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New West council prioritizes community belonging in its new strategic plan

Connaught Heights planning proves to be an obstacle for unanimous support of New West council’s new strategic plan
Plan endorsed: After month of discussion, New Westminster city council has voted 5-2 in favour of a new strategic priorities plan. photo City of New Westminster

New Westminster is aiming to put people at the centre of its new strategic plan – whether it’s about creating homes or providing assets folks rely on in their daily lives.

After months of discussion, council approved its new strategic priorities plan at on May 8.

“In my opinion, this is the most important document that council has put together because it dictates our work plan for the next four years,” said Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Spitale said the plan’s vision statement is that New Westminster be a vibrant, compassionate, resilient city where everyone can thrive. She said staff and council will keep that vision statement in mind with all the work they do.

The strategic plan outlines the five priorities that council and staff will focus on during its term in office:

* Community belonging and connecting: Creating a community where everyone belongs and has the opportunity to connect and contribute.

* Homes and housing options: Clearing the way for all types of homes needed today and tomorrow, prioritizing homes for those with the greatest need.

* People-centered economy: Having a local, nimble, resilient economy that serves the community.

* Safe movement of people: Prioritizing the movement of people by foot, rolling, cycle, and transit on streets that are safer for all.

* Asset management and infrastructure: Ensuring the city has resilient infrastructure that meets the community’s needs today and into the future.

“From a city staff perspective, every one of these priorities then has a staff work plan, a series of projects,” Spitale said. “In the coming meetings, we will actually bring that forward under each of the priorities.”

Along with five priority areas, all work done by the city will be viewed through several lenses: reconciliation; public engagement; climate action and environment; diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; and organizational effectiveness.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone will be discussing the strategic priorities plan and sharing council’s future vision for New Westminster at this year’s state of the city address, which is being held on Wednesday, May 24 at Starlight Casino.

Council endorses plan along party lines

In a 5-2 vote, New West city council adopted the 2023 to 2026 council strategic priorities plan at its May 8 meeting.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she’s pleased the housing issue is framed around focusing on folks who need housing the most and are most vulnerable. While people often think of cities as providing roads, sewers, parks and recreation and other services, she is pleased that the plan puts a focus on community belonging and connection.

“I think this is such a beautiful way to consider the work that we do in our community is making sure that all members of our community can feel at ‘home’ here,” she said. “I think that is truly what makes New Westminster special.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said the city wants to create a place where people who grew up in New West are able to live when they become adults, where people who have spent their working lives can remain when they become seniors and retire, and where homelessness is addressed in a compassionate and practical way.

“It’s entirely appropriate that we have a strategic plan that makes housing a priority and housing for all,” he said. “And I think that, even the most privileged of us, we have relatives or we know people who are affected by the housing crisis. So we need the city to be proactive.”

While it may not sound interesting, McEvoy said it’s also important for the city to have good asset management.

“It’s important to know what our facilities are like, where they’re at in their lifespan, what needs repair and what needs replacing, so we don’t get caught by surprise by something, right?” he said. “We don’t want to get caught by surprise by a broken sewer pipe or a water main. The city is 150 years old, we have got a lot of old stuff underground.”

Coun. Tasha Henderson, a social policy planner, said equity and justice have to be built into every city department at every level of the organization, from budgets to programs and services.

“Social planning ought not to live just on its own like a little silo, and that’s what I see reflected here,” she said. “When I look at the lenses that we’re applying to inform all of our priorities, I think it really sends a clear message that we are committed to these broader issues of equity, of climate action, of anti-racism, and reconciliation. I feel really proud about that too, because I’m not sure that every city is building that into the bones of the organization in the same way that New Westminster is.”

Henderson said the plan talks about the safe movement of people in a way that’s a shift from the traditional narrative about transportation from the movement of vehicles to the movement of people.

“When we are supporting the people who are the most vulnerable in a situation, we thereby make things better for everyone. … If we are improving the safety for people on sidewalks, roads become safer for everyone,” she said. “So, I really liked that we have centered people in this discussion.”

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said council and senior staff spent dozens of hours over the past few months discussing what they were hearing in the community and what they wanted to see accomplished over the next four years.

“One of the messages through this process is recognizing, from the last four years, that best laid plans tend to get laid aside when the world changes on you, and that we have to build in flexibility, we have to build in some understanding,” he said. “And so we tried not to get too detailed into specific items we are going to do and more about the idea of: these are our priorities, these are the areas we’re going to focus on – recognizing the world may be still throwing us curveballs over the next four years.”

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said the document has “hit the mark” from a number of perspectives. He said he’s heard from citizens and small business owners who want properly paved roads, turf fields, less traffic congestion on the streets, functioning swimming pools that work, playgrounds across the city, and safe streets and playgrounds.

“This strategic document is going to guide the city over the next three-and-a-half years, but I’m trying to convey the reality of what people want,” he said. “They appreciate the words but they also know that those words have to be translated into action.”

What about Connaught Heights?

Fontaine proposed an amendment to specifically name development around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station in the section of the strategy calling for planning of transit oriented development. He said that plan has been on the books for “way too long” and Connaught Heights residents want action.

“I think it would be very clear way for us to send a message to staff that we’re serious about this; we want to get this done and we want to get it done within the context of the strategic plan,” he said.

The majority of council voted against specifically naming work on the 22nd Street bold vision process in the document.

Nakagawa said she supports developing a plan for the 22nd SkyTrain station area and has supported that plan for some time, but thinks it would be an anomaly to name that area specifically in the more generalized plan. She said she recognizes some Connaught Heights residents are waiting on the ability for land assemble and to sell their properties.

“We have very few opportunities to look at large swaths of projects like that,” she said. “We are a built-out community, and so I want to ensure that that is done correctly and with the right process.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said the “outcomes” the city hopes to achieve with homes and housing options includes: addressing homelessness, facilitating the construction of more affordable housing, building more homes faster, allowing for infill housing to provide more housing options, and planning for transit-oriented development using a climate action lens.

“All those outcomes, I think are fairly general and don’t prioritize one project over the other projects that could happen,” he said. “I think that more homes near transit, 22nd Street station, is a logical extension of ‘more homes near transit.’ But I feel reluctant to start picking out by motion which ones would be at the top of those goals; I want to talk about how we achieve those goals in the best possible way.”

Fontaine said he was “struggling” to support the strategic priorities plan without prioritizing work in the Connaught Heights neighbourhood.

The vote about adoption of the plan was divided along party lines with Community First New West members supporting the plan (Johnstone and councillors Ruby Campbell, Henderson, McEvoy and Nakagawa) and New West Progressive councillors Fontaine and Paul Minhas voting in opposition.

You can view the plan at