Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vision and Service

Who has heard the expression "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain."  I would modify that slightly to "If all you do is vote and then complain, shut up and go do something about it."  Voting in the elections for which you are eligible (municipal, provincial, federal) is the absolute bare bones minimum level of participation that should be expected of a citizen of our great nation.  When there are still countries this day where citizens cannot freely vote for the person of their choice, it is pure negligence for us to let that opportunity to go to waste. 


I hear people complain "well, I don't agree with any of them," or "I'd just be picking the lesser of two (or three or four) evils."  These are just lazy, whiney excuses for not doing something you should.  Politicians are human, and as we see in the news nearly every day, imperfect.  Until God himself decides to run for office, you will ALWAYS be voting for the lesser of two evils.  Unless you start your own political party where you get the final say, no party's ideology will perfectly match yours. 


Since you will never agree with a politician or party on every issue, focus on the big picture.  Find the one whose vision most closely matches your own, and go with that.  Accept the fact that they will screw up, make decisions you don't like, compromise, and do a whole lot of other things you don't agree with.  But trust in the fact that they are attempting to build a city in the same direction you are.  The details may not be quite the way you hoped, but the big picture should be close. 


What is your vision for New Westminster?  What does the city look like five, ten, twenty, one hundred years from now?  The quote at the head of this blog is my vision for New Westminster.  What specifically that looks like are things that I touch on here in this blog.  And more importantly, what are you putting your time, money, energy and relationships into to move to this vision?


The city is calling for volunteers to serve on a variety of committees and commissions, as reported by Tenth to the Fraser and the New Westminster Record.  I put my application together a few weeks ago, but forgot to send it in – thanks to their reminder now it will be in the mail later today. 


Democracy is about more than just putting a tick in a ballot box.  It's about building the community you want to live in.  Whether you serve at a local non-profit agency, a city commission, donate to local charities, gather friends together to clean up the neighbourhood – it doesn't matter what you do, just do something to help create the city you envision.  Because if you don't do that you have no right to complain when it all falls down around you. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Parking - How Much to Pay?

There has recently been a lot of fuss over City Council’s decision to require paid parking at meters on Sunday.  Opposition to it garnered a petition, and was significantly opposed in the city’s survey on the issue.  Perhaps to make the issue go down a little easier, the funding from Sunday metering will be used to fund local daycare and environmental grants. Presumably this will take some budgetary oversight as I’m sure the parking meter money all just ends up in the general revenue stream. 

This got me thinking back on some articles I had read about market demand based parking meter rates.  The theory is parking meters are meant to encourage turnover of parking spaces to allow a greater number of customers to access local business and services.  Too low a rate, and people will park all day, reducing the number of people coming through.  Too high a rate, and no one will park in the area.  Having appropriate levels of parking available also helps reduce congestion by reducing the need for drivers to circle endlessly looking for space. 

According to studies, having the parking spaces 85% full is the magic number.  This leaves room for more people, but does not forgo revenue by having too many unused spaces.  There is often a fear amongst businesses that raising the rates will discourage traffic, and lowering the rates will encourage people to stop and shop.  This is only true if the parking is not full.  If, like in New West, the parking spaces are fully used through most of the day such that parking is difficult to find, reducing rates will not increase customers as it will only increase demand for a commodity that is already fully sold out. 

A few years back, San Francisco (Redwood City) started testing such a program.  According to the Downtown Development Manager, the program has been successful.
Initially, I thought  the program actually varied the rates in real-time, but looking at what’s been done, it seems as though the rates have just been optimized to produce an average 85% occupancy rate.  However, there is no reason (well there are some reasons, primarily logistical) that rates couldn’t be changed in real time. 

Picture it – when the meters on 6th Street turn on early in the morning, rates would be cheap to encourage people to stop and run their errands, say $0.25 and hour.  As workers come in and the city awakes, spots fill up.  As blocks get full, the rates rise, $1.00, $2.00, or higher as people come in.  Mid-morning, rates dip a bit as fewer people are shopping.  Lunch time, rates ramp as people come in for food.  Rates would then drop after lunch and continue down throughout the afternoon until 5:00, when everyone is returning from work and running their afternoon errands. 

