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Opinion: New West must fix 'rapidly deteriorating situation' downtown

'Hope is not a strategy'
Columbia Street in New Westminster.


Re: New West takes action to address concerns about liveability, Record News

Hope is not a strategy.

Yet, sadly, that pretty much sums up the most recent attempt by our elected officials at city hall who continue to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the rapidly deteriorating situation unfolding in our once vibrant and active downtown.

To label a recent staff report endorsed by Mayor Jonathan Cote as a strategy would be laughable, if it were not for the sad reality this has become life or death for so many homeless people, and a critical situation for many of our small business owners who are teetering on the brink of financial ruin.

If you haven’t been downtown lately, you’re not alone. If the prospect of ill-timed sewer construction on Columbia Street in the middle of a global pandemic wasn’t enough, no doubt significantly increased crime, open drug use and the use of side streets as open toilets might be.

Our elected officials can’t blame COVID-19 for this one. It wasn’t the pandemic that triggered shuttered buildings which have sat empty for years. Our downtown has been neglected for well over a decade by elected officials who clearly lack vision, foresight and have run out of ideas regarding how to get things moving in a positive direction once again.

They often seem more interested in passing motions and endlessly debating topics that have more to do with provincial, federal and international politics rather than dealing with the critical issues facing them right at home.

Cote should be rolling up his sleeves, collaborating with the private sector and getting council to come up with real solutions that will address the root causes of what we are witnessing on our streets. Rather, he is now openly musing about local taxpayers coming to the rescue.

In a recent interview with the CBC’s Our Vancouver, Cote offered a glimpse into one possible solution being cooked up to revitalize our downtown. He suggested if there was an identified need, city taxpayers may start buying up those privately owned derelict and underused buildings in our downtown.

As they say, hope is not a strategy. In the case of New Westminster, even our supposed strategy falls far short of what is needed to get our historic downtown back on its feet again. 

Daniel Fontaine, New Westminster

Editor’s note: Daniel Fontaine ran for city council on the New West Progressives slate in the last civic election.