From #NewWest to New West (Or: how Twitter inspired me to join my Residents’ Association)

Back in 2009, I wrote a guest post on Tenth to the Fraser entitled, "Taking the plunge into community involvement". I'm hoping at the end of this post I can convince one of you to take the plunge. It's a topical subject, with Briana's recent New West Wednesday's topic asking about people's involvement (or not) in their local residents’ associations. Commenters are discussing their experiences and I'd have to say mine's been overwhelmingly positive, which certainly makes me a bit sad about [...]

New West Twitterati shared their thoughts about Residents' Associations in response to this week's New West Wednesday post on the topic.
New West Twitterati shared their thoughts about Residents’ Associations in response to this week’s New West Wednesday post on the topic.

Back in 2009, I wrote a guest post on Tenth to the Fraser entitled, “Taking the plunge into community involvement”. I’m hoping at the end of this post I can convince one of you to take the plunge.

It’s a topical subject, with Briana’s recent New West Wednesday’s topic asking about people’s involvement (or not) in their local residents’ associations. Commenters are discussing their experiences and I’d have to say mine’s been overwhelmingly positive, which certainly makes me a bit sad about moving away.

While I’d most recently been living in New Westminster since 2007, it was really in late 2008, and after I joined Twitter that the city started to really become a community to me. A lot of the local digerati were beginning to coalesce around the #NewWest hashtag (it’s been a battle between us and a hiphop sub-genre but I think we’re winning). Connecting with real neighbours through virtual communities prompted me to become more active in my neighbourhood.

I wasn’t really sure what went on but I thought I’d check out a local meeting of the New Westminster Downtown Residents’ Association. While just a renter, it was interesting to learn more about local issues, even if there wasn’t always a direct impact on my life. Some meetings drew bigger crowds than others, usually when people were quite passionate about topics such as the UBE or there was new info about civic projects, but there was always something to learn or be updated on.

One thing that always seemed important to the directors was how to get more people out and informed about where they lived. I made the observation that the group was collecting emails from people registering but not using them to communicate to residents, so they asked if I could help out.

Like many others, I never knew that a simple request would lead to a more formal commitment. I ended up serving as a director for the past two years and in addition to providing some meeting reminders and additional community announcements, I also started a Twitter account to live-tweet the meetings. Seeing the engagement, having people send in questions to remotely ask the speakers, and receiving thank yous from those who couldn’t make meetings, was really rewarding! (Full disclosure: I’m a big geek about information and communication technology and its impact on society.) While some people see local community building and politics as overly partisan, my experiences were lucky enough to simply be about giving something back. Even better, it helped me make friends in a lot of different parts of the community.

I’ve been able to meet various city staff and some of the councillors, business owners — both new and long term — and developers that have been reshaping the city skyline. I’ve met residents from other associations. I’ve had a chance to meet people involved in the Royal City Farmers Market Association. It seems like I knew more people at Shakespeare in the Queen’s Park and the Hyack Festival. I was meeting a lot of other folks passionate about building a strong sense of community, like those involved in N.E.X.T. New West. Attending (and volunteering) gave me a lot more pride in the happenings of the city and interest in the changes. There always seemed like a lot of conflicting ideas on what was best for New Westminster and a tension between the city’s historic past and its future but it has been great to meet so many people that care about their neighbourhood.

All these benefits and it only cost me $5 a year for a family membership and an evening every two months to attend the meetings. I was also able to take part in organizing and running two community block party BBQs that allowed hundreds of local residents to mingle with neighbours. (After last year’s tenth annual event, we decided to take a hiatus this year. It was becoming so successful, that we were outgrowing the group’s capacity to handle in that format. New ideas for next year’s event are welcome.) Unfortunately, it’ll be my last meeting coming up in a few weeks on May 25, 2011 (7pm at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parish Hall – 514 Carnarvon Street), as I’m headed out east for more school.

If you’ve always wanted to check out what goes on at residents’ associations, I’d really encourage you to come out. If it seems like something you’d like to get involved in, you could run for a spot as a director at the AGM in September and/or for any of the digitally savvy out there, the group could use a hand with sending out the occasion email and tweeting meetings. (If you’re not a downtown resident living between Royal and the River, check out the city’s website for your local association.)

It’s been a great time living in New Westminster, getting to know friends and neighbours and watching the city change and grow. (I’ll be glad to can keep up with the going ons in the city through Twitter and Tenth to the Fraser.) Thank you all for making it a wonderful experience!