The main challenge with pricing in real time is the uncertainty.  Are you willing to drive downtown not knowing what the price of parking will be when you get there?  In New West it may not be as big a problem, at least for the downtown area as the parkade could take the load from anyone not willing to pay the street rates – perhaps this would even improve use of the parkade.  Some method of pushing current pricing information to interested people would need to be included. 

Another issue is getting business onboard with potentially higher rates.  Where other cities have seen success is by using the increase in parking meter revenue to provide other improvements to the business areas affected to encourage activity there (sidewalk benches, tree planting, etc.). 

Without minimizing the challenges to overcome, given the parking situation in New West (and Vancouver in general), I believe it would be worth trying such as system here.  It contributes to a number of the business and environmental goals the city is aiming for, and potentially increases revenue as well.  New West is small enough that even if it turned out badly, it wouldn't be a major disaster for the area.   If we are going to change how we handle on-street parking, let’s set it right. 

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NW Fire and Rescue Open House!

The New West Fire and Rescue Department is putting on its annual open house October 3rd, 10 AM to 2 PM. It sounds like there will be lots going on including displays and demonstrations on how to improve fire safety in your house. My son (and his dad) love looking at the fire trucks - if we weren't going to be in Portland that weekend, we would definitely be there!

Donations are being accepted for the food bank, and based on the news it is in serious need of those donations, so be sure to bring some non-perishable food to give to them. If anyone goes down, I would love to see some pictures of the event. It will be at Firehall No. 1, at McBride and 6th Ave. Parking is available at the Canada Games Pool. Hope you have a great time!

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Online City Budget Survey

I just saw this over at Tenth to the Fraser. The city has set up an online survey to get guidance from the citizens on the direction to take in addressing its budget challenges. It will only take you about ten minutes, so be sure to take the time and complete it. While the survey is pretty self-explanatory, the city also put together an overview of many of the issues. If you're not up to speed on what is going on with the budget, definitely have a read of the overview first.

The Deal

The other night I left my apartment to walk over to Dairy Queen for an evening blizzard run for my wife. I was walking down Ash Street, and at the end of the street behind the library, I saw a car stopped in the middle of the street, with the driver talking to a guy standing at his door. I didn’t hear anything, but I assume some pleasantries were exchanged, then the guy standing reached in his pocked, pulled out a little goody bag, and passed it over.

One of the things I love about this neighbourhood is how family friendly it is. There are always parents out and about with kids, gaggles of teens around, and the playground half a block away at Moody Park is packed whenever the sun is out. So seeing this going on in the area I am raising my children and so many others are too pisses me off.

Getting rid of the drug problem will take a lot of people doing a lot of things, but I think one of the main things we need to do as a community is stand up and say we will not allow this in our neighbourhood. By this I don’t mean marches and rallies, or groups claiming to ‘take back our streets,’ though those events do have their place. What needs to happen is all of us in the community need to stand up – alone, with a friend, with neighbours, building managers, and stop this from happening whenever we see it.

This means moms calling 911 on their cell the minute they see a deal going on. This means recording license plates, getting descriptions and passing them onto police. This means telling them to their face they are not welcome to ply their trade here, and we will take every legal recourse available to ensure they cannot.

So it is with a lot of embarrassment I admit that as I walked by the deal that night, I did not call 911. I did not get a good look at the dealer or the buyers. I did not remember a license plate, make or model of car. And I did not tell the dealer to stop what he is doing. That night, I was part of the problem. But from this point forward, I will not have to say that again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New West - Centre of the Universe?

Or at least Metro Vancouver. New West is in a unique and somewhat odd position. Historically, it was one of the major urban centres and the first colonial capital of B.C. However, as development focused in on Vancouver, New West seems to have lost its way. Now, as part of Metro Vancouver, it is in the middle of the pack as far as population goes, but sandwiched between the big cities of Burnaby and Surrey.

