[The following post constitutes the first part of a two-part series to be published today and tomorrow, on the rationale for VanRamblings' Vancouver Park Board Endorsements, the issues with which our incoming 2014 Park Board Commissioners will be confronted, and how the platforms of the three civic parties who have received a VanRamblings endorsement will impact on the resolution of the issues that will come before Park Board. In Part 2 of the Vancouver Park Board series, readers will find an apology to independent Park Board candidates, Jamie Lee Hamilton and James Buckshon — who we know to be persons of passion & integrity & immense caring for our parks — for having left them off our endorsements list.]
As the Vancouver Park Board watchdog (so named by The Courier's Sandra Thomas), VanRamblings is in a unique position to identify the issues that Park Board will confront in the next term, 2014 through 2018, and of all the candidates who are running for the position of Park Board Commissioner — and, who are likely to garner favour with the voters — we believe will best serve the interests of the citizens of Vancouver during the next four year term at Vancouver's cherished, 128-year-young, Vancouver Park Board.
First and foremost is John Coupar, already a sitting Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Park Board Commissioner. Over the course of the past three years, I have come to know John very well, as a man of uncommon intelligence and compassion, articulate and achingly bright and principled, whose love (and knowledge) of our parks and recreation system is unparalleled among any of my acquaintances — and I know and am close to COPE's Anita Romaniuk, long my mentor and teacher on all things Park Board. Yet I am still able to designate John Coupar as the most passionate and knowledgeable on all things Park Board among all of my acquaintances who possess a love for our city's parks and recreation system.
Married to the love of his life, Heather, for some 35 years now, John — a native of Vancouver — raised his 2 children in the Dunbar neighbourhood. As his children grew and left the family nest, a few years back, John and Heather downsized, moving into the Village on False Creek, considered by many to be one of the greenest communities on the continent.
A past president of the Friends of the Bloedel Association, and past governor of the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, John has long been a passionate advocate for horticultural excellence in parks and green spaces, his passion arising as a result of the times spent in his youth with his father Charles, a renowned horticulturalist who served the Vancouver Park Board with distinction for 42 years.
John Coupar is perhaps most well known for his successful effort to save Vancouver's Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, his work on that project catapulting him into elected office as Park Board Commissioner, in November 2011's Vancouver civic election.
In his initial term of office at Park Board, John was the first to identify Vision Vancouver's egregious, inchoate decision to pave over a significant portion of Hadden and Kitsilano Beach parks, as he went on to play a key role in defeating Vision Vancouver's proposal of a 12-foot-wide asphalt bike path through two of Vancouver's most venerated west side parks, a well-used recreational resource for citizens across the Metro Vancouver region.
If there is one wish that I could have fulfilled in this election, it would be that John Coupar become our next Park Board Chairperson, leading an activist group of parks and recreation advocate Park Board Commissioners, who together would work toward restoring the beauty of Vancouver's parks, long untended to and desecrated by a Vision Vancouver-led Park Board, who have proven more interested in scoring political brownie points with Vancouver City Manager Dr. Penny Ballem and their "betters" at City Hall, the Vision Vancouver councillors who sit around the Council table.
Three anecdotes about John that will provide insight into the man ...
- The most common sentiment you'll hear expressed by members of the public in attendance at Park Board meetings who, after listening to the deliberations of the Commissioners on the issue of contention that has brought them to the Park Board offices, are most often wont to say, "John Coupar, he's the green advocate at the Park Board table, he's the advocate for the public, not the Vision commissioners. I voted for Vision last time because I wanted to leave a green legacy for my children and grandchildren. Never again. In 2014, I will vote for John Coupar, and anyone on the team he is running with!"
- Last spring, when the gender-variant policy was presented to Park Board, the most moving address to those gathered in a crowded Park Board conference meeting room was that given by John Coupar, who thanked all of those who had presented to Park Board on an issue of importance to each person in attendance, and to him, saying in part, "Sitting on Park Board for the past almost three years has proven to be the most enlightening and moving experience of my life, and never more so than was the case this evening. I want you to know that you have an advocate in me, and in my fellow Park Board Commissioner, Melissa De Genova, that we will fight for you, we will fight for inclusivity in our parks and in our community centres. Working together with all of the Commissioners around the table, I commit to you today that our parks and community centres will become welcoming and safe havens for you, where you will be respected always. I look forward to working together with you, and with Park Board staff, on the early implementation of all facets of the gender-variant policy on which you have worked so hard, and has proved of such service to our community. Throughout my life, I have made a commitment to inclusivity, fairness and equity — let us work together, go forward and write a new chapter in our social and political history, as we work toward a community of comfort, respect and acceptance that serves the interests of all of our citizens."
