30 May 2012

A crappy way to treat a neighbourhood

May 30, 2012 CityCaucus.com
A crappy way to treat a neighbourhood
Riverfront Park, seen from Romer's Burger Bar

A former park commissioner watches a waterfront park lose its lustre

The Fraserlands neighbourhood in southeast Vancouver is truly a hidden gem. Riverfront pathways meander along the Fraser and awesome bike paths make access to the outdoors very easy. The neighbourliness is something I have not experienced anywhere else in the city. This camaraderie might be due to the accessibility of outdoor activities, so that one tends to see more of their neighbours.

When I moved here the City, through the Park Board, had a dedicated gardener for Riverfront Park—a green space extending along the Fraser from the foot of Victoria Dr. all the way to Kerr St. The paths, verges, lawns and fields were well maintained and the gardens bloomed throughout the summer with a riot of colour. Picnickers and sports enthusiasts flocked here year round. Along the bike path, which runs the length of the railroad tracks, the grass was trimmed and the shrubs were pruned regularly – 3 to 4 times per season – making this a model neighbourhood.

This all changed with the election of a Vision Vancouver majority to both City Hall and the Park Board. Since Vision was elected in 2008 they have cut the parks maintenance budget every year. In my neighbourhood this has meant that the dedicated gardener has vanished, the gardens are neglected and the lawns and fields have been cut fewer times. The picnic area is often covered in litter and the garbage cans overflow. Along the boulevards and verges the grass and shrubs have not been maintained at all. This has resulted in a sharp increase in the amount of litter and even household garbage piling up.

When the City no longer takes pride in its property, people tend to disrespect it as well. Several times I have seen individuals urinating on the verges and in the park, and this morning I saw someone defecating along the bike path—simply because he thought he could not be seen hidden by the uncut grass. A few years ago the Park Board talked about closing washrooms—seems some people thought they had.

I called 3-1-1 (thanks Sam!) and was told a Streets crew would come out within the next week to ‘take a look’, but I really don’t think it should take someone defecating in front of my home to get the city to clean up its land. Some of my neighbours are so disgusted by the lack of maintenance that they have started guerrilla gardens—a move I applaud. A motion I brought to the Board last term allows them to do this, but unless they are granted approval from the City they run the risk of losing their flower beds.

I have always encouraged people to help keep their neighbourhoods clean. I have participated in neighbourhood and beach clean-ups and I have supported neighbourhood gardens. However, if the City doesn’t do its part in keeping neighbourhoods clean, trim, and safe, neighbourhoods will continue to deteriorate. Then citizens will become increasingly alienated from each other and our gorgeous city will lose its charm and beauty. It’s time the city made neighbourhoods a priority. We pay taxes for a safe, clean and beautiful city, let’s spend them to keep Vancouver a livable city.

published 30 may 2012 @ www.citycaucus.com

1 comment:

  1. Christopher JK Richardson, FCAMay 31, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    Thank you Stuart — always ‘Commissioner Mackinnon’.

    Your example is but one of a number of ‘adjustments’ to the Park Board priorities that seem to have been implemented without public consultation and conversation — and all seem to be the result of recent severe budget reductions from Vancouver City Hall.

    Other examples include various unjustified and undebated ‘efficiency’ reorganizations that are significantly impacting ‘services to the public’, staff morale and the ability of the Park Board to contribute to the ‘lack of neighbourliness or community’ that the Vancouver Foundation has recently identified as being of grave concern.

    A number of decisions were made in the last several years without any or full debate as they were ‘temporary’ but with the ‘unexpected’ budget cuts these have become permanent. I truly believe that change is worthwhile when properly researched, based upon documented experience and explained but the historic process of managing change at the PB seems to have been lost — or at least not fully communicated. One primary example is the recent twinning of community centre supervision. I firmly believe that coorperation and consistency is healthy but not at the expense of serving the public and being that neighbourhood catalyst serving to bring some dialogue and service / programming cooperation with other very worthwhile service-providers in the neighbourhood such as neighbourhood houses, childcare facilities, libraries, schools, Ys etc. The recent PB recognition of being but one of a number of providers contributing to healthy communities is going to be lost before this ‘awakening’ can provide result. Another very recent example is childcare — on one hand the PB rejection of the much sought and excellent services that are Community Centre Association offered that has ended with the hiring of Malcolm Bromley from Toronto is being undermined by other PB decisions and City processes. This may be unintended but still unfortunate.

    I firmly believe that ‘stepping back’ or making time to plan is very productive but I see examples everyday of decisions being made that lack the necessary discipline, thought and institutional memory to ensure that they are appropriate.

    In all this — staff are one’s major resource — it is essential that proper professional development, support, supervision, internal promotion and advancement and career management be available to attract, retain, motivate and encourage staff and volunteers.

    Now don’t get me started — but with the recent moves to once again acknowledge and recognize volunteers and the long-standing partnerships that have developed since the Vancouver Baord of Parks and (Public) Recreation partnered with various community association that began the neighbhourhood / community Centre building processes in the late 1940′s and 1950′s ( not the other way around ) … I am hopeful that the time, efforts and frustrations ( over the last 12 years ) can be set aside and we can finally get back to serving our neighbours and publics.

    OK now I have vented and I can get back to my real vocation.

    NOTE — my comments are my own and personal for which I take full responsibility — those of a proud former Vancouver Park and Recreation Commissioner — 1986-1990 and 1999-2002 and the current President of the Mount Pleasant Community Association and as such they have not necessarily been discussed, debated or endorsed by the MPCCA Board.

    I would love to continue this discussion but if it will take more that 20 minutes we will have to go for a walk ….

    Thank you Stuart once again.