Paul Goodrick

Paul Goodrick is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

21 comments

  1. Another transient resident telling me what should go on in my neighbourhood ?

    "All these benefits and it only cost me $5 a year"

    What a shame, in order to participate you must pay.

    Let me tell you a little story. About 9 years ago a developer had purchased a large parcel down the road and was looking to develop. This raised some alarm bells on our street, and a presentation was to be held at the RA. I was there, along with some of my neighbours, who were not members. A vote was called as to provide support for the development. Everyone on our street was in opposition to the proposed development, and thought we had a equal opportunity to vote in opposition.

    As non members we did not have ANY vote, even though we were the actual RESIDENTS on the street.

    Oh, and the members of the resident association voted in favour of providing support to the developer.
    I wonder why.

    Its truly reprehensible, and corrosive to community to have an association of payed members who make decisions about your neighbourhood on your behalf. That's why it's a breeding ground. People love power over others.

    Go ahead. Delete every comment of my discontent with this subject.

    1. Just because one person has a bad experience with an RA doesn't mean they have no value. Our RA has no "power" other than we can act as a unified voice to the city but I can have just as loud of a voice as Jen as I do as a paid member of an RA. I like being involved with the RA because I can get a gut check as to whether other people just like me feel the same as me or whether my opinion is just out to lunch. Maybe I'm missing the boat on something and another resident can clarify it for me – there is no other way for me to open up conversation with other area residents other than knocking on doors and invading their space. Not being a participant in an RA doesn't silence a person: one can still write letters of complaint or opposition and one can still call up the planning and department and tear a strip off them. An RA is just a way of unifying voices that might feel there is safety in numbers.

      It's just a option, Rick. And it's just $10. I spend more than that on gum and donuts.

      1. Being a VP, perhaps you could outline exactly what a resident associations function and relation to the city and council is for everyone.

        "there is no other way for me to open up conversation with other area residents other than knocking on doors and invading their space"

        Sorry, I must have misread the title and substance of the article.

        "And it's just $10. I spend more than that on gum and donuts."

        I wonder if you would feel the same way if they required you to pay a fee in order to vote in an election.

        Why do you have to pay to be a member of a RA ? Wouldn't it build community better if everyone knew it was free to join and participate ? Whats the scam ?

        1. Rick, the $5 or $10 is mandatory under the Societies Act. Essentially, the BC government has a rule that if you want to have a non-profit society, you need to make members pay a membership fee. It's the law. This is why we at the NWEP have to charge $5. If you are not a registered society, then you can't get a bank account, get any grants, or even get insurance for your directors if you hope to have an event like a community BBQ. Not being a member doesn't prevent you from taking part in anything, it just limits your ability to vote on society functions. Again, "the Scam" is the Societies Act of BC. Complain to your MLA.

          If it really irks you, I would suggest you delegate to City Council and suggest that they pay the minimum charge for anyone who wants to belong to a Residents Association but cannot afford it. Maybe take the $5 off your property taxes.

          That said, I am in Brow of the Hill, and the BOTHRA doesn't charge membership. Of course, they also don't hold BBQs or events like that.

        2. No, I don't think I can – becoming the VP has not magically given me any special knowledge, so what I know is about the same as what Joe or Joanne Q Public can find with a little thing called Google.

          As I mentioned, I just recently joined and my RA is one of a number of RA's in the city and I would think each one has their own unique focus, relationship etc. So I won't comment on what the exact function is of other RAs. You can read this very exciting document about the constitution of my RA here: http://www.masseyvictoryheights.com/Forms/Constit… which was recently updated at the January 2011 meeting. It's truly stimulating stuff. As for our relationship with the city, well, I don't know. I seem to have the most amount of knowledge of my fellow executive members about what departments to ask about things, knowledge I have developed through my paid work as the farmers market manager. No one, to my knowledge, has some special "in".

          I'm not paying a fee to vote – I'm paying a small cost that covers the cost of printing, signage for the garage sale, advertising and entrance for the garage sale (a map is printed of participants, so its essentially more advertising for my own personal garage sale), BBQs whatever and etc – so I don't think I can compare paying a fee to be a part of an RA to that of paying a fee for the right to vote in the election. Not really the same comparison.

          For what it's worth, my RA welcomes paid and unpaid residents at all meetings, but only paid members can vote on motions as per the Societies Act.

