Tonight, all but one of Vancouver Park Board Commissioners step down from their elected posts, having performed a service in the public interest that will not soon be forgotten, a service that should both be cherished and celebrated, as well as publically acknowledged on this blog, and elsewhere.
No mean feat placing yourself in the eye of the storm that is elected office, particularly in the maelstrom that is Vancouver politics.
Aaron Jasper — outgoing Chair of Park Board — Sarah Blyth, and Constance Barnes have sat on Park Board since December 2008. Their fellow Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners, Niki Sharma and Trevor Loke, joined their Vision colleagues around the Park Board table some three years later, complemented by a contingent of two Non-Partisan Association parks & rec commissioners, John Coupar and Melissa DeGenova, the former of the two of this latter group about to become — as of December 1st — the new Park Board Chair, and the ever-doggedly political Ms. DeGenova on the cusp of joining Vancouver City Council, where she is just as likely to drive her Vision Vancouver opponents at City Hall around the bend as has been the case this past three years at Park Board — with the added delight to those political observers among us who care about such things, where we will see her tear strips off Vision Vancouver city councillors Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang, in particular, in full public view. Fun times await.
Aaron Jasper. Truth to tell, I think of Aaron as a son, someone I love, and for whom I have the deepest affection. Despite Aaron's deserved reputation as a bully, this past year at the Park Board table, Aaron has impressed, performing his duties as Park Board Chairperson not just with aplomb, but with an unerring commitment to the democratic process, and with a respect for the right — nay, make that obligation — to hold fellow Park Board Commissioners to account. I am not entirely certain that Vancouver Park Board will soon again witness as skilled and compassionate a Chairperson as those of us who have attended Park Board meetings this past year have witnessed this past 10 months, with Aaron Jasper at the head of the table.
Despite the recent provocations of VanRamblings — and this blog's sometime commitment to hyperbole — with Vision Vancouver "in charge" at Park Board this past six years there has been much to celebrate ...
1. Just yesterday afternoon, at the Dunbar Community Centre Vancouver Quadra NDP nomination meeting, outgoing Park Board Commissioner Sarah Blyth was telling those assembled about the pride she felt in moving forward Park Board's "Arts in the Park" initiative, where more than 30 local artists — including internationally renowned visual artist Germaine Koh and composer/double bassist Mark Haney — were selected in 2012 to participate in the Vancouver Park Board's artist studio residency project in seven park locations, taking up residency at field house studios in Hadden, Strathcona, Slocan and Memorial South parks and at the Burrard Marina, in addition to Elm and Falaise parks. Let us all hope this worthy initiative is renewed by the NPA-dominated Park Board that is about to take office.
2. Langara Golf Course. Following a seemingly extemporaneous remark by Mayor Gregor Robertson in the spring of 2012 that he was in favour of "hiving off" half of the Vancouver Park Board-operated Langara Golf Course, so that the land might be sold off to developers for the construction of "affordable condominiums", as so often happened at Park Board, the beleaguered Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners found they'd have to deal with the fallout, with much public opprobrium.
There was politics to be played with the issue of the disposition of the Langara Golf Course — "Don'tcha know, those damned elitist golf-playin' richy-riches, they don't deserve no golf-playin' "subsidized" by our parks board" — but, following a heart-rending presentation by members of the under-parked Langara neighbourhood, Aaron Jasper moved a "metrics" motion, and lo and behold, just a few months later when Park Board staff presented the Langara Golf Course Metrics Report, Aaron Jasper moved adoption of the report, and following the unanimous consent of Park Board, work began on remedying field drainage problems, enabling year-round usage of the course by families, teenagers, seniors, and all of the other folks in the city who, just like you and me, are not "rich", but who see the efficacy of enjoying the open air and our green spaces.
3. Hastings Park. In the past three years, never was I more proud of our Vancouver Park Board than I was when Park Board unanimously adopted a motion to seek the return of jurisdiction over Hastings Park to the Vancouver Park Board — where it rightfully belongs — tearing it away from the hands of Raymond Louie, who seems for all the world to view Hastings Park not as a park, but a development opportunity.
Relating to the above, in a special August 1, 2013 meeting of Vancouver City Council, Raymond Louie (Chairman, PNE Board of Directors) led the charge to block Park Board control of all park or green spaces in the 62-hectare Hastings Park site — but not without hearing from an articulate, impassioned Aaron Jasper, and the two NPA members of Park Board.
