Council’s recent decision to phase out the use of the term “Royal City” in the city’s branding and to develop a new brand identity has certainly been controversial – indeed, Councillor Chuck Puchmayr’s metaphor of this motion being a grenade has been picked up by regional news outlets, multiple letters for and against this change have been published by the Record, and comments on various social media threads have been replete with anger.
But this issue, however we may think about it, invites us to reflect on our sense of community in this city, both in the content of what we think our city’s branding should be and how we talk to each other about it. While this motion – passed near the end of the July 11th council meeting – posed the question of what we should value in our community and our collective sense of identity, a beautiful answer to that question was given earlier on in that meeting.
In presenting the city’s new Homelessness Action Strategy, Richard Schabler, a leader with the Community Action Network, described how his involvement with the city taught him that New Westminster has “a heart full of grace, many considerations, and helpful hands”.
There were many words spoken at Monday’s council meeting, but it was these words in particular that impacted me. I have been reflecting on them, including as I follow various discussions of the “Royal City” moniker and try to understand different perspectives.
While I am ultimately supportive of leaving this term behind, I recognize that there are certainly a complex variety of views in the community about the use of the term “Royal City,” which range from seeing this term as a hurtful relic of our colonial history to a familiar moniker tied into our sense of heritage. In the midst of disagreement, I think of the words above, and I hope that our posture toward one another in these discussions could be one of grace and consideration.
Symbols play an important role in our sense of collective identity as a community. But that sense of community is not something that we will find in the words without genuine conversation that tend to make up comment threads on social media. That sense of community will also not be found in stoking anger for the sake of political expedience.
Instead, our sense of community will primarily be found in extending grace to each other with open hearts, considering different perspectives with open minds, and seeking to build one another up with helpful hands. The truth is that I see this sense of community deeply present in many different ways within our city, and it is what makes me proud to live here.
Whether in the city’s formal engagement process or in other informal venues, I hope that there might be opportunities for community members to chat face-to-face about this issue respectfully, and perhaps even share some food with one another in these conversations. Ultimately, I hope that we might be able to genuinely hear one another as we talk about this community that we love and find a symbol in which we can all take collective pride.