Aaron Jasper: Citizen participation is the key to responsive and sustainable park board policy
Three years ago I decided to build on my many years as a neighbourhood advocate to run for park board commissioner. I decided to do this because, like many of you at that time, I felt that the park board’s view of “public engagement” was an afterthought and not an integral part of their decision making process.
As a West End resident involved with the redevelopment of Nelson Park, I was dismayed to find a culture of “no” and “we don’t do that”. The park board at that time was isolated from the people affected by their decisions. I felt inspired to build a park board that embraced collaboration and was premised on questions like: What is possible? What is strong and how can we make it stronger? What works and how can we make it better for the surrounding communities?
Reflecting on our first term in office, there are a few examples of this new approach that stick out in my mind. Earlier this year, a premature notice of elm tree removal just off of Commercial Drive was posted by park board arborists. Residents, who felt that they hadn’t been properly consulted, were understandably upset.
I, along with the park board general manager, turned this concern into an opportunity by forming a joint working group with residents to manage tree stewardship in the neighbourhood and designing a template for a citywide urban forest management plan.
When the opportunity arose to develop a new strategic plan, for the first time, the board consulted extensively with all its partners on what they felt should be the vision and goals of the park board over the next five years. Groups such as the community centre associations, the Field Sports Federation, the Stanley Park Ecology Society as well as front line staff and residents were invited to several town hall sessions across the city to share their stories and their priorities.
In 2010, we enacted a “no smoking” bylaw for all Vancouver parks, playgrounds, and beaches. In collaboration with community partners, we planted three fruit orchards, expanded the number of community gardens throughout the city and opened Vancouver’s first fully accessible playground at Kitsilano Beach.
Despite challenging fiscal circumstances arising from the global recession, I am proud that my Vision colleagues and I have ensured the accessibility of quality, affordable programming throughout our city’s parks and recreation system.
Our pools, rinks, and community centres have all remained open. Our playing fields, neighbourhood parks, and destination parks are still being mowed. Flower beds in Queen Elizabeth and Stanley parks are still being tended to and all park washrooms have remained open.
Working with Mayor Gregor Robertson, the Vision-led park board secured $16 million in federal infrastructure funding in 2010. This allowed us to build two artificial turf fields, install lights and washrooms at Trillium sports fields, fully renovate Grandview, Norquay, and Fraserview parks, make much needed repairs to the seawall, and complete the new visitor centre at VanDusen Botanical Gardens.
Our biggest challenge over the next 10 years will be the renewal of our aging recreation infrastructure. Using the Marpole community centre renewal as an example, the park board needs to look for opportunities to integrate our facilities with other agencies such as libraries, childcare, and housing. We also need to explore new opportunities such as the rink and childcare proposal in Northeast False Creek.
Over the next three years, I would like to see the park board work with its park partners to expand on its traditional role of parks and recreation by expanding the artistic and cultural opportunities at community centres, enhancing the habitat and biodiversity of our parks, and playing a leadership role in developing sustainable urban food systems.
I am proud of the changes we are making to better include the public in the future of their parks and recreational facilities. If my Vision colleagues and I are re-elected in November, the Vancouver park board will continue to operate in a fashion that values partnership and embraces the input and participation of residents as part of all considerations.
Elected to the park board in 2008 with Vision Vancouver, Aaron Jasper has served as chair for the past two years. He is also the liaison to several community centres, the Hasting Park Conservancy, the Vancouver Food Policy Council, and the Vancouver Planning Commission. Jasper lives in the West End with his wife, Arminder, and their daughter and works in residential real estate.