The news came out today that the Westminster Pier Park project is a finalist in the Canadian Urban Institute Brownie Awards (Update: We won in the categories of sustainable remediation technologies and technical innovation!), which recognize leadership and innovation in sustainable remediation technologies and excellence in neighbourhood project development. It rekindled in me the pride I felt in our city when I first heard about the proposal for this project. I was also reminded, however, that no matter how successful the park might be, it is likely to remain highly controversial in the near future.
Perhaps nothing better symbolizes New Westminster’s often polarizing politics than the Westminster Pier Park project. The ambitious, even audacious, $25-million project involves reclaiming a long stretch of blighted brownfield bordering the Fraser River for a new public park.
Even with two-thirds of the project bill covered by the federal and provincial governments, critics of the project blanch at the price tag, and fear that the cost could balloon if the site proves to be more contaminated than expected. But even at this cost, even if the cost goes up, what better omen for the future of New Westminster than to transform a tragically damaged ecosystem into a verdant oasis downtown?
This isn’t just another local park project. Westminster Pier Park is another beacon of hope that transformation can occur, that the mistakes of the past can be reconciled if not undone. As one of the oldest cities in B.C., the New Westminster of today is burdened with many mistakes made in the past, not only contaminated sites but forgotten cemeteries, historic institutionalized racism, and more. The true test of our city’s (and citizens’) character is what we collectively choose to do about it.
As John Wooden famously said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” I don’t believe in heaping ashes on our heads over mistakes made by those who lived here long ago. All anyone can ever do is make decisions based on the best information available at the time. If our forefathers knew then what we know now, I’m sure they would have made some different choices.
Saddled with the mistakes of the past, it is up to us to decide whether we take responsibility to correct those things we do have the power to affect today. Ignoring New Westminster’s brownfields is an unjustifiable abdication of our responsibility to this place we love. I am proud to live in a city that has the chutzpah to take on the challenge of rehabilitating abused sites like these when it would be so easy to simply look away.