The geographical benefits of New West
o 10 minute drive to Central Surrey,
o 15 minutes to Surrey Docks, Newton, Metrotown, Coquitlam Town Centre
o 20 minute drive to Central Richmond
o 25 minute drive to YVR, the US Border, Cloverdale and Langley
o 30 minute drive to Downtown Vancouver
o 35 minute drive to Deltaport.
o Two rapid transit lines connecting to Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey
o Reasonable bus schedules (through Uptown/Downtown at least)
o Easily walkable neighbourhoods
o On the North/West side of the Fraser (Crossing the Fraser is a major psychological barrier the further you get away from it, and depending on traffic a major physical one as well)

The geographical challenges of New West
o Sandwiched between Burnaby and Surrey, attention is drawn away from New West to the bigger cities
o Hilly terrain, affects mobility, particularly in winter.
o No port facilities within the city

While it is mentioned in passing in places like the Official Community Plan (OCP), I don’t see how we are really leveraging our position. This is just a quick list of potential businesses types and agencies that could potentially benefit from locating in New West.

- Distribution centres
- Couriers
- Shipping
- Sales
- In-home services (cleaning, cooking, nursing)
- News reporting
- Private investigators
- Trades (Plumbers, electricians, etc)
- Construction Management
- Consulting Firms
- Auto parts
- Pilot Car Operators
- Movie Servicing
- Construction Supplies and Equipment

- Regional policing
- Taxis
- Postal Centre
- Corrections/Probations
- Hydro/Utilities
- Revenue Canada
- Children’s Ministry
- Metro Vancouver Parks

Essentially any kind of business or agency that needs to work throughout Metro Vancouver or needs decent connections to major transportation infrastructure (highways, docks, airports, border crossings) could potentially benefit from locating in New West.

In addition to location, New West has a number of other positives that make it attractive for business, including

Land Costs – Low office rates compared to region. Lower land costs than Vancouver, higher than south of Fraser
Taxes – comparable with the region.
Labour availability – local labour is available, however New West is a job neutral-job creating city, so immediately local labour may be lower than average. However, strong transit connections should mitigate this somewhat. Another issue identified in the background of the OCP is the average education of the local area is below the regional average. Along with being distant from the two major post-secondary institutes, this can make attracting high-tech business more difficult.
Image/Prestige of Area – Downtown is negative due to crime
Parking and accessibility – generally cheaper and more available than most of the region.


Under the OCP, Uptown is meant to be the Professional/High Tech centre, Downtown is the historical tourist and retail (maintaining some office and professional), Sapperton/Braid the Manufacturing centre and Queensborough the heavy industrial site. However, it is not just enough to designate certain areas for certain types of development, and restrict that through the development process. How are we encouraging business in general and the specific types of businesses we want to start or move to New West?

Two of the items identified in the OCP:

Promote new office development – this puts the cart before the horse. Construction follows demand. We need to promote professional and office based businesses to locate within New West, as they require more office space construction will follow to meet the needs.

Vibrant streetscapes – badly needed downtown to improve the perception of the area
Industrial – just platitudes on supporting and promoting for more jobs, consolidated facilities, and specialized areas.

To their credit, the city is working on some of the foundational type work such improving transportation infrastructure. However, this is moving very slowly and there appears to be little support outside of this. Business services consist of Initial Building Consultation, which is only for construction. Very little is on city website about business development or support for business, just a hard to find reference to BIA and Chamber of Commerce. While I have not spoken to them, from all accounts city staff are very helpful when calling, but who will call if they can’t get the information they need beforehand?

Despite all our benefits, the city seems content to do some of the work identified in the plan, put out less information and let the business community find us. The biggest problem New West has is being found amongst the other bigger cities. The city needs to take on a strongly active role in promoting itself to business, lest we lose our position as a job creator and settle into being just another suburb.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where are the Community Gardens

The Record has an article about the Port Royal Community Garden, located in Queensborough. By all accounts, the garden has been a smashing success, and representatives will be attending the Queensborough Urban Farmers' Fall Fair. The 25-odd plots are full, and there is a waiting list of another 25 people. The garden is basically doubling in size to address the large demand.

