Monthly Theme: Wellness

Does anyone else feel like a switch has been flipped and we are firmly in autumn mode almost suddenly? I sure do. Leaves are turning colours and falling, my furnace got a dusting and a new filter before being woken up, and I’m wearing socks for the first time in months. I went hunting for a favourite pair of gloves the other day, and had a moment out with a friend last night where I yearned for the jacket I’d ignored as I walked out the door. Yup, it’s definitely not summer anymore.

beeAt our house, we’re back at the school-kid grind. I’m always amazed at the ease of which the school seems to fall into routine, like a bee hive where all members have a job to do to ensure success. Teachers to shepherd young minds, admin and staff to set a tone and keep the building running as well as it can, and students to fill their minds up with everything they’re learning – academic and social. Some kids transition pretty seamlessly into school, some need a bit of support to feel they’re in the right place. But, here, as we enter October, it seems to be a fairly well-oiled machine and needs are being met as best they can.

I’m bracing for the onslaught of colds and maybe even *shudder* lice that inevitably comes with a swell of school kids with their heads together and *knock wood* so far we haven’t succumbed to either. We’re still trying to grasp the last of the summer and spend time putting the garden to bed before the first frosts hit. Tomorrow, we’re heading to the New West Apple Press Fest to really make autumn feel welcome.

If I can make one request, readers? Please keep the storm drains in your neighbourhoods as clear as possible. When the rains hit (and it’s a given, here on the wet coast), clear storm drains make the streets less flooded and more safe.

This month, our theme on Tenth is Wellness. Our print issue is out at distributors starting today, featuring a beautiful cover illustration by my co-publisher, Johanna Bartels. Articles from the print magazine will be out on the website soon and we’ll be sharing and promoting them throughout the month.

We want to share stories this month that show off how well our community is and what parts need improvement. I’m hoping some of you will feel compelled to write about traffic, transportation, transit, housing, health, taxes, city services, community organizations… you name it.  Come to us with your ideas, and let’s share it on Tenth. Talking to one another in the community is one way to keep it well and a community mindful of wellness is a place I like living in.

 

Park safety, property values on the agenda for Feb. 26 QPRA meeting

The Queens Park Residents’ Association is tackling two timely topics in its next meeting: park safety and property assessments. Because these are two issues with broader reach than the immediate neighbourhood, the QPRA has invited interested residents from the rest of the city to attend.  The agenda for the Sunday, February 26 meeting includes guest speakers on both topics.

After Councillor Betty McIntosh’s daughter Lisa was mugged walking home through Queen’s Park, it raised safety concerns for many frequent users of the park. The first speaker, City of New Westminster Director of Parks, Culture and Recreation Dean Gibson, will brief residents on planned lighting enhancements for Queen’s Park, and provide an overview of upcoming long-range planning work. Residents are encourages to come with questions and ideas to bring forward.

The second half of the meeting will shift gears to discuss property values. The average New Westminster property assessment increased by 5.16% this year. Receiving the assessment always makes homeowners wonder how those numbers are calculated anyway. BC Assessment Deputy Assessor Zina Weston and New Westminster appraiser Carmine Guadagno will explain how property values are determined with specific focus on the Queens Park neighbourhood. There will be an opportunity to ask questions.

The Queens Park Residents Association meeting is 2-4pm on Sunday, February 26 at Centennial Lodge. Coffee and refreshments will be available by donation.

32% drop in crime in New Westminster in the last decade

Crime is down in British Columbia. In New Westminster, it’s way down.

According to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General of B.C., the provincial crime rate has dropped 19% over the past decade. In New Westminster, it’s down a striking 32%.

Over the past 10 years in New West:

  • criminal code offences decreased by 25%
  • annual crime rates per 1000 persons decreased by 35%
  • auto thefts decreased by 52%
  • robbery crimes decreased by 34%
  • overall property crime rate decreased by 32%

In their news release sharing the above statistics, the New Westminster Police said a number of factors have resulted in a lower crime rate, including new policing initiatives and demographic shifts.

“Province-wide a number of factors are involved in the decreasing numbers. These include policing programs such as the Bait Car program and PRIME reporting systems wherein police have instant access to information on criminals and criminal activity. Generally speaking, crimes tend to be committed by males in their late teens and early twenties. In BC, the population in this age group is decreasing,” it says in the NWPD release.

The NWPD also points to programs improving public awareness of crime and reporting criminal activities, specifically Crime Free Multi-Housing, the Park Safety Initiative, School Liaison Officers and, the Operational Support Unit.

If you want to be involved in improving public safety in New Westminster, you can call the NWPD’s Crime Prevention Unit at 604-529-2528 to find out more information on policing programs and volunteer opportunities in our community.

If crime is down, why don’t people feel safer?

Crime statistics show that New Westminster is a safer city than in past years. So why don’t people feel safer?

We all know someone who knows someone whose house has been broken into several times, or who has witnessed flagrant drug dealing, or seen a new ‘girl’ working 12th St. And then there’s the newspaper crime beat. A New Westminster man was recently arrested (and released on bail) for allegedly sexually assaulting a young woman near a Vancouver SkyTrain Station (and some people misheard it as a rape at 22nd St. Station). Cats were doused in paint thinner. Children were followed by a suspicious man in a truck near a school.

People remember stories, not statistics.

