Archive for September, 2006

White Rock: Smoke-free by 2010

September 16, 2006

All public spaces in White Rock – indoor and outdoor – should be smoke-free by 2010. This would allow businesses a transition period and give advance notice of the change so that it isn’t a surprise to citizens and visitors. Some measures should be implemented each year leading up to the year 2010 – starting with a ban of smoking on restaurant patios in 2007.

disparate impact

September 11, 2006

Jared Diamond, in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, writes about the differing fortunes of Haiti and the Dominican Republic despite the two countries sharing the same island.

“While [...] environmental differences did contribute to the different economic trajectories of the two countries, a larger part of the explanation involved social and political differences, of which there were many that eventually penalized the Haitian economy relative to the Dominican economy. In that sense, the differing development of the two countries were overdetermined: numerous separate factors coincided in tipping the result in the same direction.” (pg 339)

I find that last line very interesting – many things seeming to be totally unrelated all contributing to the same result. I see that often from my role as a City Councillor.

I also find myself thinking about the same idea in reverse. What about single policies or projects that have a range of impacts otherwise unrelated and difficult to anticipate?

Sometimes it’s very challenging to motivate people to make changes when they see the benefits as being very small. The sum of the many small benefits is hard to appreciate when those pieces appear so far apart.


September 10, 2006

My thoughts after viewing the Arthur Erickson show at the Vancouver Art Gallery…

Our pioneer mentality that we must conquer nature is suicidal. It is creating an environment that is alien, dirty, and dangerous.

Must our cities be a subversion of nature, a denial of the local geography, environment, ecosystem?

This Arthur Erickson speech from 1972 sounds like it could have been made last year and been just as relevant.

Our self-destructive path begins with the way we plan our transportation systems and public spaces.

On a separate, but arguably related issue, Erickson says, “there has never been a device which embodied greater antipathy to the idea of community than the North American grid…”

smaller is better

September 9, 2006

Some people tell me that White Rock is too small to be viable, too small to be efficient, and should or will inevitably have to rejoin Surrey. I used to be resigned to this as being a real possibility. And I thought, really what’s the difference in a resident’s day-to-day life? They will still call this area White Rock, just like Cloverdale, Ocean Park and Crescent Beach all have their own established unique identities. But now I see how being small gives an advantage to something that cannot be measured in dollars and cents: democracy.

In White Rock, the city is small enough that you have a good chance of bumping into an elected official on the street or in the grocery store. If you have a problem with a city service, you don’t have to leave your community to solve it. You can actually talk with the people making decisions. The staff and elected representatives have a relatively high degree of awareness of your neighbourhood. There aren’t multiple layers of receptionists and assistants between you and the city manager, city planner, or a city councillor. The city is small enough that you can expect personal attention. It’s reasonable to expect to be heard. That creates a stage for good citizen participation in governance and public decision-making.

But what about the money?

Though I haven’t studied it, my belief, after watching how White Rock works from the inside, is that there actually would not be a significant net decrease in staff if White Rock were to amalgamate with Surrey. The only way that would happen is if there were a reduction in service, which of course could happen without amalgamation. The work being done by White Rock staff is work that would have to be completed regardless of the jurisdiction’s size. Unless there are staff in Surrey sitting around needing more to do, I don’t see how White Rock’s staff wouldn’t still be required.

While there would be some advantages and improvements in service due to amalgamation, such as garbage and recycling picked up on the same day every week, there are disadvantages and reductions in service (such as the police per person ratio) that would probably make you want to go back to paying the extra 10-15% on your taxes to be a smaller city. This series of observations and assumptions seems validated by second-hand information that the big-city mergers in the east didn’t actually result in any net savings. Money that was saved in one area had to be increased in others.

If amalgamation simply results in decision-making further removed from residents in their neighbourhoods and diluted elected representation, I don’t see it being worth losing that kind of democratic ideal in hopes of a small monetary savings.

