Over the, coming up, 12 years in politics, I have had countless opportunities to meet with the public and explore the issues that are relevant to them. Much of this has been done through informal conversations out in the community, emails, traditional letters (yes, we still get those!), phone calls, presentations to council, public hearings, or delegations to our meetings. Yet one of my favourite venues is the committee structures that involve citizens and promote the engagement of citizens in solutions.
Due to the Joint Leisure Agreement between the District of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and the School District, I was serving on municipal committees long before I became a councilor, as I was able to be the school board liaison for both the municipal Social Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC), and the Parks and Leisure Commission. I mention these two committees, because they both have citizens- at- large on the committees and are two key areas within the municipality that actively engage in a community development model, called “Community Solutions”. This model found its roots at the SPAC table almost two decades ago, and because our municipality had the foresight to combine Parks and Leisure and Social Planning under the same department, the model’s strength has been maximized via use in both areas. The key to the model is that it engages citizens in finding solutions to concerns within their neighbourhood, and that it is citizen led.
For example, the Port Haney neighbourhood, which is south of Lougheed stretching east in the downtown core area, struggled with some properties that were facilitating increased criminal activities. (If you haven’t heard of the Northumberland issue, one would guess you live in a cave. But knowing we don’t have a zoning by-law for cave-dwelling, you probably just don’t read the local paper. Regardless, suffice to say, Northumberland was not a nice place.) To combat this, using the Community Solutions model, council gave $15,000 to support a neighbourhood development process, whereby the neighbours reconstituted the historical name of Port Haney and put some strategies in place to rejuvenate the family nature that had been lost to the criminal element. Not all of what they identified could be done by the citizens alone, but with the support of policing, municipal staff and council’s re-development plan for the downtown core, this area is moving forward under the stewardship of the neighbourhood association. Council has the full expectation that this area will be revitalized. But most importantly, the citizens will have determined the path and the end result.
To quote the over used, but very applicable Margaret Mead quote, “Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of people to change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has.”
The Port Haney group is doing just that in their part of the world. I hope that you are inspired to make a difference in your neighbourhood if you feel there is something that could benefit from the goodwill of a small group of dedicated people.
By the way, Northumberland should be completely torn down by mid October and the new building will hopefully be under construction next year.