New West “connects to the future” with WiFi network

The success of New Westminster’s WiFi pilot project has city council looking into expanding the service to more locations throughout the city.

The service was debuted at the public library, Queen’s Park Arena and Arenex and the Uptown business corridor in July 2010. Last spring, city hall and Century House were added when the coverage expanded. The trial wrapped up in August.

According to a report released today, the project, which was a collaborative effort by the city’s electrical utility and informational technology services division, attracted an average of 2,500 users per month.

The WiFi technology provided stable, reliable Internet access, and survey feedback from city employees and the public was generally positive.

“The performance speed and throughput of the 802.11n WiFi network has been excellent and one of the fastest public hotspots in the Lower Mainland,” said the report. “The availability of WiFi at our municipal facilities and arenas was very much welcomed by our patrons and other public users.”

Despite assurances from Health Canada and provincial health agencies, some people still expressed concerns over potential health risks of the network.

Survey respondents were also divided about how much the service should cost. While more than half said it should be free, all but three per cent said the cost should be kept under $20.

The pilot project also involved the testing of a wireless parking meter and WiFi-enabled phones for Canada Games Pool staff. Both were aimed at saving monthly telephone carrier charges were the initiative to become more widespread.

“The wireless applications tested seemed to work well and could potentially help improve municipal operational efficiencies in some areas,” said the report.

Council will continue to look at ways to expand the service in the coming months.

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New Westminster votes to expand food scraps program

New Westminster residents are changing the way they dispose of their waste.

On Monday, city council approved a motion that would see the city’s existing food scraps program expand to apartments and townhouses by July 1, making New Westminster the first in the region to offer organic waste collection for both single- and multi-family units.

“New Westminster has definitely made a lot of progress with respect to recycling over the past number of years and really become a leader in Metro Vancouver,” said Coun. Jonathan Cote. “Although a lot of our programs that we’ve implemented so far have targeted single-family neighbourhoods, a large number of residents in New Westminster live in multi-family units and this is obviously the next big opportunity for New Westminster to pursue.”

Adoption of the multi-family food scraps program follows a six-month pilot project involving six buildings located throughout the city.

Brochures about recycling and composting were distributed to building residents and food scraps receptacles were placed alongside garbage bins.

According to a city report, “Every participating building … requested additional totes to facilitate increased recycling demands,” with a 25 per cent reduction in waste being diverted from the landfill during the pilot project. One building cut its waste in half.

Council also discussed the possibility of expanding the city’s waste collection services to multi-family units, which are currently serviced almost exclusively by private firms.

“It’s something we should maybe look at … whether or not there’s a cost benefit for the city to do it rather than contracting it out,” said Coun. Bill Harper. “We do service the entire residential component of the city but we don’t service [multi-family units].”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr pointed out that expanding the city’s waste collection service to include apartments and townhomes could be both financially and environmentally sound.

“Having all these different firms picking up garbage, we may have two or three trucks a day going to different buildings when we could have one vehicle going to all of the buildings,” he said. “I’m wondering if there’s a way we can coordinate or provide a service that has a smaller carbon footprint by virtue of the trucks that are needed so the wear and tear on our road infrastructure [is minimized].”

Puchmayr also floated the idea of developing improved recycling and food waste programs for the commercial properties serviced by the city.

With 40 per cent or more of Metro Vancouver’s waste stream attributed to organic waste, New Westminster’s food scraps programs aim to significantly reduce the amount being taken to landfills.

Since the program debuted last year, waste diversion rates for single-family units have increased dramatically to 59 per cent, compared with 40 per cent in 2010 and 31 per cent in 2009. The amount left at the city’s recycling depot has dropped by nearly 1,000 metric tonnes.

The target set out under Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Challenge is to reach a minimum of 70 per cent waste diversion by 2015.

Queen’s Park gets its very own master plan

Queen’s Park will turn 125 next year, and city council thinks it’s high time some changes were made. So, because it’s terribly en vogue right now, they’re drawing up a master plan for it.

