that volunteer their time and effort, I can only placate my son for so long while we passively watch it stream by. I wonder how many people continue to come to the parade year after year to watch the same thing over and over because there is no other free community holiday festival?

Dear Hyack Festival Association,

You have my wholehearted support to change the Parade into something that actually feels like a holiday celebration in the city. You can’t do it soon enough.

Sincerely,

Jen

Posted in New Westminster.

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Embrace public art to add surprise and whimsy to New West spaces

InsideOut

InsideOut

Art is a funny beast. Viewed in defined “art-appropriate” spaces – think hotels, building lobbies, hospitals, cafés and galleries, there are few styles, works or mediums that we don’t appreciate. From contemporary painting, large-scale black and white photography, avant-garde sculptures and mixed-media work, to hard to interpret audio pieces, we accept it as art, as something that is inherently good for us to be surrounded by – even when we don’t understand it.

As artist Martyn Reed of Stavanger, Norway said in an interview about public art with Juxtapoz magazine, “Art, on a philosophical level, even academically, is good for people; it improves the quality of people’s lives, which is why we put art classes in prisons; we have art in hospitals because it makes people’s lives better, it’s present in pre-op and in every ward, there are pictures. Everyone believes this, you don’t get people saying, ‘It doesn’t improve the quality of people’s lives.’”

Yet despite the positive and emotional connection many of us have towards art, we neglect how important the context in which we perceive it truly is. Viewed outside the confines of its regular context, we lose that same openness and acceptance of the quirky, hard to understand or strange. The vibrant club poster stapled to a telephone pole is no longer an ink print, but a nuisance. The series of wheat paste concert posters is no longer pop-art, but vandalism. The large-scale photographs stuck to a blank wall, they too cease to be considered art.

Public art or art created in and for the public sphere gets a bad rap. It can polarize a cohesive community into those who are up for a bit of whimsy in the public domain and those who are vehemently opposed to it. Of the diverse forms of public art, few are as vilified as graffiti. For many, the mere mention of the word invokes images of hastily spray-painted train cars, or sprawling script along vacant walls. Graffiti is akin to neighborhood blight.

And while in some cases graffiti does represent a lack of respect for a place, there is the flipside of the graffiti spectrum. Street artists and residents collaborating painstakingly over a period of hours or days, to create art for the betterment, interest and enjoyment of the community in which they reside.

This role of community generated public art or graffiti as social and economic tool is not often talked about, but can have a huge impact on a city. In an open letter to the mayor of Stockton, California – a fledgling city on the verge of bankruptcy, M. Revelli the editor of art magazine Juxtapoz, cites examples of Stavanger, Norway, Bristol, United Kingdom and New Orleans as examples of cities that have embraced an attitude of tolerance and openness to public art and are reaping the benefits of dollars spent in their cities. The influx of money to the city comes in the name of tourism as curious locals, art enthusiasts, bloggers and others in the art world travel to experience the works in these cities.

Another such city that has embraced graffiti and public art as civic tools is the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that city, well-known street artist Steve Powers, completed Love Letter, a series of murals along the elevated subway line to help give a sense of pride to residents from the different neighborhoods in which the murals were installed.

Discussing his experience in Philadelphia to Juxtapoz magazine, Powers explains, “Nobody saw any benefit of the project for their neighborhood. Once we got to painting and people saw the results, they got excited about their neighborhood again. Everything has been great ever since. And when they see people coming by daily to take pictures, the equation becomes very apparent. More people coming to the area translated to more foot traffic, which translates to more businesses.”

In addition to the economic benefit to the local economy of embracing public art, the social benefit of a community creating, appreciating and discussing art is invaluable. In a unique public art project, French artist JR – winner of the prestigious TED Prize, had the idea to empower people and strengthen communities around the world by encouraging widespread participation in a global art project, The InsideOut Project.

Sourcing co-creators from around the world, individuals or groups upload black and white portraits of themselves that subsequently get turned into large-format posters (they’re big, very big) and returned to the individuals to be posted in their own community. Using only their face to share a message, JR’s wish is to inspire people from all over the world to indulge their inner artist, taking pride in their communities ultimately making them better more interesting places to live.

