Tweetup the ‘least awkward meeting of total strangers I’ve ever been to’

This is a guest post by Marcy Koopmans, who recently moved to New Westminster. This is her take on our most recent Tweetup.

As Jocelyn mentioned in her post on Friday, a large part of what gives New West its sense of self is its sense of history.

Moving here, Wes and I were surprised and, I’ll be honest, a bit amused by what to us seems such an unusual preoccupation with the past. But perhaps this is only because we came from a city which one Twitter user called a “cultural wasteland.” (You’ll get no argument from me on that front.)

That previous city was not one that I chose to live in myself, even though I managed to stay there for 19 years. New West represents home to me in a more real sense because I chose it, because Wes and I chose it together.

That said, even though it has taken very little time for me to feel at home in my new city, as of last Thursday I still hadn’t really met anyone. Twitter has been a great gateway in that regard. Through it, Wes and I found out about the existence of Tenth to the Fraser, the resurrection of the Farmer’s Market, and the Tweetup to follow.

The Farmer’s Market represents a way of life that I think will become increasingly important to our society and way of life in the coming years due to factors such as the recession and the state of the environment. Its continued success will show that we can come together as a community and both provide each other with the things we need — fruit, veggies, almond bark — and support each other economically. All with less impact on the environment that buying food shipped half way around the world.

The Tweetup, while overwhelming for me in the number of new faces and names to remember, was about the least awkward meet up of mostly total strangers that I’ve ever been to.

Perhaps the level of comfort in the gathering was fueled by orange drop martinis, beer and hummus, but I think it also speaks to what New West is as a city. It’s a city both small and big — one of those true clich√©s that came up during the Tweet up — and one that both loves the past and embraces the diversity that comes with moving forward and embracing progress.

It’s been a long time since I have found myself in a group of strangers where I can talk about the trials of public transportation, education and vampires without meeting blank stares. That, to me, is what is so invigorating and exciting about living in New West: it seems to have something for everyone.

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Note: Thanks to everyone who attended the Tweetup, including:

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Getting Back to Our Future

Last night at the third New West tweetup (soon to be blogged by @punkvspunk, I hope!), the idea of celebrating New Westminster’s future resurfaced. It’s no wonder it came up, given that we were twelve under-35’s, 6 iPhones, and one twitter hashtag (#newwest), meeting at a locale quoted by one tweeter as “the closest thing New West has to hip.”

It was roundly agreed that New Westminster as a city government and as a citizenry does a marvellous job of celebrating the past – from ragtime festivals to classic car show-n-shines, period costume days and the 140-year-old May Day celebration. We even do a fairly smashing job at celebrating the timeless and perennial – such as the Oolichan festival and FraserFest – perhaps this fits with New Westminster’s long identification with history and “golden years” habitats, but it has left us a bit lacking in our sense of “future.”

Imagined Skyline from New Westminster
Imagined Skyline from New Westminster

Why does “future” matter to a city at all, especially to a city like New Westminster which may not be marketing itself to attract hi-tech companies for its tax base or knowledge workers for it’s economy – however, as a small city that is home to a community college, a call centre, a large high school and a burgeoning population of young families, a sense of “future identity” is vitally important. It goes beyond teens and young families feeling that there is potential for their own future here in the Royal City, it has to do with how people view the potential of their community. Humanity has always associated “the future” with a sense of optimism and possibility, and without those sentiments being demonstrated in a community, where is the motivation to stay, to invest, to participate and enjoy?

I work for a research group which recently concluded a project about the role of maternity care services (family doctors practicing obstetrical care, midwives, and surgical backup services) in the sustainability of rural communities in BC. Not surprisingly, we found that the loss of maternity care services threatened the viability of rural communities. Without maternity care services, employers couldn’t attract workers with families, and families already living in these communities often left because they felt that their own family’s future and the future of the community were incompatible. What a good example of how vital a sense of community “future” is to viability of that community long-term… The key being that if people don’t see their own futures in the future of their own community, they are less likely to move there, stay there, or invest themselves in that community. In a city with such reverence for history but no real “future identity” we risk giving the impression we are simply treading water, dwelling on the past in an age when the future seems to arrive faster than we expected.

Envisioning a city’s future is not solely the domain of younger generations – if you are among our city’s elders, your contributions and service to this city are the seeds which will grow the city’s future. It’s your investment. How will it be used? It seems that New West has always had a devoted following of citizens who’ve loved and served the community, and worked to preserve it’s beauty and history… isn’t it the perfect time now, during the 150th Anniversary celebrations, to ensure that New Westminster’s role in the future, and the hard work of many people to get us there, is imagined, honored, and celebrated.

Last night we talked about how we might celebrate New Westminster’s future, looking ahead from our 150th Anniversary celebrations to the years to come – at Tenth to the Fraser, we invite you to join us in envisioning the future of New Westminster and dreaming up ways to celebrate it in our community. It would be easy to assume that celebrating “future” involves throwing a couple hundred dollars at the local high school student council and telling them to make it very “internet-y” (although we ARE VERY excited about the upcoming public civic wi-fi!), but it’s more than that. What do we want/expect/imagine New Westminster will look like years down the road… and how do YOU think we should celebrate it on this important year?

(Perhaps we’ll host a”Twonsultation” on the matter – but for now, we’d love to hear your input in the comments below!)

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