Guidelines approved in 2007 give community a voice over elected officials on naming parks. Monday vote will change that.
Names are important. They are how we identify ourselves, each other, and our community. The names of public spaces are equally important as they are identifiers of place, purpose, and sometimes historical perspective and significance. Nathan Philips Square in Toronto not only identifies a place, but also a centre of activity and a remembrance of a significant individual in the history of that city. Central Park in New York, Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Stanley Park here in Vancouver all conjure up images, for good or bad, in the minds of both users and visitors.
Names are important which is why in 2007 the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation changed its naming policy to better reflect community values and ideas. Prior to 2007 park naming was done by a staff report and a vote by the Commissioners of the day. This method can lead to political interference and the naming of parks and public spaces after friends and allies of the particular Board of the day with no recourse for the community.
This all changed with the naming of a small park in Marpole. Many people came out to a committee meeting of the Park Board with name suggestions for this new park. The ideas ranged from honouring environmentalist David Suzuki, and author and former resident Joy Kogawa, to the name of the street the park is situated on. There was no consensus and so the Commissioners put off the decision to another meeting.
At that follow-up meeting I prepared a draft policy resolution that would take the naming of parks out of the hands of staff and politicians and put it firmly into the hands of the community. This draft was adapted by staff and became the new protocol for park naming. The 2007 protocol was created to stop any hint of favouritism and to put the authority in the community.
Under this policy whenever a new park was to be named a committee of neighbourhood community members would be struck. They would solicit ideas, research the relevance, seek community input and then recommend a name to the Board. This process was successful in the naming of Ebisu Park in Marpole and Oak Meadows Park at 37th and Oak.
On March 26th the new Board wants to revert back to the old system, whereby staff will lead the process and the Commissioners choose the name.
It seems more than coincidental that at the last meeting of the Board Commissioners passed a motion to fast-track the naming of a park for former City Councillor and community activist Jim Green. In fact in this week’s Georgia Straight, Vice-Chair of the Park Board Aaron Jasper suggested that the new park at Trillium (in the Strathcona neighbourhood) would be good spot to honour Mr. Green. While Mr. Jasper might be correct, should it not be the community that decides this and not the Commissioners?
There are many individuals that could be honoured here. Milton Wong was a tireless advocate for both the Chinatown/Strathcona community and for the city at large, and could be a worthy choice for honouring. The park at Trillium is primarily a sports facility and could easily be used to honour the memory and accomplishments of track and field athlete Harry Jerome. The point here is that it isn’t any one individual or group of politicians who should be naming this or any other park, but rather that it should be named by members of the community to honour that community and reflect its values.
The proposal coming to the Park Board on Monday is regressive, and it would appear done in the name of expediency. The Staff report says the current process takes too long and involves too many steps. This is nonsense. Perhaps the current method takes a bit longer, but it is the way for the community to make the decision.
Sometimes democracy takes a little longer. But it is worth it.