As can be seen in how Surrey is developing, obviously the expectation of better coordinated planning is not a certainty within a larger city. I suggest Surrey is too large. Surrey should 4 cities: Whalley, Cloverdale, White Rock, and Newton. Newton should amalgamate with a separated portion of North Delta. Cloverdale should amalgamate with Langley City and a portion of Langley Township. And White Rock and South Surrey should be a city unto itself. To provide for those efficiencies in operations that might be lost, and to ensure better coordination of services and planning, I see a stronger role for the regional government. This would be an expansion of current practice. Cities already team up to buy some products in bulk, negotiate labour contracts, provide delivery of public transportation, drinking water, sanitary sewer and air quality services.

I believe one of White Rock’s greatest disadvantages is that it doesn’t have the capacity to hire experts to help find new solutions in urban and social planning. Surrey is beginning to invest in that type of expertise, but the region as a whole relies heavily on the City of Vancouver to provide that type of leadership. Their taxpayers pay for the research and pilot projects, then the smaller cities learn from them. But this really should be a function of the regional government. That would shift the cost of that research, and the benefit, more equitably throughout the region.

I believe the model of local government described above would facilitate both greater access for citizens to decision-making and decision makers, and improve local service with better coordination regionally.

So, instead of asking, “is White Rock too small?”, maybe the question should be “is Surrey too big?”


September 6, 2006

The following are excerpts from a pdf promoting The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation a book by Daniel Yankelovich. He is the “public opinion expert” who guided a pivotal public process which resulted in the citizens of San Diego accepting the creation of a regional district government, despite a local cultural adversity to government.

“Dialogue differs from debate, discussion and deliberation. In debate, participants compete to win, defending one’s views against others and searching for conclusions that ratify one’s position. In dialogue, participants collaborate toward a common understanding, exploring common ground and listening to find agreement.

“Dialogue is essential for transforming conflict into cooperation. It requires the absence of coercive influences (all participants must be treated as equals), listening with empathy, and bringing assumptions into the open. He documents how dialogue can achieve results by building trust and understanding.

“Most people have two purposes for dialogue: to strengthen personal relationships and to solve problems. Today, the second purpose is growing in importance: increasingly, we find ourselves facing problems requiring more shared understanding than in the past… Traditional top-down styles of leadership in semi-isolation from others is increasingly out of vogue. It is being replaced by what I have come to think of a “relational leadership” with others, rather than handing down visions, strategies, and plans as if they were commandments from the mountaintop.

“in this diverse and less hierarchical world, decision-makers need to learn to argue less and dialogue more. In this sense, he is giving practical advice to help realize John Gardner’s wisdom that some people just need a “good listening to.”

words from “Mapping Dialogue”

Pioneers Of Change produced an excellent research document on different methods used to engage a community in decision-making from around the world.

principles: “how would we like to be together as we pursue our purpose?”

dialogue: “conversation with a centre, not sides”

freedom: “you should have the maximum degree of freedom as long as it is not at the expense of the freedom of others.”

roots of nastiness

September 4, 2006

Everyone knows that greed is the root of all evil. It’s used to explain why a developer would destroy a neighbourhood – they swoop in, make tons of money, then disappear leaving a mess behind – all for the sake of that intoxicating, corrupting profit.

The dictionary defines “greed” as an intense and selfish desire. Many times I’ve heard that greed makes people blind to the obvious and do things that don’t make sense in the long run. I agree. I believe it’s well demonstrated by hypocrisy and greed often arriving as a pair. It’s amazing how people’s perceptions of greed can be projections of their own intense and selfish desires.

If translated into the language of 9 year old, disagreements between neighbours and a prospective developer would often sound like a lot of name-calling and, “I know you are but what am I”. But really, doesn’t it take one to know one?

My advice? Don’t talk about the developer. Talk about the development. Don’t talk about what you don’t want. Talk about the qualities of what you do want. And please don’t fling the “greedy” label. Name-calling never helps.