Closer to home, New West is in the midst of a civic renaissance of sorts. After years of slow growth, the city is adding a more diverse and interesting culinary component to its reputation as an affordable city with great quality of life, good transportation, loads of amenities and a strong sense of community. While the depth of offerings is still developing, people are now moving to, coming to and staying in New West because of its food offering. What would the impact be if New West added a dynamic public art component to its urban fabric – reclaiming vacant spaces and knitting a sense of surprise into our public spaces?

Imagine a collaborative series of murals along the back of the buildings that face the Skytrain, short-run sculpture installations in parks or other public spaces, art installations in vacant commercial storefronts or our own chapter of the InsideOut Project. If only our city had disused wall space, vacant lots, empty storefronts or large unused areas along the waterfront … hmmm.

While I’m no artist, I appreciate the arts –no matter where on the brow they may fall, and would like to see a greater sense of playfulness and surprise in our public spaces. I am interested in helping push New West towards being a city that embraces the economic and social potential of public art through an open attitude towards it. We need not strive to be an art capital, just a community of engaged citizens who embrace the potential of the arts and aren’t afraid of a more dynamic and whimsical public sphere.

As for those black and white portraits through the InsideOut Project, mine arrived in the mail a few weeks back and all I need to do now is paste it up. Group exhibitions are always better than solo efforts. Get in touch with me if you’re interested in a group effort or check out http://www.insideoutproject.net

Posted in Arts & Culture.

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New West Activities for September 29

This weekend is a hugely busy weekend in the Royal City – there is so much to do! And we’ve had such great weather that it is a perfect time to get out and about. Here are our top three picks for Saturday family activities:

Support Family Place at their first annual fundraising garage sale on Saturday from 9-2. They’re at 93 Sixth Street, and they tell me there will be lots of childrens toys, games, household goods and clothes. Money goes to help support all their awesome programs, and to continue to provide a warm and welcoming place for families with children aged 0-6.

Check out the awesome new festival mashup, River Fest! In celebration of World Rivers Day, the Hyack Festival Association and the Fraser River Discovery Centre have teamed up to produce a new giant event on the mighty Fraser. Check out the Facebook page for details, but activities include music, crafts, information tents, and all sorts of other family friend activities. On Friday and Saturday.

Stop by the Lantern Festival in Queensborough from 6-9pm on Saturday September 29. Activities include assembling an LED lantern, music, sparklers, and a scavenger hunt. it takes place at Port Royal Park, at the east end of Ewen Avenue in Queensborough.

Posted in Downtown, Events, Queensborough.


Freelancer Unconference This Saturday + Ticket Giveaway!

I never thought I’d be a freelancer, but here I am, doing it, and I am so happy to have made the switch. It is not for everyone but it works really well for our family. So, I’m really bummed out that I won’t be able to make it to the upcoming 3rd annual FreelanceCamp at The Network Hub – New West, taking place this Saturday September 15, from 9-5. It’s a full day unconference style event on all things related to freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners. But you should really go. Here’s why:

As unconference camps go, all sessions that will be held that day are decided that morning. Anyone who wants to lead a session pitches, and the attendees vote on which ones they like. The sessions then get scheduled on a board, where there are typically 3 to 4 sessions that happen every hour for the whole day. You can find out more info about the event here: http://www.thenetworkhub.ca/freelancecamp/

Photo by Jeremy Lim

There are lots of freebies to be received (moo cards!), and lunch (from Re-Up BBQ, Fathom, Pamola or Wally Burger) is included in your ticket price of just $15. Seriously – $15. That is an amazing deal. Note that The Network Hub will be receiving zero dollars. This year they’ve decided that 100% of the proceeds (after lunch expenses) will be going to Kiva.org. They’ll be funding small business owners in the developing world, and will have a session on Saturday so that the attendees themselves can decide which projects the funds should go to. The pool of funds can then get bigger and bigger every year, and they can keep supporting more and more entrepreneurs in the developing world to help them sustain their communities.
Attendance is capped at 150 because of space constraints, so I recommend signing up ASAP. We are also super excited because The Network Hub has given us a pair of tickets to give away. To win, leave a comment and let us know what class you’d love to lead and sit in on if this was your conference. We’ll draw the winner Friday at 8AM using a random number generator.
(PS: If you are planning on going, but want to enter, go ahead and buy your tickets and if you win you’ll get your purchased tickets refunded)

 

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