04 December 2010

My presentation to City Council

Although I requested to speak to Council late on Wednesday, I was the first speaker on the list for the Thursday meeting. After I had made my presentation, one of the city clerks announced that the microphone wasn't working and so my remarks were not properly recorded. Just for the record here is what I said to the Mayor and Council:

Well here we are again. One year later and I stand before you, again asking that you give the Park Board enough money to fulfill its role. Did you know that over the term of this mandate you have reduced the operations of the Park Board by over 4 million dollars? That is much, much more than the previous 8 years combined. And this year we are facing another reduction of more than $1 million. By this point we are no longer finding efficiencies but cutting real programs and services. Next year we may very well be closing community centres if these reductions continue.

Last year’s reductions meant the end of the Stanley Park farmyard, the reduction of programmers in our community centres, the end of many children’s summer programs in our parks, and the closure of an after-school care program. We reduced garbage pick up in the parks, planted fewer trees, reduced park maintenance, reduced building maintenance, and nearly lost the Bloedel Conservatory.

This year the reductions will mean real hardships for the citizens of Vancouver and to our visitors too. The 1.03 million in reductions will be found by cutting back the pruning of street trees from 7 to 8 years, planting fewer flowerbeds in Stanley Park and at English Bay as well as the introduction of fees for youth playing on our fields. And these on top of the higher fees charged for using our services. All of these will be noticed and felt.

What stands out for me this year are the plans to close public washrooms and further reduce maintenance in our parks.

Washrooms are, in my opinion, essential services in cities. They are not a luxury, but a necessary public amenity to the population as a whole. We should be expanding our network of public washrooms, not closing them. There are some people in our city who rely on public washrooms for their basic hygiene, and many others who because of age or infirmity rely on public washrooms so they can lead normal active lives. And of course any of us can be caught short.

Let me put a face to this and give you an example of just one location. I live across from Riverfront Park in Fraserlands. Every morning groups of elders, many of them from the Ross Street temple, walk along the foreshore of the Fraser River. This walking keeps them healthy and is a social outlet for them. They use the Riverfront facilities as a halfway point in their morning walk to relieve and refresh themselves. Without the washroom facilities I am sure many will no longer be able to walk such a great distance.

There is also a playground in this park. On any day you can see mums and dads with their kids playing there. They use the washrooms too. You only have to hear the cry “I have to go!” once to know how important these facilities are. Without these amenities, parents are faced with the choice of not visiting the playground, or if they do, have their children urinate or defecate in the bushes. No one wants that.

There is also a plan to stop cutting passive areas of the parks and public areas and let them naturalize. Well I can tell you this is not naturalization of parks space. Naturalization would cost too much money, what with the removal of turf and the planting of native species. No this is letting the areas go to weed and letting invasive species like Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, and morning glory run rampant. The passive areas will then be full of weeds and look unsightly, turning off residents and visitors alike. And it won’t be just the Park Board who will be getting the angry calls about this.

Now you can say these are the choices the Park Board has to make, and you are right, but they are choices forced on us by under-funding, and we are running out of choices. You may say “we are increasing funding”, but just like public education the increase is not keeping up with costs and so there are reductions. You can also say that times are hard, the economy hasn’t recovered and the city can’t afford these things. Well I tell you again, an economic downturn is precisely the time when we need our parks and recreation facilities the most.

So there you have it. These are our choices. Cut backs, closures and reductions. Not properly funding the Park Board will result in a real and noticeable decline in the quality of life in our city. Not only will we have crap in our parks, but our parks will look like crap too. This may be your vision of Vancouver, but it sure isn’t mine.

Keep Vancouver healthy and beautiful. Do the right thing. Give the Park Board enough money to do its job. Good night.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent address to council although I have my doubts that even if the mikes were working they actually would have heard it anyway.

    I wonder if Gregor asked if you were a "hack" when you were through.

    Keep up the good work Stuart