- One morning, in the spring of this year, I received a call from John, asking if I might meet with him near his home in the Olympic Village. I hopped on my bike, and about half an hour later, the two of us met at Terra Breads, and following a late morning repaste, John and I set out on a walk from the village to Yaletown, adjacent to the waters of south False Creek, along the winding path past Science World, Concord Pacific's contentious sales centre, through until we reached Yaletown.
Along the way, John pointed out the invasive species that had choked out the trees and shubbery that had been planted at the time of the construction the Olympic village. The path on which we walked was overgrown with untended to, 6-foot high weeds along the centre median, and on the north side of the Science Centre, on the fenced off area between the path and early spring blue waters of False Creek were strewn a motley assortment of shopping carts, blankets and water-soaked and torn mattresses, and every kind of garbage imaginable, most of which had clearly found a home of some long duration, ignored by the city and by Park Board — not because Park Board General Manager Malcolm Bromley, and Vancouver's first-rate (and lovers of our parks) Park Board staff, had failed in their duties to the citizens of Vancouver in keeping the paths and lands adjacent to the waters of False Creek free of unwelcome detritus, but rather because a Vision Vancouver Park Board led by Aaron Jasper, and before that Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes, had allowed the lands around False Creek to fall into a state of abandon, as they pursued the "higher" political goals of attempting to rename our parks after Vision Vancouver financial supporters, plan a foreshore destroying seawall 'seaside greenway' bike path from Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach, or to hive off half of the well-utilized and much-loved by the community, Langara Golf Course — green space of value to all members in the Langara community in an under-parked neighbourhood, we learned on the night 150 angry Langara residents turned up at Park Board to oppose the destruction of the golf course in favour of "low cost", Gregor Robertson-endorsed $1.8 million dollar affordable condominiums, while the other half of the golf course would become a "new" park.
Langara residents weren't buying it, as pandemonium broke out at the Park Board office that night, as so often has proved the case before a discredited Vision Vancouver-led Park Board.
That overcast, still chilly, now spring afternoon, John turned to me as we headed back toward the village from Yaletown, and with an audible sigh said to me, "You know, Ray, if I am given the opportunity to become the next Chairperson of the Park Board, all that we have seen today on our walk will be remedied and repaired, invasive species that destroy the beauty of our parks will be a thing of the past. Sometimes, I reflect on what the reaction of my father might be to the disregard of our parks and recreation system under a Vision-led administration at Park Board — I know he wouldn't be happy to see his service and his legacy to our city so abused, our parks and all the trees in our parks so mistreated. Our staff at Park Board are world class, as caring and committed a cadre of park preservationists as I've ever had the privilege to work with. But with millions of dollars of cuts to our Park Board budget, with the priorities of Park Board placed on everything but the maintenance of our parks, Park Board staff are overwhelmed with all that needs doing, and chairperson after Vision chairperson has prioritized political initiatives that have little or nothing to do with maintaining our parks, and everything to do with promoting an agenda they think will serve their political supporters.
Please forgive me, but I have to say that I am more than a little disquieted with what we've seen today. I hope the people of Vancouver might see their way clear someday to electing a Park Board who will become true stewards of our parks and recreation system, and not political apparatchiks whose duty is not to the citizens of Vancouver, but to their political masters from whom they take instruction."
Please vote for John Coupar when you mark your ballot at the polling station. And please give consideration, as well, to voting for the candidates whose names appear at the top of today's VanRamblings' post — for those identified persons of conscience will work with John to restore the lush beauty of our parks and resolve, once and for all, the years-long Vision Vancouver-led dispute between Park Board and our community centres.
Part 2 of VanRamblings' Vancouver Park Board Endorsements List Rationale will appear Wednesday morning.
Posted by Raymond Tomlin at November 11, 2014 7:05 AM in Decision 2014