By Nadine Nakagawa
I hear it at festivals, at local businesses, and on the doorsteps—“I love New West.” People are passionate about this connected community, this city with a small-town vibe.
Under Mayor Jonathan Cote, New Westminster has become a regional leader on some of the most pressing issues affecting the community like housing and transportation. The city has prevented the demovictions that are plaguing neighbouring municipalities by introducing a moratorium on strata conversions.
We were the first municipality in B.C. to have a family-friendly housing policy requiring that at least 30 percent of units in new multi-family developments have two or three bedrooms. As a community in the middle of Metro Vancouver—some would call us the intersection of Greater Vancouver, others would say we are the heart of the region—our mayor and council have strongly advocated for advancing the Mayors’ Council 10-year plan to address the traffic that funnels through our community every single day.
I am running for city council for the first time and have been billed as a community leader and am the current Citizen of the Year. What does it mean to be a community leader in a city that has such strong leadership, both at the council table and within the community?
For me, leadership means deep listening. It means consulting with and supporting members of the community who are underrepresented at city-hosted engagement events. New Westminster is an incredibly diverse community, but it often doesn’t look that way based on who attends public hearings or open houses. And we don’t see that diversity represented at city council—New Westminster has yet to elect a person of colour to the council table.
It’s important to acknowledge that diversity means more than just cultural background: New Westminster is home to a vibrant LGBTQ2S+ community, the city has worked hard to improve accessibility for people with mobility limitations, and was the first council in B.C. to be deemed “dementia-friendly”. The city can continue to support all the citizens that reside here by evolving how we reach out to community members and how we engage in dialogue.
And we need to move forward with reconciliation. New Westminster is called the “Royal City” and still celebrates its colonial history. At the same time, the Qayqayt First Nation (a.k.a. the New Westminster Indian Band) is the only First Nation in Canada that has no land base. As cities and organizations across the country are removing and rethinking colonial statuary, a Judge Begbie statue looms over the New Westminster law courts without so much as a discussion about the shared history of First Nations and settlers on this land.
As a built-out community, New West needs to continue to push forward on housing solutions with creativity. We have enormous opportunities to continue supporting our burgeoning arts and culture scene that is driving New West’s reputation as a trendy destination. And we need to do all this while maintaining the small-town feel, and keeping New West the engaged and connected community that we all love.