For some time now I have been wanting to grow a small vegetable garden, for a number of reasones that basically boil down to it is better, cheaper and healthier for you. When we moved to New West, I started looking for an Uptown community garden, and was disappointed that the only one I could find was the garden in Queensborough.

I decided to check with New West Parks, Culture and Recreation Board to see what their plans are for community gardens. Interestingly, it is hard to find good information from the Parks Board. They have a reasonable site detailing facilities and activies availabe, but I haven't found any information detailing the back end of the board. For example, questions I could not find answers to on the Parks or City websites are

- Who is on the board?
- When and where are the public meetings?
- Minutes from previous meetings
- Any kind of long term vision, goal or strategy

What I did find is the New Westminster Environmental Partners seems to be taking the lead on the community garden issue. It sounds like the have had some success in moving this forward, with a presentation to the City in September. The also put on occassional public meetings, including one tonight (7:00 PM at CAW Union Hall, 326 12th Street). Other groups, such as the New West Downtown Residents Association seem to be deferring to them.

While I am glad the NWEP is pushing forward on the community garden issue, I am concerned with the lack (or at least very hard to find) of information from the Parks Board. New West is blessed with a number of great parks, and with its small size, it feels like there is an abundance of parks available for the public. This is a large strength for the city, and we should be discussing how we can improve on that strength and use it to build strong communities. To do that we need to make the discussions, plans and meetings of the Park Board more visible.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A year in New West

My wife, kids and I have been living in New West just over one year now. It was almost by accident we ended up living here, but am I ever glad we did.

We rent, and for the past five years have gotten itchy feet pretty much every year whenever our lease was up. First we were living downtown, and had a great spot down in Yaletown. For a variety of reasons, we decided to move out to Surrey from there. We tried two places in Surrey, one in Fleetwood, and one closer to Guidlford, but with Gill unable to drive it never worked well for us.

So last September our lease was coming up, the landlord was trying to sell the house, we wanted to live somewhere not in Surrey and cut down our rent if we could. The main feature we were looking for in a place was somewhere close to shopping, parks and amenities so Gill could get out during the day and do the things she needed to do. Access to transit was important as well for the same reason.

We were looking at places in Vancouver and Burnaby mostly. Jocye-Collingwood, Brentwood, Metrotown - we mainly focused on the major town centres. New West never even crossed our minds. I don't remember how or why, but somehow I found myself in uptown New West one day during this time. I noticed the mall and shopping along 6th Ave and 6th Street, Moody Park, and all the low rise apartments in the area. The area seemed to be busy with lots of people around, lots of kids at the park and just generally pleasant.

We dug into the area further, and quickly decided it was where we wanted to be. We rented a one-bedroom apartment there, and thanks to a friendly building manager we moved over to a two-bedroom not long after.

What we like
- all our daily needs are within easy walking distance. While Royal City Centre is not the hub that so many other malls here are, along with the local shops along 6th and 6th, it has all the things we need on a regular basis.
- decent transit connections. Between the 106, 123, 154 and 155, there is generally a bus coming soon, and it's only a few minutes to the skytrain
- great parks - Moody park is fantastic for bringing the kids to, or just relaxing on a nice day. Queens park is a reasonable walk, and there are several smaller parks and playgrounds nearby too.
- the people! everyone here is so friendly - even after a year I am still suprised at how many people will greet you just walking down the street.

What we don't like
- 6th Ave frequently seems dirty or grimy between 6th and 8th streets.
- Almost all the buildings have stairs to navigate to enter or exit - pick your building carefully if you have a stroller
- Inconsistent transit - busses don't follow the scheduel well, and and I regularly find trips completely missed.
- Highway access - while I take the skytrain to work, and Gill doesn't drive, we still use our car few times a week. Going south is great, as we can hop onto the Queensborogh or Pattullo within minutes, but getting to Highway 1 takes a lot longer than we would like.

On the whole, we have been very happy with our move to New West. If anyone on here is from there, drop me a line - I'd love to hear from you and what you like about the city.