For example, suppose you're the manager of a downtown business, such as a bar. This might mean being responsible for the behavior of patrons once they leave, not just while they're in the bar. Or in general, businesses and social agencies taking some responsibility for the customers and clients that they have, and their impact on the neighborhood.
For residents, this might mean shopping at downtown businesses. If local businesses close down because there aren't enough customers, this also affects the livability of the neighborhood. Or participating in community activities. Or helping to keep the streets clean. Or welcoming newcomers and helping them integrate into the community. In general, taking our civic responsibilities seriously.
From the Portland experience, it's clear that civility is an important part of maintaining a community. But how to encourage it?
One approach: we can presume that the more people know each other, the more likely they'll be to treat each other with mutual respect. So it's important for people living and working in the neighborhood to get to know each other, e.g. through residents' associations, social activities (street festivals, block parties), whatever. Similarly, newcomers to the neighborhood should be made to feel welcome, that they're joining a community of people rather than simply moving into a temporary living space.
What about people who don't live here, who may be visiting New Westminster for the first time -- a bar patron, for example? Hopefully, if there's a pre-existing level of civility in the community, visitors will be more likely to follow suit. Some minimal rules -- against urinating in public places, panhandling, blocking people's access to sidewalks, noise, graffiti, littering -- can be enforced by bylaws or social pressure.
Because the downtown is central, has the Skytrain, and has affordable housing, many of the individuals and families living here are low-income: perhaps working at low-wage jobs, unemployed, single parents, new immigrants or refugees, or retired. Those of us in this situation need help from social service agencies -- which provide counselling, training, unemployment benefits, social assistance payments. In turn, social service agencies try to locate where their clients are.
We need to consider the needs of low-income individuals and families in the downtown. Affordable housing is probably the most important; also availability and effectiveness of social services. Making people feel part of the community, particularly newcomers, is also important.
The principle of inclusiveness doesn't extend to drug dealers! (Although it may be useful to think about their motivations and point of view.) In the short term, increased police presence and no-go zones may help. In the long term, the downtown is an incredibly convenient place to buy and sell drugs, because of its central location and access to Skytrain; reducing the size of the drug business permanently will require reducing the regional demand for cocaine, perhaps through more space in treatment programs and more anti-drug education.
We need to consider how to reduce the demand for cocaine (drug treatment programs, drug education programs), as well as supply (Canada's generous refugee system appears to be extremely easy for organized crime rings to take advantage of, as with the recent Honduran crack dealers; perhaps refugee claimants should be screened more carefully or detained pending identification and criminal checks). These require changes in provincial or federal policy.
Another issue which we need to consider carefully is the balance between neighborhood and regional needs. Services which meet the needs of the Lower Mainland region -- such as drug treatment programs -- need to be assessed for their impact on the livability of the downtown as a neighborhood. That isn't to say that we want to adopt a NIMBY stance, but perhaps there hasn't been enough attention paid to the livability of the downtown in the past.
June 30, 1999; last updated August 27, 1999