4. Trans-and-Gender-Variant policy. By far, the most moving Vancouver Park Board meeting this past three years, was the late April 2014 meeting of the Board where all 77 recommendations of the Trans* and Gender Variant Inclusion Working Group were unanimously adopted by Park Board. Thank you to outgoing Park Board Commissioner Trevor Loke for having moved the motion one year earlier that resulted in the striking of a Park Board committee that would report out, as Trevor hoped, and serve to "greatly improve the quality of access to recreation and active health in Vancouver, and help make Vancouver the most inclusive city in the world." Mission accomplished, Mr. Loke. Mission accomplished.
5. Local Food Action Plan. The food available at concessions, and on food carts, in Vancouver parks, is of so much better quality than was the case previous to Vision Vancouver assuming control of Park Board in 2008.
Special thanks should go out to of all members of Vancouver Park Board's Local Food Assets Task Force, starting with task force co-chairs, Aaron Jasper, and Niki Sharma, the Board's Commissioner representatives.
Thanks — and a big round of applause — is also due the community members of the Local Food Assets Task Force: Park Board's Lindsay Cole; the ever-wonderful, Trish Kelly, representing the Vancouver Food Policy Council; Ian Marcuse, of the Neighbourhood Food Networks (one of my favourite people in the city); the City of Vancouver's Wendy Mendes; former Vancouver School Trustee, Kevin Millsip (also an amazing person); Ross Moster, Village Vancouver; Jamielee Ong, Rangi Changi Roots, and Kathryn Perkins, Grandview Community Centre Association.
All of our electeds at Park Board, are owed a debt of gratitude from all of those who enjoy the beauty of Vancouver's parks, and the varied services available at our community recreation centres.
Constance Barnes. Consistently the most compelling orator around the Park Board table, a true woman of the people, advocating for families, and working to ensure ready access to all facilities in our parks. Let us hope that the incoming Park Board picks up Constance's cudgel, and works to ensure that more of our parks currently without washroom facilities will have them constructed this next four years.
Trevor Loke. The most sensitive to the public will of all of the Commissioners on the Board, consistently impressive in his reasoned presentation of argument, a first-rate chair of the very difficult to navigate Park Board Committee (where all the real decision-making goes on at Park Board), and quite simply, at 26-years-of-age (Trevor celebrating his 26th just yesterday) the single most impressive young politico in Vancouver politics.
Sarah Blyth: From the beginning, an advocate for skating parks, recreational opportunities for our youth, the most human-scale of all the "politicians" around the Park Board table, a champion of the community, and for each and every one of us, Sarah was always on our side, the Commissioner who always sought the views of the public, arose from the Park Board table at breaks, and engaged with the public. Sarah's commitment to the common weal was, at all times, impressive and demonstrative of a commitment to democracy unequalled among many who practice politics in Vancouver.
Niki Sharma. Wow! What is there to say about Park Board's most thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, best-researched, most articulate before the cameras, reporters' microphones and the print media personage, what a loss of tremendous proportion it was nine days ago that Niki Sharma was not elected to Vancouver City Council, one of my very favourite candidates for Council, a person of tremendous integrity, wit, political acumen, and just an all-around incredible human being.
Aaron Jasper. Much of what I wanted to write about Aaron may be found above. Aaron proved, consistently, to be the best "advertisement" for the many initiatives undertaken by a Park Board of which he has been a member for six years, that commitment a critical aspect of a democratic engagement with the community that elected he and his fellow Vision Vancouver Park Board to two consecutive terms of majority office.
Melissa DeGenova: Killarney Seniors Centre simply wouldn't have happened without Melissa, it's just that simple. Somehow finding a way to put up with the worst treatment of an elected official I've seen in all of my 45 years on reporting out on the political scene, Melissa emerged as a populist, a tireless advocate for the public good, perhaps the most "political" of our Park Board Commissioners, but when being political means that you're committed to achieving much for your constituents ... well, Melissa practices politics, as it ought to be practiced.
John Coupar: My favourite for last? Yes, I think so. By far the most consistently reasoned and non-political voice around the table, the Park Board Commissioner who earned the respect and admiration of all those who sat around the Park Board table, and the many thousands who attended Park Board meetings this past three years, in my three years observing John Coupar and Park Board, and in our many calls and the times we've spent together away from the Park Board table, John Coupar has proved always to be the fairest and most equitable in his judicious and humane commentary about Park Board, and his Park Board collleagues, John's outstanding commitment to the maintenance and growth of our parks and our green spaces, was more acute and impassioned than any Park Board Commissioner I've witnessed in Park Board history dating back decades.
Tonight at Park Board — amidst the hubbub of contention — will be a night for a public display of thanks, well-earned and well-deserving of gratitude, to our outgoing and very, very fine Vancouver Park Board Commissioners.
Thank you to each and every one of you. Job well done.
Posted by Raymond Tomlin at November 24, 2014 5:44 PM in Park Board