          1. Pat, I am fully aware of the societies act, perhaps you can explain then why RA have to be a registered society ? Why is your Brow of the Hill not a registered society and charging you the 5 dollars as required under the societies act ? Why do you need to be a registered society to hold a BBQ ? The societies act is NOT the scam. You need to dig a little deeper.

            Alright then Jen, I will tell you what the function of a RA is, and it's relation to council. Council requires RA (if active) to be informed of certain developments, Can you guess which ones ?

            I also do not agree with your comparison. Council, who is elected by an unpaid electorate, values a paid membership RA support FAR more then a few unpaid citizens letters. Developers who support the campaigns of our politicians are in some instances required to present and garner support from RA, which as Pat pointed out, have bank accounts, and want to do things like have BBQ's and Garage sales, and need donations from corporate entities. Oh, and lets not forget some of the Presidents of our beloved RA would be honoured to serve as city councilors or mayor one day. Getting to know you !

            But I'm sure that has little influence at the end of the day.

            Do you really expect everyone to believe that the average RA with 40-50 members at 5 bucks a head can do all that on 200-250 dollars a year ? Please….

            Anyone notice how the RA presidents are absent from this discussion ? Hmmmmmm….

            PAT, here's an idea, instead of going to council to get them to cover my fee, how about the developers !!!!

          2. Rick, you ever tried to open a bank account for a non-profit? You need to be registered under the Societies Act. Some RA want to do things for their neighbourhood that require a budget (community events, for the most part), or require a grant, neither of which you can have without proper accounting and a bank account, which requires registration under the Societies Act. The RA cannot just put money under the President's matress, for obvious reasons.

            So you started by complaining "what does my RA do for me?", and are now complaining that the only method they have under Provincial Law to actually organize anything is somehow corrupt.

            This only goes to demonstrate that you, Rick, have never attempted to do anything to build your community or work creatively with your neighbours. Instead, you spend your lonely days sitting behind a computer critcising those who do.

          3. Ok, ideas, not people !

            Pat, here is my idea that you seem to have missed. People coming together to form a collective voice need not have to form a registered society. It's a basic freedom. The freedom of peaceful assembly, as guaranteed under our charter of rights.

            People in a community can come together to have a community BBQ without the need to pay 5 dollars. It's called a pot-luck !

            The Societies Act is great for format for model rail-road enthusiasts, or a horticultural group, but in my opinion it is the wrong format for a community group.

            ALSO I firmly believe that the holders of real property in the city have more of a say then a renter. You might notice some properties have only one owner, yet hold over a hundred renters. I am not excluding renters from participating, however a distinction has to be made between the two groups.

            For example. The owner of properties that holds renters wants a rezoning, and encourages, through some means, the renters to join the RA and vote in favour of a rezoning. All of a sudden, you have a majority of people who have little vested interest other then the encouragement they receive, alter the outcome of a vote.

            I think people coming together in there neighbourhood is good people !
            Just get the money and politics out of it, and weigh votes accordingly.

          4. What exactly was the point of asking me a question that you fully knew the answer to? To show me just how incredibly smart you are? You should know I feel very wowed by you and will sleep better tonight. Have a great day, Rick.

          5. The point in asking you a question to which you did not know the answer was to demonstrate that people involved at a high level in RA don't always know what they're doing (even though it's on the city's website).

            Thus making RA ineffectual !

            I'm glad I was able to help you sleep better tonight !
            Have a great nights rest Jen !

  2. A couple quick follow up points I'd like to add.

    As Jen noted, the registration fee is pretty nominal — for our RA it's $5 per family. This covers the administrative costs for things like printing/photocopying the posters we put up around the neighbourhood, mailing costs if we need to send letters to businesses or the city, etc. While I can see how some people might view this as pay to participate, there are numerous other channels that people can access that doesn't require paying RA dues. Send a letter to city hall, write a blog post on community sites (like Tenth to the Fraser!), go door-to-door and collect signatures or set up a public demonstration to support or oppose things.

    The other reason is that it helps to make sure that people who are coming are residents who engaged in the community and not simply there to vote on a single issue. It's not perfect (and I think that might have been the insinuation?) but as someone who's been attending for a few years, it'd be pretty obvious if a whole bunch of people showed up to support/block one item.

