Guiding Principles

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The following principles were adopted by the Downtown Partnership for Community Livability at our third meeting (July 15, 1999).



Inclusiveness and support

Stress the positive

Consider long-term and indirect impacts

Background discussion

We've got a number of different groups in downtown New Westminster, each with its own interests: downtown businesses, regional social service agencies, Douglas College, the city, the police, visitors to the downtown, downtown residents. There's also the many people who drive or take the Skytrain through New Westminster each day. Each of these groups has an interest in maintaining a healthy, livable neighborhood in downtown New Westminster. How do we want to achieve this?


We need to take responsibility for the livability of the downtown. It's easy to blame other people for problems, but it's more constructive to tackle the problems ourselves instead of spending a lot of time pointing fingers.

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.

Civility in public places

We want to "raise the bar" of civility in everyday life, not just for businesses and long-term residents, but also for short-term residents and visitors. Because downtown New Westminster is centrally located and easily accessible by Skytrain, many people travel through it each day. Almost by definition, this makes it easier for people to treat each other with less courtesy and respect: it's much easier to be rude to someone if you're not likely to see them again.

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.

Inclusiveness and support

Notwithstanding the need for responsibility and civility, we also want to be inclusive. We don't want to divide the community. In particular, we don't want to divide it along class lines.

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.

Stress the positive

Beyond simply controlling problems, we need to attract businesses and residents to the downtown! The current situation is instructive: the news coverage of the crack problem last year has left a lasting impression on the general public. Even though the problem is largely gone, the impression remains. The Sun isn't going to print a cover story saying that crack dealers are no longer being arrested in downtown New Westminster.

Consider long-term and indirect impacts

For example, in the short term, increased police presence in the downtown may drive crack dealers away. Unfortunately, this isn't a long-term solution. The crack dealers merely go somewhere else (Metrotown in Burnaby, across the river into Surrey). And it's difficult to maintain the extra police officers for the long term.

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.

Russil Wvong
June 30, 1999; last updated August 27, 1999