Much like the city’s Transportation Master Plan, the QPMP development process will span several months and involve lots and lots of steps, committee meetings and public consultation. The parks and rec department is calling the first public input session an “ideas event” and it’s set to take place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the QP arena lobby (and remote locations around the park — intriguing.)

Queen’s Park is kind of a funny place. As a kid, it seemed huge. The section east of the road was so wild and expansive and ripe for exploring. Now? Not so much. Finley and I can do two, sometimes three loops of the Millenium Trail/1st Street in a 40-minute run. I’m familiar with every tree, every picnic table, every tennis court, every squirrel. I know the pathways and roads, paved and unpaved, like the lines that crisscross my palm.

So, as someone who has played, walked, ran, tobogganed and become very, very well-acquainted with the park over the past 20 years, do I have any ideas for how the park could be improved? Why yes, yes I do. I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with the buildings. For a so-called green space, Queen’s Park has a lot of concrete. The main gate at the foot of 3rd Avenue is probably the best/worst example: swathes of cracked asphalt parking lots, the arena and arenex (WordPress is telling me that this is not a word. To me, it simply means “gymnastics”) and the stadium. I’m not suggesting we get rid of these historic landmarks (with the arena’s new wooden floor, heaven’s no!) but I do think the area could be tidied up a bit, made to look a bit more presentable, given that it’s most people’s point of entry to the park. The parking area behind the arena is especially hideous.

I also think that the playground areas have gone downhill since my merry-go-round days. Queen’s Park used to have one of the best playgrounds going, with its high wooden platforms and super fast zip line, but all that has been traded in for the same cookie-cutter play structures you see everywhere else. Even the swing sets have shrunk (and not just because I got bigger). Safety is important, for sure, but so is risk. I happen to be writing an article all about this, so I won’t get into it here, but if I were in charge, I’d bring back the ladders and the merry-go-round and the firefighters pole and the fun.

And in a surprise move, I think I’d also vote to get rid of the petting zoo. I know, I know, baby bunnies. I love them too, but I honestly feel that the petting zoo is past its prime. It sits empty for 8 or 9 months of the year, and it kind of seems to be… rotting? In a park where so much space is taken up by unnecessary concrete and maintenance yards, green space is at a premium. We don’t need the potbellied pig barn. And the baby calf they get every year just seems really, really unfortunate. Let’s let it stay in Aldergrove this summer where it belongs.

Ultimately, I’m pretty happy to have a place like Queen’s Park a 3-minute walk from my house. It’s changed very, very little in the 20 years that I’ve lived here and if it were to remain the same for the next 20, I don’t think I’d have much of a problem with that. But as a gem in New Westminster’s royal crown (oh god…) I also think we have a responsibility to keep it polished and pristine. It’s pretty great as it is, but it could be even better.

Grade 5 book gets go-ahead

City council has granted the school board’s $3,000 request to print an additional two-year supply of the grade 5 resource book “My New Westminster: a Neighbourhood History.”

The book, originally funded as a 150th anniversary project and authored and illustrated by Literacy Visual Arts Coordinator (yes, we have one of those) Jill Doyle, explains the history of New Westminster and tells the story of each of the city’s neighbourhoods and schools.

At Monday night’s council meeting, students from Lord Tweedsmuir Community School brought smiles to the trustees’ faces with enthusiastic speeches they had prepared about the book.

“I think this book is great because it is not a textbook,” said Ben, a grade 5 student. “We can fit it into our desk easily and we can write in it. But most of all we get to keep it to look back on when we’re older.”

Classmate Fatuma said that having just moved to New Westminster last year, the book has helped her learn more about her new city.

“When reading this book I feel as if I am watching a movie,” she said. “The movie has adventures and is exciting. I learn something from every scene and I have a fun time learning.”

Their teacher Tanya Kaselj reiterated their praise, saying that she herself has learned a lot from teaching the book and she thinks all New Westminsterites could benefit from giving it a read.

The New Westminster Public Library does have several copies of the book available for those who are keen to learn about paddle wheelers and the gold rush but who don’t happen to be in grade 5.