    During my time with the NWDRA, I've certainly seen contentious issues raised and many people that are only concerned about a single, very narrow topic. Usually it's development-related (business or residential); although, transportation also seems to be an area that gets people heated. Of course, there can be different views. I've listened as one resident is concerned that a new development will impede views from their home and lower their property value and the next door neighbour comment right after that even with their view being blocked they think it's a good decision because more businesses and newer buildings will raise their property value. Both views are fair and legitimate, so how could one individual (or even a group) speak for everybody? Often times developers will present at the meetings to get input from the neighbourhood and make changes to the design to address residents' concerns — in my experience, parking tends to be a big issue. Developers will often come back with their revised plans that tend to make the majority of active RA members happy, though even then there's never unanimous decisions. Letters of support, if the RA membership votes to support, will often include the concerns or note which concerns had been addressed.

    To address some of the other concerns Rick raised in the comments here and the other post, I'm not certain whether RAs are completely ineffectual organs that don't care about transient renters or power hungry people who won't care about renters and are able to single-handedly define policy decisions for entire neighbourhoods. I'm certainly not sure which category I belong to, perhaps it depends on whether he's commenting to me or Megan?

    And I don't know that I have had much to tell people what should go on other people's neighbourhoods. For those interested, I was born in New West (raised in Coquitlam), lived in different New West neighbourhoods and attended Douglas College as part of my post-secondary education. I've been a big fan of supporting local businesses and actively engaged in community events and organizations, including volunteering my time, energy and money. I had hoped to permanently settle down in New West but, alas, a year ago it became clear that I'd need to attend graduate studies out east — though I hope to be able to be self-employed and based out of New West in the future. That said, I still volunteered another year in the city because it was important to me.

    Some of the Twitter comments and post comments about RAs were really concerned that people were there just to complain and for the drama. I've heard that was true for the NWDRA some years before I joined and that turned many people off. For myself, I'm not overly partisan and I think respectful, dissenting voices are important since people can — and often do — disagree on the best course of action. Certainly it doesn't sound like Rick had positive experiences with RAs and I'd agree that they won't be a good way to be active in the community for everyone.

    But I would encourage individuals that are interested or curious about the goings on of RAs to at least attend a meeting to see if it's a good fit. I can't speak for everyone (or every RA) but the NWDRA as I've known it has always been about generating a sense of community and trying to be another resource for local residents, whether they're renters, owners, new to the neighbourhood, long term tenants, or businesses looking to expand or saying hello to the locals.

  3. We overlook Moody Park, from the east side of 8th St.

    Are we in the Moody Park RA, or is there another, the 'Uptown RA'?

    Using Google might find the site?

  4. Thanks, we seem to be in the Moody Park area. We certainly 'keep an eye' on Moody Park.

    Is there a scrap going on here?

    How about baseball teams playing same from other neighbourhoods? I could keep score.

  5. Well, I have presided as a RA president over meetings where we have suddenly had our regular attendance double as people came out to voice concern over an issue. I had to remind them of our associations bylaws that state that a person must be a paid up member to vote.
    One reason for this, as I think was already mentioned was to try and avoid meetings being hijacked, as ours once nearly was.
    What we have done, if there are a large number of people in attendance who are not members is that we will have a motion for the members and then we will also do a general show of hands and will record both in our communication with City Hall.

  6. Apparently I'm too verbose* so I had to split this into two comments. *Its one thing hearing it from your family but quite another from a computer.

    I became involved with the MSRA when I kept seeing the same group of people attending open houses regarding the building of the Millennium Line through New Westminster. I like to think that our RA has really spoken for the community on a number of issues. We can only be as effective as our membership though so when people don't attend…
    We've also sounded the alarm and championed causes of community livability too, i.e. incinerator in Sapperton (now raising its ugly head in another form) and removal of truck routes, crosswalk safety, etc. These issues are no always supported by all in the community though. I know Dave L. takes great objection to the MSRA's stance on trucks in our residential neighbourhoods. 😉
    Oh, and for the record, Dave I strongly supported BC-STV. I also am no longer the president of the MSRA.

  7. Did anyone catch tonights council meeting ?
    Was another bitter battle between residents and development.
    After (I believe) McEvoy made a comment about the public opposition present at the hearing equating to 90 percent, our Mayor broke the tie vote calling on a letter of support sent from the D.R.A., equaling 90 percent of the public to be in favour of the development.

    I wonder exactly how many members the D.R.A. were utilized to pen such a powerful letter at a hearing for members of the PUBLIC.

    Sigh.

  8. 25 it was laughable and Mayor Wrong is fast becoming an embarrassment to the people of New Westminster. Couple that with the 2008 election donation from Balenas for $2,000, it is clear he is not for the people……I wonder how much he will get this election from Belenas……

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