But when people believe their neighbourhoods to be unsafe, things get worse. When people are afraid, they don’t go out on the streets at night. They talk less to strangers (and neighbours). The change in behaviour leads to fewer eyes on the street and weaker neighbourhood ties. We get more crime, not less.

Unfortunately, we humans are just not very good at assessing the relative risk of certain behaviours. We overestimate some (the risk of being assaulted by a stranger when walking at night, for example) and underestimate others (the risk of being injured or killed in a car crash, which is one of the leading causes of non-disease related death).

In an essay on the psychology of security, security technologist and author Bruce Schnier identifies five common reasons why people are so bad at assessing risk:

  • People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks.
  • People have trouble estimating risks for anything not exactly like their normal situation.
  • Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.
  • People underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can’t control.
  • Last, people overestimate risks that are being talked about and remain an object of public scrutiny

In other words, ordinary dangers (car crashes, accidents at home) lack the powerful elements of story that make the extraordinary dangers (stranger attack or child abduction by a stranger) so compelling and scary.

Instead of focusing on the (now fewer) accounts of prostitution, drug dealing, and other bad behaviours, let’s focus our energy on things we can control. Clean up graffiti and litter. Be neighbourly. Spend time out on the street. Take care of each other and get involved in our community, and our city will continue to become a better place to live.

Note: this post was inspired by a comment I wrote on the Voice New Westminster blog, on the post by Jan Fialkowski, “Crime Stats Down in the City.” The post was also published as a letter in the Newsleader.

New West SkyTrain safety stats challenge assumptions

Photo: Mark Bek
Photo: Mark Bek

I was raised to be a bit paranoid about personal safety. Like many kids raised in the 1980s, it was impressed upon me that the world was a dangerous and unpredictable place. I was taught to fear strangers, to look both ways (and then look again) before crossing the road, to lock the door and close the windows at night, and to be wary of walking the streets after dark. The cautions took, and I am one to triple check the locks before going to sleep,  refuse to cross when the red hand is flashing and get nervous when the sun goes down.

As a dedicated transit user and pedestrian, I have not bought into the popular belief that taking SkyTrain is unsafe, but I do carry with me a mental ranking of which stations feel more or less safe. I was surprised to discover that many of my assumptions were just plain wrong.

The latest crime statistics challenge popular belief of SkyTrain safety in New West. New Westminster SkyTrain, for example, was ranked as the second least secure in a 2008 survey of transit riders, but the actual rate of crime places it 13th on the list. I would have assumed that my home station, 22nd St. SkyTrain, would have ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it’s actually the third-worst station on the line for crime after Surrey Central and Gateway. Columbia Station ranked 10th for crime activity, Braid 11th and Sapperton 19th. The gap between the rate of crime at Surrey Central and Gateway compared to 22nd St. is pretty big, however – the crime rate is almost twice as high at those Surrey stations.

Interestingly, in the 2008 survey, Waterfront was the station where people were most likely to feel safe – but it actually has the fourth highest rate of crime, just behind 22nd St.  Columbia and Braid are about as safe as Scott Rd. New Westminster Station has almost the same rate of crime as Main St. Sapperton is safer than Gilmore, but has a slightly higher rate of crime than Metrotown.

The rate of person crime incidents in or near stations, per 100,000 passengers for New West’s SkyTrain stations are:

  • 1.38 at 22nd St.
  • 0.80 at Columbia
  • 0.79 at Braid
  • 0.71 at New Westminster
  • 0.55 at Sapperton

I do think it’s important to measure the drop in crime as well, however. Some stations have seen huge safety gains in the past year. Biggest improvements:

  • King George & Brentwood (tied) – 78% decline in crime
  • Rupert – 66%
  • Edmonds – 64%
  • Waterfront – 50%
  • New Westminster – 47%

And the stations that saw an increase in crime:

  • Braid – 980% increase
  • 29th Ave – 73%
  • Main St. – 27%
  • Granville – 11%
  • Gilmore – 3%

I’m no statistician, but I do find it interesting to compare the rate of crime to other life risks to get a bit of context in terms of just how “dangerous” it is to commute by SkyTrain.

First of all, B.C.’s overall crime rate in 2008 (notably excluding motor vehicle offences) was 9,600 per 100,000 people – which was an 8% decline from 2007, and the lowest recorded crime rate in 30 years. The average rate of crime on SkyTrain across the system was 0.71. SkyTrain’s overall crime rate dropped by 33% year over year.

I am often frustrated at the perception that taking transit – and in particular, SkyTrain, is less safe than driving. Yet the risk of death related to driving is 16.8 per 100,000 for B.C. males (8.4 for females). That’s about six times higher than the risk of being a victim of any sort of crime in or around the least safe station on the line.

Another big takeaway from reading all these reports on SkyTrain crime is how the safety of the surrounding neighbourhood impacts the rate of crime at any given station. This is something all of us have the power to impact. Whether you’re passing through a station or living nearby, if you see crime, report it. Those of us who live near SkyTrains can paint over graffiti, pick up trash, and take action to correct other minor property damage – research shows that people are more likely to litter when they see litter on the ground, and that leaving graffiti encourages hoodlums to return and add more.

So, do your part to improve the safety of your neighbourhood. And let’s all just get over misplaced fear of SkyTrain.